Those looking for a well-rounded hoops sim won't go wrong with the solidly built NBA Jam 99.
Acclaim and Iguana have pulled off the video game equivalent of a Ricki Lake talk-show makeover with NBA Jam 99, dressing it up with plenty of new game features and adding five-on-five simulation gameplay. This will come as bad news for gamers hoping to relive the glory days of "Phi Slamma Jamma." But for players who think NBA Jam's fire burned out long ago, this newest incarnation for the Nintendo 64 takes a positive leap in providing a realistic, in-depth, and mostly enjoyable basketball experience.
NBA Jam 99 is actually two and a half games in one, so the best way to review this game is to address each one separately. The game's bread and butter is its NBA play simulation mode. It's rich in features and options, the most notable being a fantasy draft in which you can rebuild the NBA with custom rosters, then trade and create players under a bonus points cap. The 80-plus plays are easy to customize and call on the fly.
The game plays well as a sim, if a little on the slow side. The control is very responsive, and the inclusion of icon passing and special-situation options caters to most gamers' playing styles. For instance, the ability to call for a screen is so easy that I found myself using it at least once every offensive trip. The computer AI on both sides of the ball is sharp: Computer players are aggressive stealers and shot blockers, plus there's lots of movement off the ball. Still, there's room for improvement. The free-throw shooting method gets points for originality, but it's an analog-based style that may irritate some gamers. Also, there's apparently no option to switch to the defender closest to the ball; instead you have to toggle through the roster, which is a burden.
The second "game" is the jam mode, a more challenging five-on-five affair that adds the spectacular dunks, special moves, on-fire players, and wacky comments synonymous with NBA Jam. Now, Acclaim touts this mode as an added "bonus," so it's hard to knock it. Still, if Acclaim's going to call it Jam Mode, it better live up to its billing. It doesn't: It's basically an over-the-top sim mode with added bells and whistles. That's not a bad thing, but it plays too slow and dull to be enjoyable for extended periods. You'd be sorely mistaken to think this game offers anything close to the original arcade.
The "half" game is the skills mode, essentially two minigames. The three-point contest is fairly fun, especially as a multiplayer event, while the free throw shooting is there more for practice purposes.
In terms of presentation, it's clear Iguana knows hi-res graphics. The stadiums and court floors are more than adequate visually. The players, while still slightly boxy, are animated well. Plus there's enough room in the memory to actually put a ref on the floor during fouls and tip-off. There are notable instances of slowdown, such as on some special move animations, but they don't hamper gameplay flow to a great extent. As far as sound goes, the good news is that there's a great deal of two-man commentary from Kevin Harlan and Bill Walton, especially given the N64's limits. The bad news is that occasionally they'll blurt out incorrect phrases or serve up a bit too much chatter.
For gamers doing comparison shopping, here's my two cents: NBA Jam 99's many extra features and gameplay modes give it a strong edge over NBA Courtside - especially for hoops-sim junkies who want to build fantasy franchises and their own players. It certainly has enough moxie to hang with NBA Live 99 but not enough to dethrone that solid title so easily. The two titles borrow so much from each other this season that neither currently has hand in their relationship.
Those looking for a well-rounded hoops sim won't go wrong with the solidly built NBA Jam 99. If Iguana can address its minor slowdown and sound glitches, plus pump up the fun and intensity of the Jam-style gameplay to match its arcade predecessor, this title's sequel has the potential to be the next "it" game in the genre.
- Game Universe:
- NBA Jam (GEN, GB, GG, SNES, PS2, XBOX, GC, SCD, SMS),
- NBA Jam Extreme (PC, PS, SAT, ARC),
- NBA Jam Tournament Edition (32X, PC, PS, SAT, GB, GG, JAG, SNES, GEN),
- NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC (DC, N64, PS, GBC),
- NBA Jam (PS3, WII, X360),
- NBA Jam: On Fire Edition (PS3, X360),
- NBA Jam 2002 (GBA),
- NBA Jam 2001 (GBC),
- NBA Jam 2000 (N64),
- NBA Jam 99 (GBC, N64)
- Number of Players: