Format: Super NES Genre: Sports Released: 1993 Developer: Midway
You’ve probably noticed that there are precious few sports games on this list – the reason being that I hardly ever play them. I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with football games (people I’m playing against often wonder why I cheer when they score – it’s usually because I thought I was controlling their team), and the only sports game that has successfully piqued my interest in recent memory is Golf on Wii Sports. Back in 1993 though, you’d have had to pry the joypad out of my hands with a crowbar to stop me playing NBA Jam.
It’s not like I even like basketball – in fact I find it incredibly boring – but somehow this game managed to make basketball not only bearable to watch but actually exciting. Its first stroke of genius was to get rid of all those surplus players on the court – with only two players per team there’s none of the usual confusion you get with sports games over which player you’re controlling and where they’re going to pass the ball next and hold-on-I-didn’t-mean-to-pass-it-over-there-damn-you-computer-for-cheating-oh-now-you’ve-gone-and-scored DAMN THIS MACHINE. No, none of that.
The second wave of the genius wand ensured that all of the gameplay knobs were turned up to eleven – you don’t just slam dunk the ball in this game, you leap 30 feet into the air, spin 360 degrees, do the splits and dunk the ball so hard the backboard shatters, as multiple flashbulbs erupt in the audience and the announcer builds himself into a frenzy.
Realistic? No, but who cares, this is a video game, right?
Speaking of the announcer, the sampled speech was a real highlight – speech was rarity in games before the CD-based consoles arrived. As I remember, the announcers didn’t have that many soundbites, but for some reason they never got repetitive (maybe I was still tickled by the novelty of people speaking IN A GAME). The best bit was when a player scored three points in a row, which caused him to (literally) become ‘on fire’, accompanied by the commentator booming “HE’S ON FIRE!”. The phrase has penetrated my brain to such an extent that I still find myself thinking “HE’S ON FIRE!” every time I do something noteworthy in a game.
‘Achievement: Brumak Rodeo 10G’
[Thinks] “HE’S ON FIRE!”
But the true brilliance of NBA Jam emerged in multiplayer – the game was good when played alone, but it was utterly fantastic with four players. Along with Super Bomberman, it was one of the first games to be compatible with the Super NES multitap – imagine kids, you had to fork out £20 just to play with more than person! – and the two games barely left my SNES for the whole of 93 and 94. You can keep your Modern Warfare 2, just give me NBA Jam, four controllers, a bottle of Virgin Cola, Maid Marian and her Merry Men on the telly and several flavours of Push Pops, and I’ll be happy.