Sports Jam: The Devil's Playground

That odd title will become clear soon enough, but first let's get down to business. Sports Jam is a conversion of an arcade game that is really little more than a collection of short and sweet mini-games based loosely on a plethora of different sports. Developed by Wow Entertainment for the NAOMI system and then converted - almost perfectly - to the Dreamcast, Sports Jam encourages players to pick one of twelve events to try their hand (or some cases feet) at, in an attempt to get either high scores or meet the criteria to move on to the next of four rounds.

Complete each round successfully, and you win the game...and that's pretty much the entire game in a nutshell to be honest. Unlike most other arcade-to-home conversions of the era (Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis, Virtua Fighter 3tb et al), Sports Jam doesn't really add much bespoke content to the mix and so the replay value is somewhat limited...especially when you take into consideration that a lot of the 'events' on offer here actually only last for around a (Swatch-sponsored) minute and a half each, or a set number of 'tries.'
Sports Jam Baseball

Sports Jam Hockey
Sports Jam Golf
Sports Jam Soccer
That's not to say there isn't a lot of fun to be had with Sports Jam - indeed quite the opposite is true...while it lasts. For whatever reason, Sega decided not to release the game in PAL territories - it was an NTSC-only title, and as such this was my first experience with it..and (to reiterate) I have to admit that after around half an hour I'd pretty much seen everything Sports Jam has to offer. The twelve different sporting events (composing variations of ice hockey, American football, proper football (soccer), basketball, baseball, tennis, cycling and golf) are all fairly enjoyable but extremely short-lived in the main, and the vast majority of them consist of you either hitting one button repeatedly; waiting for a moment where you have to press a button within a certain power-meter area; or simply lining up a target and hitting fire. Some of the games are more involving than the others, though. For example the ice hockey games are quite fun - one of them sees you assuming the role of goal tender and you have to block an endless stream of high and low shots; while the other is a mix of Breakout and one of those air hockey tables you see at bowling alleys. Elsewhere, the cycling event will give you a sore arm from repeatedly hammering the A button to give your rider the adrenalin needed to beat your opponent; and the baseball sim lets you swing wildly at a pitcher's balls (pun intended).

The graphics and animation are really quite impressive and I can't help but feel that if Sega had taken any one of the engines employed for these mini games and poured more resources into it, they could have been great fully-fledged games in their own right - the golf sections in particular look pretty darn good, and feature some lovely picture-in-picture camera shots and great scenery. If they'd taken this and turned it into a full-blown arcade golf game, then the Dreamcast could have had yet another ace up it's sleeve in the sports genre. As it is, Sports Jam is little more than a great-looking, nice sounding curiosity that will pass half an hour or so, but won't see many players coming back for more once the initial spectacle of the visuals has worn off. There is one final aspect of the game I really do want to touch on though - and it is the reason for this post's somewhat strange title: the 'host.' Here he is:
Sports Jam Presenter
Sports Jam Demon
Sports Jam Host
If you choose to play the arcade version of Sports Jam, the presentation takes a slight turn for the bizarre as this plastic-faced, scary-eyed, Albert Wesker-esque sports presenter appears on the screen and introduces each round of the game. With his odd Southern drawl and hideous gap-toothed grimace, he invites you to choose your category and announces the action during the event. Once you pass the first challenge though, things start getting even more bizarre - his hair develops definite horns and the colour scheme changes to a pallid green...being further replaced by a red tinge after the next stage.

Finally, this abominable denizen of the uncanny valley appears to be seated in a darkened theatre, where his chair suddenly transforms into a massive trophy once he stands up. The question needs to be asked: is Sports Jam a Dantean metaphor for a trip into the very depths of Hell itself, with Beelzebub taunting your every failure and inviting you to travel deeper into his otherworldly lair? The evidence strongly suggests so. But then, I could - once again - be reading way too much into this. Look at the facts though: his hair growing into horns and his shiny red smoking jacket bear all the classic hallmarks of a modern spin on Lucifer - his appearance at first seems as plain and ordinary as you could hope, but upon closer inspection everything just seems a little 'off.' To use an old adage - the Devil is in the detail. And to use another (well, a line from The Usual Suspects to be honest), the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, was to convince the world he doesn't exist. Except in Sports Jam for the Dreamcast...
Sports Jam Demonic Host Dreamcast
Pure Evil


pcwzrd13 said...

Great article Tom! Creepy but informative! Haha! I think I'd really like this game even though there isn't much to it. One of my favorite games on the Dreamcast is 18 Wheeler which is a blast but just like Sports Jam, it's short but sweet.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks mate! Yeah, it's a fun game while it lasts

Eyz said...

Aww, man! I need to et my hands on a copy of this lil' gem!!

For the host alone!! XD

Masamune_Shadow said...

I've been trying to remember this game for a while now. Thanks for rediscovering it for me

Polygonien said...

Sports Jam is especially fun when played with a friend. Sad that they didn't add anything for the home version but if I remember correctly it was released at a point where the DCs downfall had already begun :/ A port for the Wii could have been a good way to revive it and maybe even turn it into a franchise.