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NBA Hangtime

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Reviewed by Kent Frechette Maybe you've Jammed before, perhaps you've even gone to the Extreme (ice ice baby) on occasion, but you've never pushed, shoved, smacked, grabbed, or alley-ooped like you will in NBA Hangtime. Yes, kids, the folks that brought you NBA Jam and its many and not-so-varied sequels bring you yet another update to the very popular series. In order for a sports series to remain popular, it must constantly update the rosters, have team and player licenses, and, most importantly, add something extra to the gameplay with each and every outing. Some other notable series that have accomplished this are Madden, NHL Hockey, and more recently, the World Wide Soccer series on the Saturn. The initial console versions of NBA Jam came out on the Genesis and SNES. They sold extremely well but were far from being exact replicas of the popular arcade title. The sequel to this title sold well too, but it tasted like the same game we had just played the year before. Whereas I had played the original title every day for months, its sequel managed to garner a couple of frenetic days of gaming out of me, but nothing more. Blah dee blah blah blah. Next came the Saturn and PS versions of the game better put: the FREAKING BASTARDIZED VERSIONS spewed forth by an uncaring, money-grubbing pile of crap company you may otherwise know as Acclaim (ACK-LAME). Acclaim was allowed to mess up the arcade to home conversions of the NBA Jam series through a licensing agreement with Williams , now known as Midway, for many years, but those not so happy, feeling kinda dumb titles are behind us. Midway has wrestled the popular series back, and are out to prove that they could do their games more justice than Acclaim did. Well, whether or not they managed to do so is ultimately up to you, but in my mind, after 3 wonderful days with NBA Hangtime, Midway has more than surpassed my expectations for the game. To be honest, after the PS version of Jam, I wasn't expecting much at all. I never even bothered to play more than a few games of Hangtime at the arcade, not enough time to fully appreciate the differences between it and its predecessors. But I am a Jam freak, always was, and more than likely, always will be. What that means for a lamer like myself is that I'm destined to purchase every incarnation of this series... good, bad, or Acclaimified. A day before Hangtime was released on the N64, a site on the WWW (VideoGameSpot) declared Hangtime 64 the worst N64 title to date. Had these idiots not played Mortal Kombat? Had these gaming dingoes never laid their clueless hands upon Killer Instinct Gold? Where were these dullards when Cruisn USA bellowed, sputtered and coughed its way onto the N64 scene? VGS, I declare you the worst webzine I have ever read until I venture back to NGO that is. Wink wink, nudge nudge. The reviewer declared the game was so bad because the title had been done before. Well then, by that token, when Mario Kart 64 comes out next month, in order for VGS to remain constant, they better declare Mario Kart 64 the new worst (mom and day would be proud) N64 title ever. Don't hold your collective breath. OK, 'nuff o' da chitty chitty chat chat. On to the game. The reasons I'm so enamored with Hangtime 64 are varied. I'll list 'em for you. Load times, or the lack thereof. Sure, many may call this a minor quibble with the cd-based systems, but after waiting 30 seconds for Jam on the PS to load up, and then another good 30 seconds for the game to start, for halftime to finish, and then again for the game to end, it gets pretty tiring and the thought of playing another game all but escapes your weary little b-ball brain. The load times do not exist in the N64 version. I purposely bought this version over the PS game of the same name for that very reason alone. Perhaps the PS version will have better music, but who gives a rat's fanny about music in a bloody NBA Jam game? Create a Player. When I saw this feature on the box, I thought, "Neat, probably something I'll do once, but never bother with again." Wrong-o, genius. Having the ability to choose your own head, height, weight, and playing abilities, but being limited in your choice of upgrades until you've won a good deal of games is a wonderful new addition. I made my player tall and fast with a good outside shot. I wasn't close to maxing out any of the ability settings, but the more I won, the more I was allowed to increase some of my abilities. Oh yeah, did I mention that I gave myself a pig head, and nickname Spanky? Well, I did, so there. You get a nice long varied list of head choices as well as nicknames. The nicknames refer to what you want the announcer to refer to you as. If I had my way, he'd call me... well, I won't get into that. Options: More players to choose from on each team, with a lot more hidden. The ability to turn on Big Heads from the menu is nice too. There hasn't been this many settings choices in any other Jam game. You can skip the settings if you don't like being bothered with such nonsense, or you can revel in the freedom of choice like I do. Audio: The amount of speech in this game hasn't even been attempted in previous console versions. Not only is there speech aplenty, but there are accompanying sound effects as well. These are often more humorous then the labored and uninspired comments of the not-so-peppy announcer. Who hired this log of wood with a tongue? The other four reasons aside, the one change in NBA Hangtime that would make me buy it over and over again and recommend it so strongly to you is the Alley OOP. But not just alley oops. You also get double dunks --when you go up with the ball to dunk, your teammate follows you up into the air, you give him the ball and he smashes it though. If your team does 3 of these in a row, you're both on fire. You'll need a couple of games under your belt to get the real hang of doing these things, but once you do, you'll find yourself hanging back with the ball, waiting for your teammate or drone player to go the hole, and once you see him catch some air, you whip him the ball for a fancy alley oop. I've gotten to the point that I can do them from half court and offscreen. It's all a matter of timing and knowing what your partner is going to do. Wait too long to pass, and the ball will go flying over his head. These are precision dunks, and are the most satisfying part of the game when done right. They're also a pain when the computer is doing them against you. You'll need to play better D than you have in the past. Knock them down as they run to the hoop in hopes of stopping the play, because the computer loves the Alley OOP as much as you do. Here's a quick breakdown of the standard rating categories that we find most applied to video games. Graphics: Astounding. This game looks better than the arcade. Some llamas in the Usenet groups claim there is no scaling in the game. These are probably the same guys that waited all December for Santa to bring them a Tickle Me Elmo doll. While they're off anally-violating poor little Elmo, you'll be enjoying your arcade perfect, scaling copy of NBA Hangtime. Even with normal heads, you can identify your players on the court, with Rodman's persona the easiest to pick out. Love the hair color, Midway. The courts you play on adjust to the city you're playing in as well in terms of color, which isn't major, but is quite a nice change of pace. Sounds: Like I mentioned earlier, the sounds are great with the one glaring exception of the Prosac-consuming announcer. Put some effort into it, dude! But what captain Quaalude lacks in enthusiasm, the sound effects more than make up for. After 20 odd games, I still hear things I hadn't heard in the previous outings. Options: Again, as I mentioned earlier, outstanding. Change the difficulty, the music and sound effects volumes, the speed of the clock, the size of your heads, your girlfriends underwear, your dad's choice of deodorants etc. The lack of load times also makes the trips through the menus a breeze. When you put in your virtual quarters, you're given the option of creating a player(or altering an already created player), starting up where you left off in your quest for the crown via your saved game, or just playing a straight-up game without messing with names and numbers. There is also a cheat meter that, if you know the correct codes, will power up some neat little extras in the game. The only extra I've bothered with so far is the hidden outdoor court, which is really nice. The crowd is replaced by a nice city skyline, and some cheerleaders. The chord net is now a chain net. You can hear traffic in the background, and helicopters at times. Again, not an earth-shattering addition to the game, but it is great that it's in there. Gameplay: This is all that really matters. If you loved the previous Jam games, or have never played a Jam game in your life, you already know, or need to know, that gameplay is what sets the Jam series apart from all other sports games. It's simply fast, furious action. The only strategy you need to know is get to the hoop more times than the other team. Butta-boom-butta-bing. It don't get much more simpler than that, honey. As was true in all the other Jam games, beat it and you'll open up other pieces of the game ie. More players that you can choose at the start of the game, and harder opponents to play against. Another key point to bring up is that the days of tripping over the blasted multi-tap are over. With the Nintendo 64's handy-dandy 4 joystick ports, you just plug in and go. Very sweet indeed. Before I conclude, here are the lowpoints: The announcer. I've said enough about him already. Lastly, unless I'm totally brain dead, it appears that each player has to have his own memory card in his own controller in order for all 1-4 of you to save your players and stats. Could get expensive. Well, that's the last of my complaints. As you can see, not too many to go around, and the ones that do exist aren't that painful to absorb. If you've never been a fan of the Jam series, NBA Hangtime on the N64 surely isn't going to convert you, brother, but if you've been a fan like I have, you will absolutely love this new addition to the series. You'll be alley-ooping until the cows carry Aunt Betty home again. Enjoy. As for a rating: I'll give it a 95/100, and declare it my second favorite N64 title to date, falling second only to Wave Race 64.

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