NBA Jam was almost perfect in execution when it released. One of the issues with NBA Jam and Jam T.E. are that they feel and play so good that’s it’s hard to improve upon the formula. NBA Jam also came out during an era that would produce some of the most enduring stars in NBA History. The roster of those original NBA Jam games is hard to top. Lots of games have tried to usurp NBA Jam as the best arcade basketball game over the years but they have mostly failed. Dunk Lords is the newest game to try and make something new out of the arcade basketball genre. Let’s see how they do!
What is Dunk Lords? Dunk Lords is a 2 on 2 arcade basketball game that takes place in the nineties, much in the same vein as NBA Jam. Dunk Lords does not have an official NBA License. Dunk Lords takes a different approach to the genre and has a gathering of individual characters each with their own skills and personality. Dunk Lords can be described as NBA Jam meets Overwatch. Dunk Lords has a story mode, single game mode, a gauntlet style mode and on-line/local multiplayer. Dunk Lords has players choose 2 unique characters, each with their own special moves, to play 4 quarters of basketball with the winner having scored the most points at the end of the game. The courts are wild and littered with power-ups. During the game you earn cash for different milestones. Between quarters you can spend that cash to buy power-ups. Those power-ups range from being impervious to upper-cuts to having every three pointer worth 4 points if you’re losing the game.
How is the Music? Incredible. It’s like listening to every good 90’s sitcom theme in video game form. You will leave every play session humming a song. It adds a lot to the games pseudo-nineties presentation. Laura Shigihara did an amazing job on the soundtrack that you listen to here.
How is the Gameplay? This game feels great. Dunk Lords doesn’t fall into some of the normal traps that NBA Jam clones fall into. Dunk Lords doesn’t add a crossover move to go with the normal shoot, pass, turbo buttons. Added to the arsenal is a dash button as the modifier and a special button to allow players to unleash their special attacks. Instead of the push, you now have an upper-cut to obliterate players while they dunk. You also have a dash that can knock the ball lose when you dash through an opponent. The special button can be pushed or held. When the special is pushed for the protagonist of the game, Slice, he shoots a digital blast to knock opponents down but when the button is held is he creates a large square of digital funk that freezes everybody in it’s radius.
How are the Graphics? This game is beautiful and it’s incredibly colorful. It looks amazing in screen shots and even better in motion. Dunk Lords has a nineties vibe but also carves out it’s own identity. The cast is super diverse and all the clothes and hairstyles are awesome. Players are visually distinct enough that they don’t get lost in the madness on screen. Every action has a visual cue which also helps the action stay manageable. The frame rate is super smooth and the court all feel distinct. This is a game and art style that feels intentional and planned down to the pixel and it really shines.
Is this the next NBA Jam? Well no. But in my eyes this game does the impossible, it takes the NBA Jam formula and adds on to it and changes it in meaningful ways. NBA Playgrounds is fine but never feels like more than a knock off of NBA Jam. Dunk Lords makes smart changes. Pace wise, the games feel super fast. In Dunk Lords you don’t take the ball out of bounds after plays. The team that was scored on just grabs the ball and they have a force-field for a few seconds so the opposing team has a chance to get the ball first. This small change makes a huge difference to the game but it still feels like basketball.
I think by having a wacky roster including a cyborg, polar bear, and pirate is the best way of navigating not having an NBA roster. Learning each character is a game in and of itself and that adds a lot of longevity. Each player has different special moves and different stats. None of them feel like palette swaps. I love NBA Jam but the reality is big men dunk and guards can shoot. There is a little more nuance than that but it was overall a simple system.
Dunk Lords has really solid single player content. The story mode is not an afterthought. The story does a great job of introducing you to each character and also tells a compelling story with cut scenes and dialogue. It’s a charming tale. The story also isn’t lazy. You’re not just playing against the same characters in the same type of games. Dunk Lords adds new enemies and opponents and different rule sets constantly. At one point you play against a giant Lobster that takes up half the court and this lobster can ball. This variety makes the game feel really fresh and exciting to play through.
Final Thoughts? Dunk Lords is excellent. It’s going to a “Games with Gold” game on Xbox this July and I really hope people pick it up. It’s also on sale on Steam right now during the Summer Sale. This is an easy to pick up and hard to master type of game. It’s a sports game that anybody can play. It’s got co-op so families can play. If you have ever enjoyed NBA Jam, try this one out.