NBA Jam is a legendary basketball game. It has withstood the test of time as we can see now with the hype around the recent release of Arcade 1UP’s NBA Jam Arcade Cabinet. What’s fascinating about NBA Jam is that the console ports were just as influential and ubiquitous as the original arcade game. There is a generation of people who talk about NBA Jam only as the Super Nintendo or Genesis game. As arcade ports from the early 90’s go, the 16-bit ports of NBA Jam were masterful. They captured the spirit of the game and the controls felt great. The 16-bit ports of NBA Jam weren’t perfect though. They were missing some crucial details that made the arcade games so popular and visually appealing. One of those things was sprite scaling. As a player gets closer or further from the “camera” the sprite stays the same size. You lose the illusion of depth on the court without the player sprite changing size as you get closer or further from the screen. The 32X, Jaguar, Saturn, and PSOne versions of NBA Jam TE have sprite scaling.
The other most noticeable things missing from the 16-bit ports are player likenesses on the court. The player select screens capture the athlete’s faces really well. During the games while playing every player’s look falls into an archetype. Players are either bald with what looks like a Charles Barkley head, other players have a Ewing high-top fade head then we have black and white players with skin tones to match. Some of the white players can have blonde or brown hair. On the the 32X and Jaguar the players have different archetypes and more options but it still doesn’t match the arcade where each play has a unique look and face. On the 32X you have a Pippen long face, Oakley high-top fade face, a Stockton face,a seemingly Dan Majerle Face, and a bald Barkley looking face as well. It’s cool having recognizable faces in the game but it’s weird when an obviously Pippen-looking face in on Shawn Kemp. The Sega Saturn and PS1 versions have unique player faces on all models and it really makes the games look arcade accurate and great. I would argue the Sega Saturn version of NBA Jam TE is better looking than the Arcade version.
Even in the 16-bit arcade space the versions of NBA Jam and Jam TE on the Super Nintendo don’t have music playing during games which is awful. The Genesis version has music as does the Gameboy and Game Gear version of NBA Jam. I originally thought NBA Jam on Super Nintendo lacked music due to space limitations or something like that but NBA Hangtime proves that theory wrong.
Why am I telling you all this? Because NBA Hangtime for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo solve all of these problems. The best way to describe the 16-bit NBA Hangtime games is to have an adult visualize what they think NBA Jam looked like when they were kids. They will imagine an awesome arcade experience with amazing teams and unique player models, thinking that the SNES port they played was pretty close to the Arcade. It wasn’t, as I detailed earlier. Where NBA Jam falls short of their memories, NBA Hangtime is the reality. Playing NBA Hangtime feels like playing the NBA Jam game the developers wanted to make in ’93 but realized with the 1996 release. The 16-bit ports of NBA Hangtime all have unique player faces that are recognizable during gameplay. The roster is also pretty close to the Maximum Hangtime roster which is great because Maximum Hangtime never got a home release that I am aware of. The Knicks have Allen Houston who was clearly put in late because he was one of the few players that just has a placeholder model of a bald generic athlete that looks nothing like Houston. The N64 release and earlier releases of the game don’t have Houston on the Knicks and have Ewing with John Wallace instead (among other roster changes).
NBA Hangtime looks amazing in 16-bit. The animations of the characters are awesome. The spin move is smooth and the players bodies animate perfectly on the fade-away and fall-away jumpers. Blocking also hit heavy because you can swat the ball with the press and release blocking in the game. All the courts are present. You can on the roof at night, in Hawaii, or at the teams home courts. One interesting distinction in the games is on the SNES version of Hangtime there are cheerleaders sitting on the roof during the game. This is arcade accurate. On the roof on the Genesis version of Hangtime cheerleaders are not present. Another really powerful visual distinction for the 16-bit games is the screen shake during dunks. The entire screen moves like a 9.5 Earthquake with every jam. It’s a really striking effect and it takes the attention off the fact that players hands don’t actually animate near the rim well. A lot of the dunks just have the ball go in the rim and the animation of the player’s arm and hand remain static and don’t grab the rim or anything. Another weird quirk with the Super Nintendo port is that the game has an issue where you can only dunk from very specific places on the court unlike any other version of the game. Super Nintendo Hangtime becomes a lay-up fest which can be really frustrating. The lay-up animations are pretty great though.These versions of the game were also able to keep the new double dunks and alley-oops. There is very little lost from the arcade to the 16-bit ports.
The music is present in all modes for NBA Hangtime and it sounds great. Even with the issues of the SNES port, the music and presentation alone would have me recommend it over the SNES versions of NBA Jam and Jam TE. By 1996 you would think a port like this would be phoned in and not made with any care but NBA Hangtime for Genesis and Super Nintendo was clearly made with care. Most people associate NBA Hangtime with the fantastic N64 port of the arcade title and that version is a revelation in terms of graphics, game play and the zero load times between quarters. While I think the graphics on the Playstation 1 port are crisper than the N64 and the CD quality audio is better you have to deal with load times between quarters on the PS1. That said, dollar for dollar, I think the 16-bit ports present the best value for replaying Hangtime today and it’s really amazing seeing the 16-bit hardware producing such a fluid and fun arcade game.
If you want to relive the glory of Hangtime on the 16-bit consoles it shouldn’t be a problem. The games are very easy to get a hold of and 16-bit Hangtime is still pretty affordable. Surprisingly, NBA Hangtime for the Playstation 1 is getting pricey. I was lucky and found the game with no case for fifteen dollars at a local game store a year ago but if you want to buy it now you’re looking to spend $70 to $100 on the game. Pull your Genesis out and get a copy of NBA Hangtime for it, you won’t be disappointed!