The Definitive 50 SNES Games: #22 NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Click here to view our list of the Definitive 50 SNES games. Links to each video and write-up are included.

Heating up! He’s on fire! Monster Jam! These are just a few of the classic over-the-top voice-overs by Tim Kitzrow, NBA Jam‘s announcer and true star. That these famous lines live on in popular consciousness today is a testament to their memorability, and the greatness of the game which housed them.

NBA Jam Tournament Edition takes 22nd place on the list of Definitive 50 SNES games. Originally released to arcades in 1993, NBA Jam was ported to the Genesis, Game Gear, and Super Nintendo, among other systems. It was followed up by 1994’s NBA Jam T.E., which featured additional modes and players.

I’m not generally inclined to include licensed sports games on the Definitive 50 as their gameplay is often uninspired and iterative. NBA Jam is a rare, and magnificent exception.

Rather than sticking with any sort of realism (or whatever approximation 1994 technology might have allowed), Midway chose to go with a wild, over the top feel. Players leap from mid-court and dozens of feet into the air to perform insane slam-dunks. Three-pointers from across the court, or “from downtown” as the announcer calls it, are common.

Less common is rules enforcement. Players are only restricted by the shot clock and goal tending rules. There is no such thing as fouls here, and that means bashing through the enemy’s defense is typically a violent affair.

Additional rules to perk up gameplay include options to turn on power-ups that appear on court which can be picked up and grant things like speed boosts or extra dunk skills. Another option, hot spots add everything up-to 8 pointers to the court. Additionally, a player who scores three consecutive baskets is declared “on fire” by the announcer, which gives him better accuracy, plus the added bonus of shooting flaming balls.

Although the regular teams available for play and the players within those teams shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with professional basketball (and will be meaningless and dull for anyone who isn’t), special team members unlocked with cheat codes like The Fresh Prince, various mascots, and Bill and Hilary Clinton should grab anyone’s attention.

NBA Jam is a stunning piece of simple, fun, over the top gameplay that was not bogged down by an adherence to “realism,” and as such still holds up well today, unlike many of its sports game brethren. Grab a friend (or three if you’ve got the SNES Multi-Tap adapter) and give this one another go. it’s still fun.

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