Remember Doritos Crash Course? It was a game launched on the Xbox 360 in 2010, to advertise bags of triangular crack. It was the result of the ‘Unlock Xbox’ competition, where design-savvy Xbox players could submit ideas for games, with the winner getting made into a hybrid game-advert. No one expected much from it, but it turned out to be better than expected, offering an hour of gaming, an easy 200G and a quick deletion from the hard drive.
We’re getting a severe state of deja vu, as almost everything we’ve written above could be find-replaced with Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game. What we have here is the result of a competition, launched in December 2020 (note that swift turnaround), to submit a design for a game that would tie-in with Space Jam: A New Legacy. It would launch with the movie and be made available for free. Just like Doritos Crash Course, no one expected it to be any good, but it’s not bad at all, barely offers an hour of play, and you’ll delete it from your hard drive before you can say “What’s Up Doc?”.
Space Jam: A New Legacy makes for a more suitable game than Doritos ever did, so we’ll give it that. After all, this is based on a movie that feels like you’re watching a multimedia branding exercise rather than a film, as LeBron James and his son wander through various Warner Bros IP, like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and The Matrix. When the movie is about becoming a transmedia superhero, a tie-in video game makes a fractured kind of sense.
Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game has gone the belt-action, scrolling beat-em up route. It’s an unusual take for a game that features one of basketball’s legends, and you can imagine that a lot of the competition entries were riffs on NBA Jam. But it also makes a kind of sense. Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game showed what a cult beat-em up can do for a film, while the early ‘90s was a golden era for Double Dragon-like games with licenses layered over the top. X-Men, TMNT: Turtles in Time and The Simpsons swallowed plenty of our 50p’s.
You can bring along two friends as you choose from three characters – LeBron James, Bugs Bunny and Lola Bunny. Then you’re choosing ‘cards’, fronted by Looney Tunes characters like Wile E. Coyote and Tasmanian Devil, which give you killer benefits at the touch of the Y button (think Streets of Rage’s super attacks). Waves of robots appear, and you punch, flying-kick and chuck basketballs at them across four levels. There’s a boss at the end of each level, and they each bequeath you a master disk that takes you closer to defeating Don Cheadle’s ‘AI-G’ who oversees the virtual multiverse.
Let’s be direct about what you’re getting here: Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game feels like a generous demo for a larger game. From the moment we started, we were seeing the end credits after thirty minutes. We’re rubbish – proper rubbish – at belt-action games, but we unlocked the achievement for completing it without using a Continue on that first go, so we’d hazard that better players will find it obscenely easy. There’s a Hard Mode that steps it up a couple of gears but, again, we completed that in thirty minutes, just with a Continue this time.
Having completed it for a second time, and dipped our toes into the disappointing Boss Rush Mode (just the bosses, one after the other, with one life to take them all down), we had no impulse to play again. We’d exhausted everything that Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game had to offer, and we merrily deleted it off the hard drive.
But while that sounds like an ‘avoid’, it’s more complicated than that. For most people, this will be a free game. That’s not a bad £-to-hour ratio. And, while the experience was only a half-hour long, we managed to enjoy it.
The fighting feels decent, for one. It’s the age-old pattern of trying not to get surrounded, and then whacking whole crowds with repeated presses of the punch button. When you connect it feels chunky and satisfying, as Bugs and Lola use various ACME tools, and LeBron just happens to be huge. The flying kick is near unbeatable and too overpowered, as the enemies don’t seem to have a defence for it, while the special attack cards are also OTT. We ran with the Granny from Sylvester and Tweety, and she dumped food everywhere to replenish all of our limited health.
What makes the fighting fun and different, though, is the inclusion of the basketball. It’s a persistent weapon that gets returned by Tweety should you leave it behind. You can throw it, charge it up and throw it, or just whack people with it. But once you have thrown it, the ball arcs into the air and you can catch it again, bringing it down for a combo. Playing with others, you can even pass to each other. The flow of throwing a ball, getting some hits in, and then catching the ball to follow them up is unique and well-done.
The collision detection is wonky, though, and you’ll often miss the basketball when you think you’ve caught it. It’s a running problem with some rolling barrels and exploding bombs later on, as you’ll get knicked by something you felt you fully avoided. The bosses, too, have attack phases that are more inconsistent than others, and we found ourselves getting hit when we were in the clear. Not that they do much damage, mind.
But once we crossed the finish line, beating Don Cheadle in a battle that we expected to escalate further, we didn’t specifically feel disappointment. The realisation kicked in that this was disposable entertainment, a visual starter dish for the movie, and we understood fully. With any other game, we’d be complaining about a lack of additional characters, additional levels and variety in the enemies, but for free, we weren’t going to kick it out of bed.
At thirty minutes long, Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game is closer in duration to a Looney Tunes short than it is a movie. But adjust your expectations down, find a couple of mates, play it for free, and you’ll find a belt-action game that can be fun, and has faint echoes of classic beat-em ups like Turtles in Time, The Simpsons and X-Men.
You can download Space Jam: A New Legacy – The Game for free on the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S