I’m a gamer. I rather loathe that moniker, but the shoe does seem to fit. And, as you’ve no doubt noticed, I’m a gamer that cares about videogames. It’s not about the physical cartridges or discs or the history of gaming or anything so concrete; no, I care about actual fake videogame people and concepts. At any given moment, I’m worried about what Ryu is getting up to. I have cried over fatally kabobed JRPG heroines. I have spent a great deal of my life logging the goings on of one moron with a key-sword. And these are all not “default” settings for the human brain. Had I never “gotten into” gaming, I’m sure I’d be worried about other, more mundane pursuits, like how often I get laid, or how I could totally crush it at beer pong. Also, I might give a damn about sports. I’ve always been confused by that one.
Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear (and spell it out for myself so I don’t meander later in the article… eh, that’s probably inevitable): I am not the kind of person that sees “I don’t like sports” as some kind of higher calling. It’s very easy to insult any given sport for being “a bunch of adults that get paid millions to play a children’s game”, and I want to be absolutely clear that that is not how I see it. I don’t like sports, but it’s not somehow the corner of my belief system or identity. I’ve been to a couple baseball games, I tried watching college basketball with an ex, and I was dragged along to a number of marathons by another ex. Did I think these events were wastes of time? Or perhaps that the players involved would be better off applying their phat physical skills to, I don’t know, repaving my driveway? No, of course not (though if any NFL stars would like to repave my driveway, please give me a ring. I’ll accept estimates). There are people that think Shigeru Miyamoto has not actually contributed to the betterment of mankind, and there are people that think the same of Babe Ruth. They’re both wrong. In my opinion, if you make people happy with what you’re doing, and you’re not hurting anybody while doing it, then you’re doing a good thing. I’m not going to lambast anyone just because they’re not specifically making me happy.
But, as a giant nerd, I’ve always wondered why I didn’t like sports. It’s not because I have the physical coordination of a beached manatee, because I know plenty of people that can barely leave their couches, but adore the sweet sciences. It’s not because of some lingering obsession with “jocks” and “nerds” from high school, because some of my best friends were jocks (when you have spindly little arms, you learn pretty quick to make friends with people who could, twenty years later, please move your couch). And I can’t imagine it’s because I didn’t have parental encouragement, because my dad tried to get me to throw the ol’ pigskin around roughly 20,000 times before he finally realized I wasn’t going to stop cowering at an incoming ball-shaped object. And I did always enjoy gym class and “playing sports” and such… even if I wasn’t any good at anything. Look, I was a kid, I couldn’t even beat Castlevania, I knew I wasn’t that great, and I didn’t have high hopes for my soccer career. Oh, and I’ve always enjoyed swimming. That’s a kind of sport, right? I like sports, maybe! Kinda!
But I’ve never liked sports games. And it’s not for lack of sports games entering my orbit as a child. Tecmo Superbowl was played quite a bit, and I believe it was NES Baseball that taught me the wonders of following a ball’s shadow. Ken Griffey was on the cover of at least one of my beloved Nintendo Power issues! Sports was all around me, but… It just never really registered as a “fun” thing. Was it simply because I found watching sports to be incredibly boring, so “playing” said sports on my television was equally dull? Or did I not care about a bunch of anonymous randos known only as “catcher” and “pitcher” on “blue team” when I could be playing a perfectly good adventure game starring an elf? I’d play sports games, but I wouldn’t salivate for them like some of my more preferred “sports”, like bombermanning or beat ‘em upping.
And then there was NBA Jam.
NBA Jam is ostensibly a sports title. It’s a basketball game. It features real basketball teams. It stars authentic, live basketball players like that one guy that is our ambassador to North Korea. You score three pointers and dunks. Passing is important, traveling is not allowed, and getting that last toss off at the buzzer is as important as ever. This is basketball. This is unmistakably basketball, one of those sports things that doesn’t do anything for me.
So why did I play NBA Jam, NBA Jam TE, and NBA Hangtime for approximately 100 billion hours?
While it would be easy enough to blame my peer group (we were all nerds, but some of us were nerds with delusional aspirations of becoming some manner of sports hero just as soon as that all-important “growth spurt” finally hit [“Vinne, your dad is like 5’ 3”, don’t kid yourself”]), but I think NBA Jam is something much more simple: it’s basically a fighting game. It’s 2v2, but that second player is only on your team for passing along the ball when things get crowded. Once you get past that, this is basically just a one-on-one fighter with rad dunks substituting for jabs. And I understand fighting games! This isn’t about “plays” or “stats” or whatever the heck happens in Hockey (what the hell is “icing”?), this is about scoring hits on your opponent and blocking every time the offense gets offensive. You’re only as behind as your score (formerly health) allows, and even the turbo works as a sort of “super meter”. Throw in a kombatant or two, and this would be indistinguishable from some of the other arcade offerings of the time. And I know every game at the arcade.
So that, evidently, is what it takes to get me to care about sports. I might not give a damn about the Celtics or the Knicks, but I know that any videogame where I get to play one-on-one with my archrival is going to get my attention. No homeruns, no commentary, just two opponents, and a seesawing score card that is ruled by a turbo meter. That’s what I like to see from videogames, and that’s what I like to see from a sport.
FGC #334 NBA Jam Tournament Edition
- System: Super Nintendo is dear to my heart, but also available on Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Sega 32X, Sega Game Gear, Playstation, Jaguar, and (dear God no) Nintendo Gameboy. Also, there’s an arcade version, because that’s where it started.
- Number of players: Two for realsies, but there’s probably a version out there that allows for four. Did the arcade? You’d think I’d remember such a thing.
- Port-o-Call: I don’t own the original NBA Jam, because I think I rented it until it just became one with my SNES. TE came out at just the right time for a gifting holiday, though, so that actually wound up in my collection. I believe TE started the substitution system, and also included the “crazy” powerup/extra point options, but who cares? It’s all basically the same (fun) game.
- Favorite Team: Is there a single person who played NBA Jam and didn’t just choose the Chicago Bulls every single time? I know nothing about basketball, and even I knew that was the team to play.
- Greatest Loss: Somehow, there was never a NBA Jam/Space Jam crossover. However, you are welcome to listen to the Space Jam soundtrack while playing NBA Jam. I mean, if your Jock Jams tape is busted or something.
- Hidden Players: This is somehow the second game of the FGC to make weird, innocuous jokes at the expense of the Clintons. In retrospect, we all should have expected a Clinton loss in 2016, as she’s been the butt of random jokes for two decades. Good thing our current president hasn’t been the subject of media mockery since the 90’s.
- Did you know? Most people know that the Mortal Kombat 2 incarnations of Raiden, Reptile, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion were all cut from the arcade game. But did you know that we also lost the Grim Reaper, King Kong, and some dork with a weird nose named Elviscious with that same update? NBA Jam… is a weird game.
- Would I play again: Maybe! Like, if I’m suddenly twelve and stuck in my old life again, NBA Jam would certainly be on the menu. Otherwise, no, probably not. Not a big sports fan.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rayman 2! Pirates and frogs ahoy, mateys! Please look forward to it!