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Patrick Hope: It’s time to slam ‘Jam’

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Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
(701) 225-4205 customer support
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

So the NBA season is over now, which as one of the 10 or so remaining Timberwolves fans, doesn’t really mean too much.

But it means the NBA draft is coming up on Thursday and it’s the latest chance for the Wolves to take some superstars like Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson. Also, Kevin Love might be traded by press time, so it’ll be fun to watch the team start over from scratch. Oh right, we’re talking about video games. You know about “NBA Jam,” right? Well, this week we’re talking about its spiritual successor, “NBA Hangtime.”

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Back in the early ’90s, everyone was into “NBA Jam.” It defined arcade basketball action, with games being 2-on-2, full contact, crazy dunks, being on fire, and the over-the-top announcer who got to say things like “Boomshakalaka!”

After the incredible success of the original and its sequel, “NBA Jam: Tournament Edition,” Acclaim acquired the rights to the “NBA Jam” series and launched a disastrous series of sequels, like an abortive attempt at 3D and a reboot that featured the laughably poor choice of Keith Van Horn as its cover athlete. The original “NBA Jam” team moved over to Midway, where they put together “NBA Hangtime,” which is more or less a souped-up version of the game everyone loves.

“NBA Hangtime” was released on about every system you could think of across 1996 and 1997, with arcade versions and various home ports. It included everything you would want from “NBA Jam,” with all the action and fun, just with rosters that were updated through the 1995-96 season, so hey, the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors are in the game if you want to play as legends like Bryant “Big Country” Reeves or Popeye Jones. Sadly, there’s still no Michael Jordan, so the single-most dominant team of all time is going to be a little lacking in airness this time around as well.

Mechanically, fans of “NBA Jam” are going to be right at home with “Hangtime.” The controls are pretty much exactly the same and you’re still playing 2 on 2.

The players still have that weird big head look that populated “NBA Jam” and the game looks pretty much like “NBA Jam” with a fresh coat of paint. Sadly, the great Tim Kitzrow, the original announcer, did not make the jump over to Midway, but the phrases from the older games are still there, albeit not with the verve that “MONSTER JAM! HE’S ON FIRE!” provided. But hey, as far as complaints go, that one is pretty minor.

Now, if “Hangtime” were just an updated version of “Jam,” no one would really complain too much. Keeping the mechanics of one of the most beloved sports games ever is a good thing, right? Well, “Hangtime” does make some nice additions to set it apart. For the first time ever, and I have no idea how this wasn’t included before, you can do the king of flash dunk, the alley-oop and even do double dunks. Also, for the first time ever in the “Jam” line, you could create a player and build up their stats over time. It’s obviously not the largest creation suite out there, but it was a pretty cool addition at the time.

“NBA Hangtime” came around at a weird time, when sports games were starting to transition to 3D, and sadly got lost in the shuffle. Realism started to become the calling card of the genre, as opposed to instant arcade action.

Plus, after such a long period of domination, people were just kind of Jammed out. But that doesn’t make “Hangtime” any less playable today. You can get most of its ports for only a few bucks.

Honestly, the only way you’ll be shelling out any appreciable amount of money is if you buy an arcade machine. And if you do that, you’re more or less the coolest person ever. And if you want to play me, I totally call the Wolves. Hey, at least they have Garnett in this game. And sometimes Starbury ...

Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. If you are a real, live Minnesota Timberwolves fan, you should totally contact him at patrick.d.hope@gmail.com.

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