Everyone and their mother have worked on a basketball game with a watered-down arcade mode in it. For most basketball games, arcade mode means stick in turbo meters and make players catch on fire if they score three consecutive baskets. But the originator of arcade basketball has returned to show everyone how it's really done. But NBA Showtime, from the creator of NBA Jam, doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it brings the Jam legacy into the new millennium with enough upgrades and tweaks to make it feel fresh and new.
The most obvious upgrade is graphical. The game is now in full 3D, with extremely nice player models whose heads look outstanding. The players in the arcade version had a realistic look that was downright frightening at times, but a bit of that sheen has been lost in the Dreamcast version. While the game still looks great, the textures aren't quite as vibrant as they were in the arcade. The arcade game's soundtrack is intact on the DC. The announcer keeps track of the action in much the same way he did in NBA Jam - by calling out the name of the player who has possession of the ball during the slower moments of the game. But the minute you start juking, spinning, or shooting, he's right there to mention that you've spun past a defender or attempted to shoot a three. A foul system has been integrated into the gameplay. After one human player commits five fouls in one quarter, a player from the opposing team is sent to the line for a free throw, worth three points. Now, at first, the concept of fouls in a no-rules arcade basketball game may seem like a horrible idea, but it actually balances the game out fairly well and keeps it from degenerating into huge shove fests.
Although you can choose from several players on each NBA team, you can also create a player. While created players are weak at first, they earn more points after every third win. You can allocate these points to lots of different categories, such as height, weight, three pointers, dunking ability, and power. You can also customize your character's head, by choosing from different NBA player heads, as well as from some of the game's programmers, NBA mascots, a horse, and a guy with a big afro. There's a bit of loading time between heads when scrolling through them in the creation mode, and it's enough to make you settle for a lame head before scrolling completely through the list. The rest of the game loads quickly enough to not be a problem.
The gameplay is vintage NBA Jam. It's two-on-two basketball at its finest, complete with huge dunks, alley-oops, shoves, swats, and lots and lots of goaltending. The ball never goes out of bounds, and aside from goaltending and the occasional foul call, the only other rule is the shot clock. You've got a turbo button, a pass/steal button, and a shoot/jump button at your disposal. You'll control the same player throughout the game, so if you don't have a human teammate, you'll have to issue commands to your teammate when he's carrying the ball. You can call for a pass or command the computer player to shoot the ball. Double tapping turbo executes a quick evasive spin or dodge move that you can use to get past pesky defenders.
NBA Showtime is a fun game, but its longevity is directly linked to the number of friends you have who are interested in the game. Playing it alone gets old fast, and playing it with four people who are close to equal in skill is really the only way to go. If you've got the posse, get the game. Otherwise, you may want to rent it for a few days instead.