Last year, the best thing to be had from Acclaim's stand was an audience with outspoken ZooCube developer Nalin Sharma, unless you really were there to play Vexx, Legends of Wrestling II or, er, BMX XXX. Fast forward to 2003 and there are still crowds of young men "whooping" and "hollering", but this time there are no lycra-clad strippers prancing around the screen - this time, NBA Jam's the centre of attention.
NBA Jam 2004, as it's been dubbed by a specialist press unwilling to hand back the hallowed moniker in its purest form, pays homage to its rightly revered predecessor by throwing in some new gameplay ideas whilst retaining much of what made the original great. So you can still expect to see slightly deformed players strutting their newly motion-captured stuff in three-on-three, players catching fire after three successive scores, cameras flashing from the crowd and an onslaught of spectacularly over-the-top slam dunks.
The emphasis remains on popping the ball through the hoop with fearsome energy, and this time there's a special "Jam meter" at the top of the screen, which fills up as you trick and dunk throughout a match. Once full, a target appears on court - rather like the special move spotlight in Sega Soccer Slam - and when you perform a special dunk from here it's an automatic three points. However as the game wears on and you refill the bar, the value of the dunk increases to five and then seven points.
Obviously there are plenty of fiery alley-oops and dunks, the usual speed boosts, pushes and shoves to displace opponents, and this time your performance will directly benefit you by means of points to spend on player attributes, hidden characters and other bits and bobs. We're also promised the good old Big Head mode, the option to turn off fouls and an alternative to catching on fire: going cold.
In terms of authenticity, Acclaim Austin's take on NBA Jam brings us all 29 NBA teams (and the requisite screen full of their respective trademarked logos), and a new NBA Legends Tournament, which - rather like its equivalent in EA's excellent NBA Street Volume 2 - lets you unlock and then toy with 50 legendary players including the likes of Magic Johnson. However it's series authenticity that the developer seems most concerned about, which is good news for fans of the original - of which there are, well, many. We're certainly looking forward to the prospect of six-player games (finally, a use for that multi-tap!) with our old fave in new threads.
Achieving what the original game did certainly won't be easy for NBA Jam 2004. Slapping on the old logo and pasting old ideas into a polygon-based engine probably seems like a recipe for success in Austin, but hopefully the developer and publisher recognise the potential for backlash from gamers already sick of watching their childhood favourites dragged kicking and screaming through the 3D factory. It looks good, it's pretty pacey (albeit a bit sluggish in framerate terms from what we've seen on the PS2), and it's trying a few new things in the old groove, but we're still a bit sceptical. Nevertheless, we're looking forward to getting it home and losing touch with family members over it.