Will the real NBA Jam please stand up? For fans of Midway's NBA series, finding a faithful handheld conversion of any of the company's wacky basketball games has proven impossible. From the original NBA Jam (1993) on the Game Boy to last year's NBA Showtime for the Game Boy Color, the term "shovelware" is barely adequate to describe the substandard fare Midway and Torus Games have been churning out. With NBA Hoopz, they've managed some redemption. Featuring the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and 200 other NBA superstars, Game Boy Color owners finally have an outlandish basketball game they can actually play.
Fresh out of the box, NBA Hoopz doesn't seem to offer much over NBA Showdown. Once again, quick game and season modes are the only play options. There is no two-player mode. Season progress is recorded via a password system. An options menu also lets you tweak such things as CPU difficulty, quarter length, and foul calling. The NBA roster is current as of October 2000; this means that the 76ers are the team to beat and Patrick Ewing is pulling duty for the Supersonics. With no player-creation or managerial options to speak of, NBA Hoopz puts the majority of its focus into the game itself. While this lessens variety somewhat, at least NBA Hoopz doesn't embarrass itself like NBA Showtime did.
As far as playability and visuals are concerned, NBA Hoopz squeezes the fun out of a game engine that NBA Showtime could not. Once you've chosen one of the NBA's 29 teams and selected the three players you'll take into battle, it's time for some three-on-three action, Jam style. In NBA Hoopz, traveling is OK, aggression is encouraged, and there's no such thing as out-of-bounds. Player sprites aren't exactly faithful to their real-life counterparts, but the level of fluidity and animation is such that a few somersaulting dunks can easily take your mind off Shaq's sudden weight loss. NBA Hoopz is the kind of game where three baskets in a row will set your man on fire, and this improves both his speed and his accuracy, while setting fire to the net--at least until the other team nails a shot. The addition of a third teammate is a welcome change to the series, and it doesn't seem to slow down the system one bit. Other than a little flicker, the game's cartoon-style backgrounds and outlandish personality come across crystal clear. CPU players even become translucent when they're blocking your view. The greatest change to NBA Hoopz is foul calling, and it does take some getting used to, but considering it takes four fouls just to incur a free-throw penalty, you'll still be able to pit Shaq against Iverson without fear of major repercussions. Per-quarter substitutions and midseason injuries also spice things up a bit, but you can also disable these features in the options menu if you desire. Last but not least, the defensive spins that were so noticeably missing in NBA Showtime are back in NBA Hoopz.
If it weren't for its abhorrent background music, tinny sound effects, and lack of a two-player feature, NBA Hoopz would be a glowing addition to the Game Boy Color's library. The game definitely has that faithful NBA Jam feel, but when you get down to it, most game players won't be able to stomach its repetitious and simplistic CPU opponents forever. Human competition and custom teams tend to save standard sports games in this respect. NBA Hoopz lives and dies on gameplay alone and, as such, has a limited life span.