The Friday Five: Top 5 Arcade Basketball Games

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.

While we generally deal with sim oriented basketball video games in our community, several of us are also fans of the arcade style games. As I’ve said several times before, I’m an NBA Jam fan from way back in the day, and I still like the idea of having arcade basketball games as a change of pace from five-on-five simulation fare. Sometimes, you just feel like a quick game with somersault dunks from the rafters.

This week, I’m counting down my Top 5 arcade basketball games. It’s a slightly easier list to compile than the Top 5 simulation basketball games, as arcade basketball games tend not to have annual releases, thus there are fewer of them and it’s easier to pick out the best five from the cream of the crop. I might try to tackle the Top 5 sim titles in a future Five, but for now, here are my picks for the Top 5 arcade basketball games.

5. NBA Jam (the original and the 2010 reboot)

Kevin Durant in the 2010 reboot of NBA Jam

I feel I have to include both of these games in my top five; the original because it holds up as a fine game and paved the way, and the reboot because it’s such a welcome throwback to the original, while also bringing some creative ideas to the table with its Remix Tour. The original is a true classic, while the reboot is slightly underrated and unfairly maligned due to the controversy surrounding NBA Elite 11.

Both games do have a common shortcoming, in that they get a little repetitive compared to their simulation brethren. As fun as it is to see the ridiculous dunks come out, play against your friends, and lock horns with the CPU and its challenging comeback logic, each trip up the court plays out pretty much the same. The reboot’s Classic Campaign mode is a bit too long as well, especially since the user is locked to the one team per campaign. Nevertheless, the two games tipped off and revived the series respectively, I enjoyed them immensely, and they certainly crack my top five.

4. NBA Street Homecourt

Gamebreaker in NBA Street Homecourt

I wanted to show the NBA Street series some love in this list, partly to prevent it from being comprised of nothing but NBA Jam games, but also because it’s a great series and I’ve enjoyed playing a couple of the games in particular. As I’ve mentioned before, I actually got a glimpse of NBA Street Homecourt during the Community Event for NBA Live 07 and like most assembled, I was very impressed with what I saw. When I bought my Xbox 360, Homecourt was one of the first games that I picked up and I still have it to this day, as well as the DLC.

Homecourt was a great concept, really paying tribute to street ball and the roots of some of the NBA’s brightest stars. The level of detail that went into each of the courts was very impressive and the career mode was handled quite well. It is fairly lengthy however and like a lot of arcade basketball games, the gameplay could get a little repetitive at times. Still, I enjoyed playing through it and I do think it’s one of the best arcade basketball games out there. I’d understand if some people are inclined to rank it higher, but I’m personally more partial to NBA Jam.

3. NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Alonzo Mourning in NBA Jam Tournament Edition

I always feel nostalgic when it comes to NBA Jam Tournament Edition, as my cousin and I spent a lot of time playing the PC version when he came to stay during the school holidays. We used to play a lot of NBA Live as well, but we made it our mission to play (and win) with every team and complete the tournament challenge in TE. We’d diligently write down our stats after each game, and even documented the variety of dunks that could be performed with each dunk rating. If I could find that document, I’d put it up in our Wiki for fun, but sadly the file seems to be long gone.

I consider NBA Jam Tournament Edition to be a step ahead of the original game for a couple of reasons: substitutes and injuries. The expanded roster offered different strategic options, while the injuries – or rather, the numerical injury level, which increased the more you were knocked to the floor – added an extra challenge and a reason to make substitutions. Injuries are something that’s missing from EA Sports’ two NBA Jam releases and if they ever make another Jam game, I hope they bring them back.

2. NBA Hangtime

Gary Payton in NBA Hangtime

For me, it’s a close contest between NBA Jam Tournament Edition and NBA Hangtime, with the latter being the true sequel to the former in my view (subsequent Jam games after TE were developed by Acclaim, whereas original developer Midway created Hangtime). Looking back, TE is probably more of a personal favourite, but I’m going to have to give the nod to Hangtime as the superior game. As such, I’m ranking it higher on this list.

Just as NBA Jam Tournament Edition took everything that made the original NBA Jam so great and built upon it, NBA Hangtime retained the great experience of its predecessors while adding some significant new features. Specifically, Hangtime introduced the concept of Team Fire, added alley-oops, double dunks and a spin move, and implemented Create-a-Player. The lack of available CAP faces was a little disappointing at the time and your player was a bit underpowered until you gained enough experience to level them up, but it added a new dimension to the game and I have fond memories of playing Hangtime against the CPU and my friends alike, being one of the first games I had for my Nintendo 64.

1. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

JaVale McGee in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

I’ve seen gamers declare that EA Sports has “ruined” the NBA Jam series since acquiring it, with their two Jam releases sometimes being described as “terrible”. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I couldn’t disagree more strongly and I honestly feel that that’s a point of view primarily influenced by a dislike of EA, rather than a fair assessment of the games themselves. As I’ve said before, the 2010 reboot of NBA Jam was a solid and somewhat underrated game, while NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is my pick for the best arcade basketball game to date.

Thanks to the Real AI, OFE avoids a lot of the repetitive gameplay that was an issue with its predecessors, as well as similar arcade hoops titles such as NBA Street. It has the deepest and most varied game mode in the history of the series, supporting single player, local multiplayer and online multiplayer in the same save file. It has NBA Legends, plenty of unlockables, and it’s received a few roster updates since its release. If a street atmosphere is what you’re after then it admittedly doesn’t deliver in that regard, but apart from that, across the board it’s a step up from everything that came before it. It’s not just the best NBA Jam game, it’s the best arcade basketball game, and I feel that EA Canada deserves credit for that.

Honourable Mentions

Michael Jordan with the dunk in NBA Street

I also wanted to mention the original NBA Street, a game that still holds up fairly well today. In its time, it was definitely a fun change of pace when you wanted a break from the sim games, and it scores extra points with me for featuring Michael Jordan. My other honourable mention goes to Konami’s NBA Give ‘N Go, an NBA licensed version of Run and Gun and probably one of the best five-on-five arcade basketball games, incorporating some sim elements into its fast-paced arcade style.

That’s going to do it for this week. What are your favourite arcade basketball games? Which ones make up your top five? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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April 26, 2014 6:04 am

I’m still a big Arch Rivals fan haha

April 26, 2014 12:07 pm
Reply to  Andrew

Yea, I just thought it would be nice to be in honorable mentions section part heh