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NBA Unrivaled - 360 - Review


Posted by: jkdmedia

Review Rating 5.5 Average
Your Score

NBA Unrivaled wants to believe that it's NBA Jam reincarnated. However, there are a few key differences that keep this from being an outright clone (whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends largely on your opinion of NBA Jam.) And while most of the differences are actually for the worse, the core gameplay is still there making this a fun, if flawed, arcade basketball experience.

NBA Jam hung its hat on incredibly fast-paced gameplay and high-flying dunks, or to use the parlance of the time "slam-jam-thank-you-ma'am." The major problem with NBA Unrivaled is that it masquerades as an NBA Jam-style game when in fact it's much slower paced.

This is because Unrivaled is a 5-on-5 game as opposed to NBA Jam's 3-on-3. The extra four players on the court severely strangulates your ability to maneuver around to court, and turns this into a game that places a much heavier emphasis on passing and teamwork whereas NBA Jam was more about the awesome power of the individual player literally soaring over the competition. Here the best strategy is usually to pass around until you find an open lane to drive to the basket, or find an open jump shot.  

Once you've settled into the idea that Unrivaled is not the game it pretends to be you'll find a relatively competent arcade sporting experience. Though there's just not enough content in the game for it to be fully worth its pricey (by XBLA standards) cost of $15.

There are only two gameplay modes, which are both essentially the same thing. There's the run-of-the-mill quick match, and the challenge mode in which you just play games over and over again against increasingly difficult opponents. It's definitely still a fun game, but as was said it just doesn't live up to its price tag. Would it have been so difficult to include a simple three-point contest or a way to create your own player? There is also Xbox Live matches, but unless you get a friend to buy the game with you it seems unlikely this game will be supporting a large player base. During our time for review only one random Xbox Live game could be found, and the rest were games that we set up.

While the game might be a bit anemic in terms of modes, it's quite well done in terms of production values. The graphics are generally quite nice, with a bright, colorful aesthetic. Players are mostly cartoonish with exaggerated features. There are also quite a few nice looking special effect during big dunks or three-pointers. In some cases, while driving to the hoop, a prompt will come up above the players head allowing them to push the X button to execute a superfluously huge pre-rendered dunk scene. It's over-the-top even for this game, but it's a nice bit of punctuation to your attempts to execute the perfect play.

That same level of quality unfortunately doesn't really cross over into the sound (or lack thereof.) There's hardly any music that plays during the games except for a short little diddy that plays when you enter into "Momentum Mania" which is Unrivaled's version of NBA Jam's being "On fire!" This leaves you with nothing to listen to besides the whoosh of the ball as it flies through the air, the squeak of sneakers on the waxed floor and the same 2-second beat repeated over and over again. Both of these are nice additions, but not on their own. Music can serve to heighten the intensity and set the mood for the speed of gameplay. A fast paced game not having any jams is like a car chase scene without the tense orchestral score or heavy metal. You recognize that what you're seeing is tense, but you just don't feel it.

There are also numerous small flaws that never really amount to much. For instance, when standing on the baseline offensive players have a nasty habit of standing with one foot just barely out of bounds. So occasionally you'll pass to somebody in the post, only to have the ball taken away for seemingly no reason other than an AI glitch. Also, maybe we're just terrible at tip-offs, but out of dozens of attempts we never won a single tip-off.

That said, all of the small bad things are offset by the one big good thing -- an awesome gameplay formula. In the end, that has a lot wrong with it, but once you get the hang of the gameplay, it's just good fun. It will occasionally frustrate you, but it will often wow you.

If what you're looking for is to replicate those old times with NBA Jam, you should probably just go play NBA Jam. Unrivaled certainly doesn't come close to surpassing the classic arcade basketball experience. However, if you've played that to death and are looking for something a little different, but with the same flavor then Unrivaled will do just fine. That is, as long as you're willing to pay the relatively extravagant price of $15.

Review Scoring Details for NBA Unrivaled

Gameplay: 6.6
The core gameplay of NBA Jam is mostly here, but the extra players on the court slows things down considerably. It's fun in its own way, but those expecting fast-paced gameplay will be disappointed.

Graphics: 6.4
The graphics are mostly good, but nothing special. It's basically the standard XBLA coat of cartoonish shine coupled with some stray graphical glitches.

Sound: 4.0
There's almost no music or announcers whatsoever in this game besides the 5-note beat that repeats ad nauseum, which leaves you with practically nothing to listen to besides sneakers squeaking on the floor.

Difficulty: Medium
The difficulty curve to the challenge mode is pretty good. Opposing teams get gradually better as you progress, helping you improve.

Concept: 7.5
It's nothing original, but anything that attempts to bring back the classic days of NBA Jam is OK in my book.

Multiplayer: 6.0
This is very standard multiplayer fare. The inclusion of online play is nice, but you're not likely to find too many games. You can play with friends, but not too many of your peers are going to be rushing to download this game.

Overall: 5.5
For the high price mark of $15 you're just not getting enough. The gameplay is good when played correctly, but that same lack of lenience in play style is also a deficiency. Most players will not be able to find enough value to make it worth their purchase.

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