White Men Can't Jump
Published 1995 by Atari
Developed by High Voltage Software
White Men Can't Jump (WMCJ) is an Atari Jaguar exclusive developed by High Voltage Software and published by Atari in 1995. The game shipped with the Jaguar Team Tap peripheral for four player action. WMCJ is loosely based on the 1992 movie of the same name, which stars Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as street basketball hustlers. As in the movie, players play pick-up basketball for cold hard cash on the mean streets of early-90s Los Angeles County. Otherwise, the license is wholly wasted as neither character is mentioned in the game. WMCJ is notorious as one of the worst games in the Jaguar library. For many Jaguar owners, it tops that list.
So, does WMCJ deserve the hate? Or is it, as the manual claims, "the most hyped up, monster jammin', bruisin' elbows, rebound snatchin', rim stuffin', skying over suckers, down your throat, money making game of street ball you never thought possible?" Let's plug WMCJ into the big cat and see what it's all about!
Gameplay: WMCJ is a two-on-two basketball game, in which players play half court ball in a semi-3D perspective. There are two game modes: Vs. mode and Tournament mode. In Vs. mode, up to four players can play using the Team Tap. In Tournament Mode, up to two players take on the best street ball duos in L.A. with the hope of making it to the Slam City Tournament at the Inglewood Forum. At the start of the game, you take out a loan from a couple of loan sharks for money to bet. You have to win enough to make the $5,000 entry fee and pay the sharks back - or else! Game progress is saved through the use of one of three save keys - represented by actual keys.
Playing the game is fairly straightforward. You use the d-pad to move, and the Jaguar controller's three main action buttons to pass/punch, jump/shoot, or for speed boost. The action triggered depends on whether or not you have control of the ball. The buttons are customizable from the options menu. Wait a minute, back up. Did I just write "pass/punch"? I sure did. This is street ball, so punching is front and center. Want to steal a ball or block a dunk? Just punch your opponent. It's perfectly acceptable. In addition to the violence, each character also has a "super dunk", which can be pulled off with a combination of movements. I have to say, pulling off a super dunk is pretty magical.
Action response seems a bit slow, with blocking jumps coming just after a shot, punches thrown late and shots taken a few steps after you intended. Also, the computer controlled characters pass like pros but - frustratingly - I could never quite get the hang of it. Additionally, due to the semi-3D perspective of the game, it can be hard to tell what's going on at times. All of this combines to make WMCJ less fluid and enjoyable than it could be.
Graphics: WMCJ uses an interesting art style to say the least. The game employs 2D sprites in a semi-3D perspective. The game uses sprite scaling to provide a sense of depth on the court. A dynamic camera follows the action. The camera movement is fast and can confuse the onscreen action. Words and phrases like "Bangin", "Take it back", "Airball", "Money" and "You gets none" appear on the screen in rapid succession. These use colorful fonts in full 90s glory. This can be a bit jarring and distracts somewhat from the gameplay. Fortunately, this feature can be switched off.
The player characters appear to be digitized from real photos like Kasumi Ninja, but unlike Kasumi, these digitizations are in fairly low resolution. It's an interesting look, if a bit muddy. The characters themselves are generic and their design doesn't show a lot of creativity. From a player's perspective, I really have no reason to pick the "Urban Angels" over the "Dunkin' Demons", or vice versa. They just aren't terribly memorable or distinctive. This may be unfair, as other games benefit from team/player licensing. That said, even if a lot of players feel the same, playing as your favorite NBA star does make you feel a bit more engaged.
The game environments are darker than they could be. To my mind, all the match-ups seem to be held at dusk. In sunny Los Angeles County, would it have killed them to make a really bright level? It was the 90s, so maybe they were trying to evoke smog. Also, no LBC? WTF. Otherwise, I generally like the look and feel of the courts.
Between the dynamic camera, digitized character models, sprite scaling, onscreen text and other effects, there is a lot going on here. Unfortunately, it's just a little too taxing and the framerate suffers for it. Action can seem stuttered and the animations are anything but fluid. This doesn't break WMCJ, it just makes it less fun than other two-on-two basketball titles.
Sound/Music: Sound and music are a strong point of WMCJ. Unlike some Jaguar games, WMCJ features full audio, including in-game music, decent sound effects and heavy voice sampling. The in game music is well done but some of it seems a bit out of place for the game setting. One would expect more of a late-80s to early-90s hiphop sounds. Instead, we get some weird jazz music. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think the "Dis Masters" are playing jazz on their boom box while taking on the "3pt. Kings" in Compton. The voice over sampling is quality, if somewhat repetitive. I would like to hear a little more varied trash talk. The sound effects are what you'd expect from a basketball game, with swooshes that are sufficiently swooshy.
Overall: WMCJ is a strange two-on-two basketball game. While its clear the developers were trying very hard, it is definitely a case of style over substance. I enjoyed some of the 90s quirkiness and it is truly unique. That said, there are better basketball games out there - even on the Jaguar. Sports games require a certain responsiveness and fluidity of action that WMCJ just doesn't have. This makes it a missed opportunity.
Note: While this write-up has focused on the single player game, I want to add that this is tremendously fun with four players. People just really can't believe what they're seeing and it makes for a lot of laughs. A few years ago, I had a "Dads' Day of Atari" and someone picked this out. It was the loudest we laughed all afternoon. WMCJ itself isn't great, but it definitely has a so bad it's good quality that's best enjoyed with friends.
Final Verdict: WMCJ is another odd edition to the Jaguar library. It is far from the worst game on the system but pales in comparison to the excellent Jaguar conversion of NBA Jam TE. If you find it cheap with the Team Tap, you might consider giving it a try. Four player Vs. mode is probably worth the price of admission. Besides, you can use the Team Tap on NBA Jam.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on WMCJ in the comments below! Do you think it ranks as the worst game on the Jaguar? Or do you agree with me that it can be so bad that it's good?