Not many people realize what NBA Jam did for sports games. In-between its multi-screen tall slam dunks, seven-foot tall centers popping threes more accurately than Larry Bird, and pushing players into the stands, one feature lived on.
The addition of a turbo button was a necessity for NBA Jam, really more of a defensive maneuver for people to avoid being pushed to the floor. Who thought it was needed for NBA Live too?
By 1995, the speed of NBA Jam changed attitudes. EA Sports basketball series was aging poorly, the sluggish pacing not cutting it. It was so slow to respond to anything, we coined a phrase at a friends house: “The Bill Cartwright fast break.” That’s how Bulls vs. Blazers felt, just like you were taking a full court fast break with then aging center for that Bulls squad. The next year was NBA Showdown ’94, alleviating some of that speed with new animations, but it wasn’t enough.
Undoubtedly, someone decided NBA Live needed to be born, looking to capture a bit of that magic from NBA Jam while remaining realistic in some form. That’s the turbo button. Suddenly, Bill Cartwright couldn’t cut it anymore, those speedy point guards blazing by to the key with, you know, actual speed.
This changed it all. Suddenly, gaining full speed in NHL ’95 was crucial, the turbo button leading to some of the most vicious hits ever seen in a hockey game. It remained instinctive to hold one of the triggers on the SNES controller, or a specific face button on the Genesis, for years. It carried over to the PlayStation, Madden being less about finesse than finding that hole in the line, jabbing the trigger, and taking off. It’s changed the way we played sports games, and it’s now all but gone.
It seems physics are switching attitudes. EA’s NHL series has removed it, and Madden and NCAA Football dumped it this year too in favor of real time physics that determine speed. The option exists, but it’s off by default. That’s the not same. It’s becoming a relic, neglected and dropped like it doesn’t need to exist. Maybe it doesn’t, but could imagine how the upcoming NBA Jam reboot would be without it?
If anything, it shows how old habits die hard. Picking up that controller to begin work on a Madden review, what do I do but run forward keeping that trigger held? It’s like jumping in a way, hitting the A button and expecting your on-screen avatar to leap forward irregardless of gravity. NBA Jam did more than just entertain and create a whole sub-genre of crazed sports titles, but it changed the way we thought of simulation games too. You wonder if NBA Live would have been born without the speed of NBA Jam, and more importantly, the turbo button.