Yup, it’s March again, meaning it’s just about time for America to frantically fill in their brackets, that one guy who you work with who never watches basketball to lecture you about Syracuse’s zone defense, workers blowing off their jobs to huddle around the nearest TV, and those filled-out brackets to be run through the shredder because Georgetown managed to lose on Day 2 to a school that you couldn’t guess what state it’s located in. It’s March Madness, and we at JGR would be remiss if we didn’t
shamelessly whore ourselves out in an attempt to be topical have our finger on the pulse of the culture, so in honor of the NCAA Tournament, let’s have a look at College Slam for Super Nintendo.
First off, yes, it’s basically NBA Jam Goes to College for all intents and purposes, so if you hated Jam, you can basically stop the train and hop off now, there’s nothing here that’s going to change your opinion. If you like Jam, you’ll probably find a very good version of it here with just enough quirks and subtle differences to make it feel at least somewhat fresh. For the uninitiated, what this is is a 2-on-2 basketball game stripped of all rules short of goaltending and the shot clock, injected full of crazy dunks, punching opponents to steal the ball, and guys catching actual, factual fire.
There’s a few changes here to reflect the differences between college basketball and the NBA. Jam featured four 3-minute quarters, and substitutions after each quarter, with a 24-second shot clock. College Slam uses two 6-minute halves, and a 35-second shot clock (which you should NEVER run down all the way, given as most possessions last ten seconds at most). You can substitute players at the half, or, once per half, you can call a timeout by pausing and then pressing B. This can lead to some pretty interesting matchups and mental battles as you weigh the options of putting in lesser bench players now and give your starters time to rest up, or keeping your stars on the floor and risking them getting too banged up to be effective. You can also react to your opponent’s swaps and matchup accordingly. Opponent wants to bring out his small, quick shooters? Counter it by bringing in the big guys and rough them up inside. It’s a small touch, but it does effectively introduce a bit of strategy to the game.
There’s plenty of teams and options here to choose from. Conferences are up-to-date for 1996, and unlike NCAA Basketball, the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences made the cut this time, so Indiana and UCLA fans can finally take their teams to the promised land. In terms of options, you can adjust things like CPU difficulty, timer speed, Tag Mode (where you control whoever has the ball while you’re on offense), CPU Assist (which basically serves as the rubber band logic that artificially keeps games close) and features like Hot Spots (which makes shots from that spot worth the number on them) and the various pickups that have effects ranging from allowing you to dunk from anywhere to making everyone except you fall down. As for game modes, you have an exhibition mode, a 16-team tournament, a Semifinal (Final Four) mode, and a season mode similar to the tournament mode from Jam, right down to the inability to use hotspots or secret codes.
Gameplay here is simple; A and B shoot, X and Y pass, and L and R trigger turbo, which not only speeds you up, it allows you to unleash monster dunks and push opponents instead of half-assedly swatting at the ball. Again, if you’ve played Jam, you should be right at home, however, thete are two new moves that can prove useful: a super turbo boost that basically serves as the truck stick and lets you plow through defenders and cut a swath to the hoops, and the putback dunk, which allows you to grab a missed shot and dunk it in one motion, making it damn nigh impossible to block.
And sure enough, if a player scores three buckets in a row without the other team making a basket, HE’S ON FIRE, giving them unlimited turbo and a magical ability to hit pretty much any shot they put up until the other team makes a basket (goaltending doesn’t count) or the player on fire makes four baskets, so realistically, the smartest thing to do when you catch fire is to just jack up threes. Also, it needs to be mentioned that although goaltending is called in this game, it doesn’t get called unless it’s seemingly the worst possible time for it, as in the course of playing this game, I got away with dozens, if not hundreds, of the most blatant goaltends imaginable to the point where it becomes a viable defensive strategy to sit back and swat any shot going to the bucket and just take your chances.
Much like all college sports games, no actual player names are used, but in a neat touch, you have the ability to edit player names yourself, as well as adjust their stats within a pool of stat points. Think your shooting guard needs a little less blocking ability and could use a bit more help shooting threes? Center needs less passing and more blocking? Want to give Duke’s entire roster 1’s across the board because Fuck Duke™? It’s up to you. Theoretically, this means that you could insert your favorite team’s current players and tinker with their stats until they reflect the real thing, but you can’t change appearances or heights, which is kind of a downer, but anything that can keep a game this old fresh is a positive.
Graphically, everything here’s on par with the other two SNES NBA Jam games. Players are still faceless, with dots for eyes, and uniforms are still the same two color palette swaps, but if it wasn’t a problem for you before, it shouldn’t be now. Same story with sound, for the most part, with commentary once again handled by The Voice of God himself, Tim Kitzrow, although here, his lines feel a bit more subdued than on Jam; there’s no “BOOMSHAKALAKA!” to be found, but I gotta admit, throwing down a putback dunk and having Kitzrow respond with “Keg Party!” was more than a little funny. All the sound effects are overblown, keeping with the spirit of the games, as dunks sound like explosions and the ball bouncing off the rim sounds a lot more like dropping a brick on a concrete floor.
On the surface, College Slam seems like a cheap knockoff of NBA Jam designed for a very niche audience, but if you give it a chance, it’s not a bad game on its own merits. The ability to edit teams and make in-game substitutions add a layer of strategy amongst the mayhem, and the intensity college basketball rivalries bring to the table make it a bit more logical to make an extreme college hoops game. It’s not the be-all, end-all game in the genre by any stretch, but it could be a raucous good time with some friends, especially if you’re on two different sides of a basketball blood feud, and no matter how old or derivative a game is, it’s always enjoyable to be able to throw down a cross-court helicopter jam on Duke.
Everything you enjoyed about NBA Jam, but with a different coat of paint and enough different features to not make this the basketball equivalent of Nagano Olympic Hockey ’98.
If you were already sick of Jam or never liked it in the first place, this is a big ol’ pile of “meh”.