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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.

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