NBA Jam Extreme for the Saturn offers two-on-two basketball with a variety of superhuman moves, special teams, and secret options. After spending an hour with this game, you'll probably feel the Extreme urge to Jam the Saturn through the television screen.
Looking for patterns in an amorphous mulch of visual details can be an entertaining pastime, and can at times offer insight into the human subconscious. However, in the case of a basketball video game, mushiness and lack of clarity result in utter frustration. The graphics in NBA Jam Extreme are blurry and unclear, choppy and awkwardly animated. And because of the graphics, the gameplay suffers. It's simply too difficult to see the ball and who's got it. This lends the game a tentative, ambiguous feel. In addition, shoot and block share the same button (as do pass and steal), making sudden changes of possession awkward. The Saturn features an eight-button controller, and one wonders why only four were utilized. NBA Jam Extreme then combines this weakness with its nebulous visuals and loose control, delivering players who consistently execute perfect blocks only to immediately throw the ball across the length of the court, thereby wasting valuable turnovers.
The special moves are a mixed bag. A simple touch of the shoot button, in conjunction with the turbo or extreme button, executes all sorts of glorious slam dunks, replete with some pretty remarkable touches: Players trail stars and flames, fly hundreds of feet in the air, spin like helicopters, and bend the entire backboard to the ground. Undoubtedly, the ease with which these maneuvers are performed will be refreshing to novice gamers. More experienced gamers beware: There's no need to aim, execute any intricate sequence of buttons, or exhibit a keen sense of timing. Proximity to the basket is the sole consideration for successfully nailing these moves - just push the magic button. It doesn't take long to experience the sinking feeling that the Saturn doesn't really need you, and could just as easily play the game by itself.
The prospect for extreme defense is exciting, at least at first. Before the opponents get downcourt with the ball, it's possible to tackle them and regain possession. Awesome, right? In practice, however, this sort of behavior becomes an annoyance. Too often, plays don't get off the ground, and the ultimate result is a (blurry) four-man pile-up midcourt.
Granted, a wide array of teams and players are available, including Dennis Rodman with a choice of three hair colors. On the court, however, the distinctions between players prove to be perfunctory at best - differences in appearance or play are as blurry as the graphics. Sure, Rodman won't make the three-pointers as reliably as Pippen, but this is hardly a redeeming quality when there's little control over the outcome of each shot in the first place.
The game isn't entirely abysmal. The sound is replete with squeaking sneakers and pounding dribbling. Marv Albert's comments, though buggy, are often hilarious. NBA Jam's "big head" feature also returns, along with a number of new secret teams and options, like the Smiley Team and Beach Ball mode. However, running down the court with a yellow smiley-face for a head and slam dunking beach balls are little consolation for poor graphics and confusing gameplay.