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Jobu weighs in on two classic SNES games and tells us which one he thinks is best.

I was recently a groomsman in Dr. Draft’s wedding, and he graciously bestowed upon me a brand new (at least it looks and works like it) Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short. Yes, I’m 30 years old and I still play SNES with my friends. Deal with it. Anyway, As soon as I found out about the gift, I went to my local retro video game store, Retro Games Plus in Westport, CT, and picked up a few titles. I knew the good Dr. had also gotten me the original NBA Jam, but I picked up NBA Jam: Tournament Edition so that I could compare the two. So which game is better? The answer might surprise you.

Arch Rivals (1989)
Arch Rivals (1989)

The franchises can be traced back to the late 1980s. In 1989, Midway released a game called Arch Rivals, a two on two basketball game that encouraged players to basically beat the crap out of each other on the court. The game, released for the Arcade and then Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega Genesis, didn’t have any official NBA license, so no real players appeared in the game. In fact, only eight characters were available to play, and they were placed on random teams when you picked them. You can find out more about Arch Rivals here, or watch some gameplay action here.

Midway then turned to making football games, releasing a series that was called High Impact. The original came out in 1990, and the sequel, Super High Impact, came out in 1991 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). These were, essentially, the ancestors of another famous Midway series, NFL Blitz.

In 1993, the company went back to the two on two basketball action that put them on the map, releasing NBA Jam as an arcade game. This time, however, they got an NBA license. The game now real teams and players, and the arcade fun style we all love was added to the game. The user could now perform monster dunks, get “on fire” and otherwise play ridiculous basketball unlike anything you’d ever see in a game in real life. Eventually, the series was ported to the home consoles, and the rest is history.

Gameplay

Video game comparisons almost always ultimately come down to graphics and gameplay. After all, that’s all video game companies strive to provide. They want to make the best looking and most engaging and fun game possible, right? Right. Well, in the case of the NBA Jams, there isn’t really much of a difference. The games came out fairly close to one another (within the same calendar year on the consoles), so there wasn’t really much time to do a whole lot to the gameplay. What you see in the video above is basically all there is to see.

The players all look the same in their 16-bit glory. You can do all the same stuff, like turboing, jumping, shooting, crazy silly dunking, on-firing and shoving your opponents all around the court. The game is tremendous fun. Midway did right to not mess with the on-court stuff. They had a winning formula and they stuck to it.

Sound

The one big complaint I have about NBA Jam TE is the sound. I recently played a game against my friend Marc, and we noticed that all the fake Dick Vitale announcer seemed to say was “YES!” Seriously, after every shot made, he seemed to say the exact same thing. I’m not saying that NBA Jam has the most diverse announcing, but it’s definitely a little more engaging and fun. Remember “Boom Shakalaka!”? I’m not sure if it was just a bug for that particular game, or if NBA Jam TE was so full of options and players that they had to skimp on the audio, but it created an irritating distraction for us. I never noticed how much that little 16-bit nonsense yelling added to the original game until I played without most of it on NBA Jam TE.

Options

Hidden character codes made TE a whole lot of fun.
Hidden character codes made TE a whole lot of fun. Remember when the Clintons were in the NBA?

This is where NBA Jam TE takes the cake. There are a ton more options for gameplay. It’s almost as if they were working on TE all along and released the original NBA Jam to hold people over while they finished. NBA Jam is very stripped down. You get two players per team, you can play head-to-head against friends or the computer, and that’s pretty much it.

Tournament Edition adds a ton of stuff to the mix. First and foremost, it’s called Tournament Edition, which should tell you something. You have a whole lot more options for play through, including the tournament mode, where cheats were barred and you had to beat all 27 NBA teams in a row.

You also have a lot more roster options in this game, and this is where things get very fun. First of all, each team has updated rosters that include three players per squad. You can even change rosters at the half, choosing to bring a big scorer off the bench, or replace someone crappy. The added players are a nice touch. It’s still only three guys, and not an entire roster, but you’re playing two-on-two, so you probably don’t need all those players anyway. The fun starts when you start putting in codes that unlock mascots, Clowns,  and Bill Clinton. Who doesn’t want to throw down a helicopter dunk all over Hillary with Bubba? It’s awesome, and a lot of fun to see.

Final Thoughts

In the end, there can be only one winner. The original.
In the end, there can be only one winner. The original.

Like with almost every other classic “which game is better” debate, this one comes down to feelings and emotions. Given similar games, most players will go with the one associate with the most good memories. One game might have more options or slightly better graphics, but it won’t matter when push comes to shove.

I remember how i came to possess the original NBA Jam. My sister, who was 16 or 17 at the time, was going out bowling with her friends, and she decided to bring 11-year old little Jobu with her. Why she did this, I’ll never know, but when she had a cigarette with her friends (I don’t think she even inhaled), I ended up with NBA Jam for Super Nintendo. Blackmail at its finest, although she’s the one that said if I didn’t tell Mom she’d buy me a video game, so I can’t take the full blame. Anyway, criminal mischief aside, NBA Jam quickly became one of my favorite games, and my buddies and I still play it today whenever we end up at one of our houses. Hell, we even use NBA Jam tournaments to decide our fantasy sports leagues draft orders.

Martin Stezano

About Martin Stezano

Uruguayan born and American raised with a unique perspective on the domestic and international sports scenes. It will both tickle your funny bone and enlighten your mind. Love it or hate it...just read it.

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