A retro hoops solution.Edit
This year has been all about basketball on Wii. EA Sports launched an all-new revival of the classic NBA Jam in early October, Virtual Toys gave us a WiiWare release of HoopWorld in July, and now we've got a third fresh option for players wanting to shoot some hoops on their Wii systems. But this one isn't remade, updated, or changed in any way.
Street Slam is perfectly retro. As a Virtual Console re-release of a game that first appeared in American arcades back in 1994, choosing to drop nine bucks on a download of this option may be the best way to step back to that golden age of arcade basketball -- since it's not a new game trying to recapture that old flavor, it's just an old game with that flavor still intact.
And it comes through right from the start. The energy the Neo Geo was known for hits you immediately with Street Slam's over-the-top title screen, then the game keeps your blood pumping throughout your entire experience. The premise here is simple -- the 10 best street hoops teams in America have decided to hold a tournament to see who's the very best, and it's up to you to take control of one of them and lead them to total domination of the nation.Games are played three-on-three in Street Slam, the same teams HoopWorld offered but a bit more crowded than NBA Jam's two-on-two style. The dynamic works, though, as passing to an open man becomes more of an option as you're running up and down the court. Passing is assigned to the 2 Button on the Wii Remote while you're on offense, while shots are mapped to 1.
And they're wonderfully over-dramatic. Just like in NBA Jam, your players here will leap three stories into the air to execute a slam dunk, throw elbows that send the opposition flying, and never get called for fouls. It isn't entirely original in that way, but it's just as satisfying even as a copy. There are even a handful of things I like better about the way Street Slam is balanced.
Teams each have individual ratings for dunks, defense, shooting threes, and speed -- and the ratings actually feel accurate. If you choose a weak defense team, you'll have a terrible time trying to make a steal. But if you pick a three-pointer powerhouse, you'll be draining shots from downtown all day long.
There are some fake-out maneuvers that you can execute with simple button presses, like turning a ridiculous dunk animation into a pass back to the three-point line or setting up a teammate for an alley-oop slam. These work well and help the game feel more varied.
And then there's the Super Shot meter. This is the feature that I most like better than NBA Jam's equivalent, as the "He's on Fire!" mechanic always required you to score three buckets in a row to activate in that game. Here, any successful shot fuels a meter at the bottom of the screen and builds you up toward being able to pull off those most over-the-top flaming shots and dunks -- you don't have to have a perfect defense streak to get there, which is nice if you're using a low-defense squad.
The big disappointment bringing the whole thing down, though, is the multiplayer. While NBA Jam will allow you to field a full force of four players for a totally human competition, Street Slam maxes out at just supporting two at a time. That's especially annoying since this is a three-on-three game, too, as it means you'll always have two A.I. bots as your teammates -- and there's no co-op with a partner, only versus matches.
Modern conveniences like four-person multiplayer support are missed when you decide to go retro with your gaming, but it's still undeniable that the best way to experience the gameplay styles of the past is just to play the same games that existed back then. And since the original arcade edition of NBA Jam won't ever be made available on Wii, this 1994 Neo Geo rival is going to be your best bet for revisiting that era exactly as it once was.