Comical 'NBA Jam' clean, addictive fun


EA Sports' "NBA Jam" is a funny little basketball game in which you play as NBA stars, such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James -- except Kobe and LeBron and others here have little bodies and giant heads; they're bobble head dolls.

That's quite humorous, and so are their faces, as they are illustrated from actual photos of the real men, but often caught in comical expressions of surprise and confusion, as if constipated.

"NBA Jam" moves and feels like a regular basketball game -- the dribbling, the shooting. However, it's cartoon-tomfoolery basketball, with alley-oops that crest much higher than the backboards. And it's two-on-two, instead of five-on-five.

There are no referees or fouls. You shove opposing players to the ground without punishment. The only thing that's off-limits is goaltending.

The voice-over commentary by Tim Kritzow is legitimately funny. He utters nonsense such as: "Like my wife's top drawer, nothing but nylon!" And: "Knock, knock. Who's there? BOOM-SHAKALAKA'S THERE!"

None of this will surprise longtime video gamers, because iterations of "NBA Jam" have been in arcades since 1993 and in home consoles for years. It's still clean addictive fun, here in a revamped, updated, high definition form.

"NBA Jam" came out around Thanksgiving. It started as a $50 game. Now you can buy it new for $30 to $40, which is a more reasonable price, because as fun as "NBA Jam" is, there are few big extras. It's just cartoon tomfoolery, over and over.

I'm reviewing it several months past its debut, because it didn't seem all that fun when I first played it, and it wasn't breaking any new ground or sales records.

But I started toying with it again recently, and I realized "NBA Jam" becomes more fun as you go along. This is a flaw in many games: It starts too spare; you have to get deep into the game to unlock extras before it feels essential.

In fact, you can play "NBA Jam" not only as past and present NBA stars but also as bobble head versions of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, the Clintons, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Sarah Palin, The Beastie Boys and NBA mascots.

That is hilarious.

But to do that, you have to surf online to find secret, free cheat codes to type into the game. I have always hated cheat codes. If game designers worked their fingers to the bone to create NBA Obama, and I spend $50 on this game, then just give me NBA Obama. Don't make me root around the Interwebs for codes to crack.

Anyway, I digress. "NBA Jam" is a ridiculous, entertaining romp that, I swear, is more fun to me than the best-selling "NBA 2K11," partly because I dig on bobble heads, and speaking of which, shouldn't the Olson twins be in this game?

("NBA Jam" by EA Sports retails for $40 for PS 3 and Xbox 360; $30 for Wii -- Plays very fun. Looks good in a funny way. Easy to challenging, based on settings you choose. Rated "E." Three and one-half stars out of four.)

Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

NEW IN STORES

The first two months of 2011 have been the slowest first two months of any year I can remember in terms of new games. But significant March releases are coming in like a lion.

"Pokemon White" and "Pokemon Black" (both Nintendo) will give fanboys and fangirls of the "Pokemon" series a whole new adventure of turn-based hit points and all that role-playing jazz.

"White" and "Black" will seem familiar to fans in many ways. These aren't reinventions of the Pokemon scheme. Although, when you get into battles against Pokemons, there are new types of battles against three foes at a time.

The games retail for $35 each for DS. They're rated "E."

"Dragon Age II" (EA) is a fantasy set in the same otherworldly world of "Dragon Age: Origins," starring a cast of dragons and skeleton-monsters and such.

Part "II" takes place over the course of a decade in the life of the main character, the hero Hawke, reacting to evil that has beset a village and surroundings. Like "Origins," this is a role-playing adventure, although the game designers have altered the slaying action so that it moves more like a hack-and-slash game (but not completely).

Unlike "Origin," you can portray only one character, Hawke, who comes with a voice-over and an overarching story, cinema cuts and dialogue to choose from, which changes the shape of your adventure.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360, PS 3 and PC. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, language, sexual content and violence.

"Major League Baseball 2K11" (Take Two Sports) does not substantially change the engine behind last year's "2K10." But it does add a few new wrinkles.

There's more of a focus than before on defense, giving you added actions and animations related to fielding throws and catching fly balls.

If you plug in the game online, it will update your virtual baseball players' statistics and trends to match the hot and cold streaks of real-life MLB players.

But if you choose to play "2K11's" franchise mode, then the game will instead keep track of how well you are playing the game, as opposed to how the real-life ballplayers are faring.

The game uses the same "Total Control Pitching and Hitting" from "2K10." You can once again play online, or create a player from scratch, choose between single-game and franchise modes, and play home run derby. All 30 teams and stadiums are here, plus 60 AAA and AA minor league teams.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $30 for PC; $20 for DS, PSP and PS 2. It's rated "E" for mild lyrics.

"MLB 11: The Show" (Sony) is essentially the same type of baseball game as it was last year, except it comes with a very big, new option:

You can play the game with the analog joysticks to field, hit and pitch; or if you prefer, you can revert to the traditional control scheme of yore.

It also comes with various cooperative modes. You can play one person vs. two people; two people vs. two people; or two people vs. the computer.

Once again, you also can play online, or solo single games, or franchise mode, or home run derby.

The game retails for $60 for PS 3; $30 for PS 2. It's rated "E."

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

-- By DOUG ELFMAN
 

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