White Men Can't Jump
by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
$59.95 (includes Team Tap multiplayer adapter)
Sometimes you have to wonder about video-game licenses. Basing a game on a summer action movie is understandable -- ideally, the game will capture and duplicate the same thrills from the movie. But not all movies lend themselves to video-game-adaptation; what do you do with an emotional character piece like "Driving Miss Daisy," or a subtle comedy such as "Dead Poet's Society"?
That's the case with White Men Can't Jump, the latest Jaguar video game from Atari Corp. Loosely based on the Mirimax film, this cartridge offers two-on-two street basketball in various suburban locales. The action is seen from the half court line, with a screen view that pans and zooms to follow the action. Players can opt for a single game or the Slam City tournament, while game options determine time limits, scoring system, and control schemes. There are fifteen teams to choose from, and up to four players (with the Jaguar Team Tap adapter) can get in on the action.
White Men Can't Jump has the ingredients for a solid street basketball game, but isn't completely successful in assembling them into an integrated whole. The game's most notable feature, the constantly-shifting dynamic view, is also a source of some confusion; the "camera" is often near ground level, which can make determining the position of the players and the ball a bit confusing. Indicator arrows and practice helps, but an option to lock the view would have been nice as well.
Because White Men Can't Jump is an adaptation of half-court street basketball, there aren't many rules to get in the way. Aside from a goal tending penalty and the need to clear the ball, anything goes. For instance, steals are effected by shoving an opponent and making a grab for the ball. It's a tad rougher than your typical NBA-sanctioned basketball title, but things don't get too chaotic, as aggressive players are penalized by taking longer to recover from falls. Still, basketball purists might not welcome the frantic action.
With the Jaguar Team Tap (a $30 value, currently included for free with the cartridge), up to four people can play simultaneously. This is the game's highest point, as playing with three friends leads to some wild and exciting sessions. For one or two players, there's also the tournament mode, where the idea is to win enough money in street games for a chance at the Slam City finals. The teams in the tournament get harder with higher bets, and there are six levels of difficulty available for single-session games.
Despite its assorted flaws, there are enough plusses to make White Men Can't Jump worth playing. The computer players are reasonably intelligent, and there's none of the "attribute boost" cheating that occurs in some games, such as NBA Jam. The fifteen different teams vary widely in skills and attributes, and mastering them all will take quite some time. Finally, a number of flashy "super dunks" are available by performing special moves with the joypad, and there's some cheap, vicarious thrill in finding and mastering each character's dunks.
The graphics on White Men Can't Jump are among some of the most impressive and ambitious on the Jaguar to date, but they're hampered by a few hitches. High-resolution, highly-detailed sprites are combined with texture-mapped graphics to excellent effect, and the dynamic view always keeps the focus on the action. Indicators and scores are easy to read, though some of the tournament screens look a little amateurish. On the other hand, the frame rate is a merely passable 16 frames per second, which looks choppy at times, and the static backgrounds are disappointing. Finally, the colors could have been better; there are too many dark and dull hues, which gives the game a dim, washed-out look.
In contrast to the graphics, the sound effects and music are little more than adequate. Game sounds consist of the standard dribbling ball and net swish, along with a number of "street talk" voice samples. While the voices are clear and the samples are fairly varied, they're played too frequently, which makes them repetitious after a while. The game music is entirely forgettable; though it's neither horrible nor irritating, it's also deathly dull, and sounds entirely like an afterthought.
White Men Can't Jump is a good game, but not a great one -- at times, the action can get too chaotic for some players. The dynamic camera view is catchy but slightly flawed, and the sounds are merely passable. Yet in the end, it is a decent title; players who like rough-and-tumble action and those looking for a good Jaguar party game will be satisfied with this cartridge.