Wednesday 28 September 2011

Rap Jam: Volume One

Look kids, another game designed by marketing departments

"Rap Jam: Volume 1" a household name no less for the Super Nintendo. Developed by our good friends at 64WD Corporation (..?) and published by Mandingo (...?!) exclusively in the US, it's a half-baked basketball game that nobody remembers. But wait, there's more - there's a selection of rappers and hip hop artists to play as. Yes, you heard that right - the music industry is in on this. What could possibly go wrong?

This is a mostly pointless review since I can barely relate to basketball video games, never mind hip hop, the Super Nintendo or American culture, yet here we have a package that contains all four. Released in early 1995, Rap Jam was panned by critics for hopefully obvious reason and so degraded into a life of relative obscurity. However, now that we're in 2011 and the old NBA Lives aren't as appealing as the once were, Rap Jam finds itself being substantially more notable than the competition that displaced it fifteen years ago. This one is unique, and that tends to be a good thing.

But of course, it's a miserable excuse for a basketball game - you could probably tell that straight away. It's a no frills arcade-style look on the sport that anyone can get into, but falls well behind the competition in almost every area one could assess. It is no more than a novelty item.

Rap Jam is an early attempt at taking basketball to the streets - essentially an excuse not to include complicated rules and regulations, such as fouls, or quarters, or the correct number of players on court. I can't help but be a bit cynical about all of this - I think it purposefully lacks features in order to give the programmers a nice time. With minimalistic rules and five mostly-identical stages, Rap Jam is about as simplistic as basketball can get.

You don't get much in terms of accurate physics - you basically take the ball and throw it into your opponent's basketball net, scoring two points every time you do so. Sometimes you'll hit it, sometimes you won't - I'm not sure if it's skill or luck that's the deciding factor. Though I suspect the controls allow for a deeper experience than those simpler consoles like the NES, it doesn't strike me as being as fun and expansive as something like NBA Jam or any of the up-to-date alternatives available for the Super Nintendo at the time.

But I guess what you really care about is the roll call. On our list of oddly named rappers and hip hop artists we have Coolio, House of Pain, LL Cool J, Naughty By Nature, Onyx, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Warren G and Yo-Yo. Now, last week I had no clue half of these people existed, and since most are still active in the industry, that's over 20 years of history that's passed me by. I wonder what chance I would have stood in 1995 when they were new.. Oh and yes, the groups can be broken down into individual members, though god knows why you would care.

I mean seriously, there's no reason to care - the game uses stock "male" and "female" characters, so there's no way to tell between your Flavor Flavs and Chuck Ds while shooting some hoops. There doesn't seem to be any significant differences in terms of running speeds, jump heights or throwing abilities, the game just seems to assume everyone is about equal in terms of skill. Bizarrely, this makes sense, because none of these people play basketball, so you'd imagine them all to be equally bad.

Your team can have a maximum of three players, with any combination of rappers taking any position on the court. Also, clearly to make up the numbers, you can select a few random children to help out., because as we all know, the rap community is filled with great role models that will get them into sport.

The graphics are dull, failing to demonstrate the powers of the Super Nintendo. Things run at about 20 or 30 frames per second - half of what you would expect from a game like this, and it comes paired with fairly choppy animations and not-so-great AI. Most of the time there's no indicator to show which character you're playing as (which would be very useful in team games since you all play in the same clothes) and also, not a single court has background music.

Let me run that past you again, a game featuring singers and musicians is lacking in the audio department... considerably. If you get some points, the game shouts "yeah", but aside from that and a few tedious sound effects, the TV speakers get a nice break. Granted, there may have been issues getting record companies to part with recognisable tunes, but I'd have thought the backup option would be to make some up from scratch - every other game manages. Either way you'd think this game would excel in the audio department since music is such a big focus.

In the end there's nothing great to be said about Rap Jam. As hilarious as the concept is, clearly the only thing it has going for it are the hip hop stars (who only show up properly in the character selection screen). This isn't like Shaq Fu (on the Mega Drive at least) where I suspect people criticise it for the premise alone - Rap Jam has no real positives to discuss other than being "different" to the NBA Jams, NBA Lives and NBA Actions of this world.

So, Rap Jam. Worth checking out if you like quirky sports titles, but should definitely be avoided if you don't. And for the record, no, there was never a "Volume Two".

No comments:

Post a Comment