By now, most folks know what NBA Jam is, the franchise was originally established in 1993 as an arcade game and has been updated, remade, and ported repeatedly. The game did disappear for a few years, but was resurrected with last fall’s console release entitled simply, NBA Jam. Now, for this Fall, we’re getting more of a streamlined game with PSN and XBLA digital release of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition.
How best to put this without sounding ridiculous… On Fire Edition is, you know, well, it’s NBA Jam again, but without the unnecessary extra stuff. That is to say, it has great two-on-two gameplay, ridiculous dunks, over the top play-by-play, current rosters, and tons of unlockables. What it doesn’t have are some of the weird mini-games that were present in last year’s disc-based release. See? It has all the necessary extra bits without the unnecessary extra bits.
The main game mode here is “Road Trip” where you, essentially, complete against every other team at four different difficulty levels (bronze, silver, gold, platinum). While top three levels do have special rules for the gameplay, they tend to be more sane than in last year’s version of the game. Oh, they’re not sane like regular basketball, they’re just not crazy half-court games and the like – they’re more changes to the point structure or changes to the length of the game. As you progress, you also get changes to the A.I.’s difficulty level.
EA will tell you that one of the big reasons to buy this new game is for the enhanced A.I. Honestly, that is the sort of statement I’d rather never hear, because no videogame seems to be able to put out an A.I. that can read what you’re doing and act in a appropriate manner (think about how many shooters you’ve played with a super duper ultra-fancy A.I. where the bad guys still tend to run straight at you when you’re hiding and have already picked off a half-dozen members of the enemy force in the exact same fashion, or where the enemy just sits behind something and waits, peeking their heads out every so often so that you can hit them that way). Some games get closer than others to good A.I. and often it’s the difficulty the game is set to which helps the A.I. act appropriately.
In the case of this NBA Jam, it is a difficulty issue. The A.I. doesn’t even seem to want to press you in early matches, it’s only as you move along that it gets better. Want a winning strategy for many of those easy level games? When on offense, just hold down the turbo, drive towards the hoop, and hit the crossover button when someone gets close – you ought to win as long as you go get some rebounds on both offense and defense. On harder matches, you’ll actually be required to do a little strategizing and maybe even—horror of horrors—pass the ball.
Other new items this year include team on fires (three alley-oops in a row put both your guys on fire for a set period of time). Another addition allows you to switch between which of your two guys on the court you’re playing as on the fly (on offense, you’re whomever has the ball).
As you progress in NBA Jam, you can unlock new and awesome bonus stuff via Jam Bucks. Jam Bucks are not only what make you level up, but also what you use to buy more players, secret teams, different balls and looks, etc. Jam Bucks are earned by completing various challenges during game, be they assists or alley-oops, or any number of different things. You also earn bucks simply by winning (but complete the challenges and you’ll get a whole lot more currency.
With fast and furious basketball play, great graphics, and loud boisterous audio, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is arcade basketball at its finest. The online mode has been expanded somewhat this go-round too (you can get more Jam Bucks there), but it’s not a game where you need to play online to have fun. Plus, it’s currently priced at $14.99, which is less than the current price for last year’s game and that makes this a steal…. er… a slam dunk… er… boom-shakalaka greatness.
NBA Jam is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.