I think anyone who grew up playing games in the 90s would agree that NBA Jam is a classic. NBA franchises, mixed with over-the-top action and intense competition made the original NBA Jam a game that everybody could enjoy. I was excited to hear that EA would be releasing an updated version of the classic arcade game to consoles, but there was significant confusion surrounding its release. You may remember that NBA Jam was supposed to be released in a package with NBA Elite 11, but then got its own retail release, with added features, at $49.99 after Elite was cancelled. A disk-based version of NBA Jam at that price point wasn’t what I was hoping for. Luckily, EA took the ball to the hoop with their new edition of NBA Jam.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is EA Canada’s newest version of the classic arcade game. The On Fire Edition strips away the added features, known as Remix Modes, from the disk based release and focuses more on the classic 2-v-2 matchups of the original with three modes: Jam Now, Road Trip and Online Arena. Jam Now allows you to jump into a 2-v-2 match with friends, local or online, or against A.I. opponents. Road Trip pits players against teams from different regions of the country and can be considered the “campaign” mode. The Online Arena holds several challenges that test your dunking ability, co-op alley-oops, and more. These can be attempted during 2-v-2 matches online.
In the disk-based release of NBA Jam, players could unlock all additional and secret content by entering codes at the title or player select screens. It was possible to put in the disk for the first time, enter all the codes and have all the content, giving players nothing to work for. On Fire remedies that issue with a leveling up system and the addition of Jam Bucks and the Jam Store. Jam Bucks are in-game currency earned by completing challenges and participating in 2-v-2 matches. The more you play, and the better you are, the quicker you will level up and the more Jam Bucks you will earn. Jam Bucks can be spent on new players and teams, secret characters and privileges like big head mode, unlimited turbo and unlimited on fire. Jam Bucks also buy new looks, icons and backgrounds, for your player card, which represents you when you play online. All of these things can be found and bought in the Jam Store.
Unlocking everything the game has to offer will take a lot of Jam Bucks, but it will be worth it. On Fire has a ton of unlockable content for players to acquire as they progress. Adding new teams and players to your roster is fun, but it wouldn’t be NBA Jam without the ability to buy and play as mascots, legends, politicians and other secret characters, including an SSX team as well as Dead Space’s Isaac Clark and Faith from Mirrors Edge.
The On Fire Edition has the same to offer in terms of game play as the disk based release. Matches feel smooth, and the animations are clean and still look great in HD. On Fire is as fast paced and competitive as NBA Jam has always been and, of course, there is the famous commentary from Tim Kitrow updated with all the latest and greatest saying from the Internet. There were only two additions to game play that caught my attention, the first being new A.I.
Outside of the normal options for A.I. difficulty, EA has taken the Real A.I. system from the most recent Fight Night games and added it to the mix, allowing players to play against computer controlled characters that will learn a player’s tendencies and react accordingly. This new system will force players to change their play styles as if they were playing against real people. Even with updated A.I., On Fire is designed for competition with real people. Playing against the computer can be fun, but even on the easiest difficulty, computer controlled players can be difficult and, in some cases, even feel cheap.
The second addition was to the controls. On Fire’s basic control scheme is still very simple with buttons dedicated to shooting the ball, turbo, and stealing the ball. On Fire adds new moves that are accessed by holding down the turbo button and hitting one of the face buttons. The addition of new moves is useful, and gives players more options on the court, but attempting to hit multiple buttons at once got confusing, especially in a game as fast paced as NBA Jam. I found that I rarely hit the right buttons while trying to focus on getting the ball and getting it to the hoop. The controls take some getting used to, but there are plenty of free buttons on the controller, I’m not sure why they were not put to use in these cases.
I am not a big fan of basketball and honestly I do not get into a lot of sports games, but I love NBA Jam. Nostalgia may be a part of it, but NBA Jam holds up well, and the On Fire Edition delivers exactly what I wanted: classic arcade game play that can be accessed disk-free from the XMB anytime I get the urge to see Bill Clinton fly through the air, slam dunking flaming basketballs. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is a great game, and at only $14.99, it could be one of the best deals on PSN right now. It will make you wonder how such a simple game can be so addicting. Kitrow may be right. Maybe it is the shoes.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.