Based on the studio's earlier 1989 game Arch Rivals, NBA Jam features a rules-light, arcade-style, two-on-two variation on the sport of basketball. It is one of the earliest games to feature licensed teams and players from the National Basketball Association (in its 1992-93 season), and includes realistic graphics with each players' digitized likenesses. It also features four-player simultaneous multiplayer, a system for keeping stats and persistent progress, voice commentary by Tim Kitzrow, and hidden cheat codes (including the famous "Big Head Mode").
Along with removing most of the sport's rules, including most of its numerous fouls and violations, NBA Jam exaggerates realism with extremely-high and stylish slam dunks, turbocharged movement, and the series' signature "On Fire" system (where repeated consecutive baskets causes the player to gain an overall buff). Its over-the-top nature would later be used by Midway for other sport games, including American football (with NFL Blitz) and ice hockey (with NHL Open Ice).
The game received home console ports through 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Game Boy, and Game Gear, most of which were published by Acclaim (the North American and European GG version published by Arena). Most were ported by Iguana Entertainment, with the GB version ported by Beam Software. These versions include an updated roster (from the 1993-94 NBA season) and unique hidden characters (notably including U.S. president Bill Clinton).
The game's success led Midway to release an updated sequel in 1995, known as NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. While Acclaim would continue to use the name NBA Jam for multiple games, due to licensing issues Midway instead produced multiple spiritual successors to the series, including NBA Hangtime, NBA Showtime, and NBA Hoopz.
NBA Jam is a 2-on-2 arcade-style basketball game that features over-the-top gameplay. The exaggerated nature of the gameplay means that players can perform gravity defying dunks with ease and shove opposing players down without penalty. Each game consists of four 3 minute long quarters, and the team with the most points at the end of the fourth quarter wins the game. When starting a match players have the option to enter their initials in order to keep track of their win-loss record and teams that they have beaten.
The only fouls a player can commit in NBA Jam are goal tending and shot clock violations. This means that the player can shove opposing players (and even his own teammate) down in order to get the ball without commiting a foul. A shot clock is present in order to keep the game moving at a fast pace and goal tending is used to prevent players from hoarding the basket while on defense.
A trademark of the NBA Jam series is the ability for players to catch on fire. This occurs when a player makes three consecutive unanswered shots. While on fire the player is nearly unstoppable; the player is granted unlimited turbo, increased accuracy, and can't be called for goal tending. A player's fire goes out when the opposing team makes a basket.
Teams & Players
The original arcade version of the game features all 27 teams from the 1992-93 NBA season, with two players from each team. Each player is categorized in four different stats: movement speed, ability to score Three Point shots, ability to dunk, and defensive power. Some players, such as Michael Jordan, could not appear in the game due to licensing issues.
Earlier console versions (SNES/GEN/GG) of the game update the roster for the 1993-94 NBA season, most of which are based on the arcade version of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, while the later console versions (SCD/GB) update the roster for the 1994-95 NBA season. This includes switching some players between teams, replacing some players outright, and switching team colors and logos. Due to licensing issues, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley were removed from these home versions (although Barkley does appear in the first revision of the three earlier console versions, only to be removed in a re-release).
- Atlanta Hawks - Dominique Wilkins & Stacey Augmon in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Stacey Augmon & Mookie Blaylock in the SCD and GB versions.
- Boston Celtics - Reggie Lewis & Kevin McHale in the Arcade version. Dee Brown & Robert Parish in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Dee Brown & Dominique Wilkins in the SCD and GB versions.
- Charlotte Hornets - Larry Johnson & Kendall Gill in the Arcade version. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning in all console versions.
- Chicago Bulls - Scottie Pippen & Horace Grant in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Scottie Pippen & B.J. Armstrong in the SCD and GB versions.
- Dallas Mavericks - Derek Harper & Mike Iuzzolino in the Arcade version. Derek Harper & Jim Jackson in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Jim Jackson & Jamal Mashburn in the SCD and GB versions.
- Denver Nuggets - Dikembe Mutombo & LaPhonso Ellis in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Dikembe Mutombo & Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the SCD and GB versions.
- Detroit Pistons - Isiah Thomas & Bill Laimbeer in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Terry Mills & Joe Dumars in the SCD and GB versions.
- Golden State Warriors - Tim Hardaway & Chris Mullin in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Chris Webber & Latrell Sprewell in the SCD and GB versions.
- Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon & Kenny Smith in the Arcade version. Hakeem Olajuwon & Vernon Maxwell in all console versions.
- Indiana Pacers - Reggie Miller & Detlef Schrempf in the Arcade version. Reggie Miller & Derrick McKey in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Reggie Miller & Rik Smits in the SCD and GB versions.
- Los Angeles Clippers - Danny Manning & Ron Harper in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Pooh Richardson & Ron Harper in the SCD and GB versions.
- Los Angeles Lakers - James Worthy & Vlade Divac in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Vlade Divac & Nick Van Exel in the SCD and GB versions.
- Miami Heat - Glen Rice & Rony Seikaly in the Arcade version. Rony Seikaly & Harold Miner in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Rony Seikaly & Glen Rice in the SCD and GB versions.
- Milwaukee Bucks - Brad Lohaus & Blue Edwards in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Vin Baker & Eric Murdock in the SCD and GB versions.
- Minnesota Timberwolves - Christian Laettner (sometimes misspelled "Laetner") & Chuck Person in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Christian Laettner & Isaiah Rider in the SCD and GB versions.
- New Jersey Nets - Derrick Coleman & Dražen Petrović in the Arcade version. Derrick Coleman & Kenny Anderson in all console versions.
- New York Knicks - Patrick Ewing & Charles Oakley in the Arcade version. Patrick Ewing & John Starks in all console versions.
- Orlando Magic - Shaquille O'Neal & Scott Skiles in the Arcade version. Nick Anderson & Scott Skiles in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Nick Anderson & Anfernee Hardaway in the SCD and GB versions.
- Philadelphia 76ers - Hersey Hawkins & Jeff Hornacek in the Arcade version. Clarence Weatherspoon & Jeff Hornacek in the SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Clarence Weatherspoon & Jeff Malone in the SCD and GB versions.
- Phoenix Suns - Charles Barkley & Dan Majerle in the Arcade version. Charles Barkley & Kevin Johnson in earlier SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Dan Majerle & Kevin Johnson in all other console versions.
- Portland Trail Blazers - Clyde Drexler & Terry Porter in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Clyde Drexler & Cliff Robinson in the SCD and GB versions.
- Sacramento Kings - Wayman Tisdale & Spud Webb in the Arcade version. Wayman Tisdale & Mitch Richmond in all console versions.
- San Antonio Spurs - David Robinson & Sean Elliot in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. David Robinson & Chuck Person in the SCD and GB versions.
- Seattle SuperSonics - Shawn Kemp & Benoit Benjamin in the Arcade version. Shawn Kemp & Detlet Schrempf in all console versions.
- Washington Bullets - Tom Gugliotta (sometimes misspelled "Gugliotti") and Harvey Grant in the Arcade, SNES, GEN, and GG versions. Tom Gugliotta & Calbert Cheaney in the SCD and GB versions.
The game includes some hidden characters that are playable by inputting a specific initials and birthdate combination, which replaces the player's slot on any team they choose and shares that teammates' stats. These include members of the game's development team (Mark Turmell, Sal DiVita, Jamie Rivett, George Petro, John Carlton, John Newcomer, Jon Hey, Shawn Liptak, Sheridan Oursler, and Tony Goskie) and the motion-capture actors (Stephen Howard, Tony Scott, and Willie "Air" Morris, Jr., all of whom appear in the attract mode's "Starring" segment).
Console versions of the game include a new assortment of hidden characters, with only Mark Turmell, Sal DiVita, and Jamie Rivett returning. Unlike the arcade version, these require a specific button combination in addition to the correct initials. These include members of the port's development team (Asif "Chow-Chow" Chauhdri, Dan "Weasel" Feinstein, Eric "Air Dog" Samulski, Eric "Kabuki" Kuby, and Tom "Scruff" Rademacher), American funk musician George "P-Funk" Clinton, American football quarterback Warren Moon, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
The Sega CD version adds more hidden characters, both from Acclaim's teams (Angela "Banana!" Atkinson, Chris Kirby, Darren "Daz" Falcus, Gary Vine, Ian "Geezer" McBurney, Ian "Mr. C" Dunlop, Mike "The Last V6" Muskett, Neil "Ziggy" Hill, Neil "Bloke!" Hislop, Jason "Jase" Falcus, Reeson "Fleece" Ivatts, Rob "Bob" Gray, and Steve Snake) and three dinosaur mascots (T-Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor).