Larry Bird is
mocking us. He’s just taken a seat at the three-point line and thrown a fiery
basketball – underhanded - through the net, padding the insurmountable lead he
and Kevin McHale have established. “Ha!” laughs our teammate as the hapless New
Jersey Nets fail miserably at defense. “NBA Jam is the only game where you can
act like a jerk and it’s OK!” While we don’t necessarily appreciate the
behavior, it’s certainly a true statement.
quasi-sequel to last year’s full-priced NBA Jam revival, On Fire Edition is a
bit of a curiosity. Everything we love about the game is in full effect, from
the beautifully stylish visuals to the over-the-top dunks and defense and – of
course – Tim Kiktzrow’s wonderfully bombastic play-by-play. Hordes of players,
mascots, and teams are unlockable, and there are compelling online modes for
one to four players. While some of the features of last year’s game are no
longer present (like the Remix campaign), the new online options are arguably
better. So why the steep drop in price from $50 to $15, distributed as a
download-only package? What’s the catch? Turns out there is none. NBA Jam On
Fire Edition is just as fun, fast, and (occasionally) infuriating as ever.
The Road Trip
mode sends you through different divisions of the NBA with challenges unique to
the team, and you can do this on your own or with a buddy. Early games are
simple enough, as we were abusing teams by throwing down alley-oops at will.
Once we moved past the initial stages into the second- and third-tier games,
though, those tactics failed miserably. Sometimes we faced teams loaded with
legendary talent, which necessitated multiple attempts. Other times the game
would be played very differently, such as variants where dunks would be worth
more than three-pointers – and we’d be playing against a team of Dr. J and
Darryl Dawkins. That’s a ferocious combo in the paint.
three levels (bronze, silver and gold) are beaten, you’re then presented with
Platinum challenges featuring Jambots. That’s where we ran into the most
trouble. Whether or not the game simply starts to “cheat” or the individual
players are that much better, the odds get stacked against you. Open shots
magically get blocked, dunks mysteriously clank to the hardwood, and
well-defended opponents nail three pointers. Luckily, you can tackle it with a
friend locally or online, but it’s a very different experience. When playing
alone, you get accustomed to calling for shoves on defense and initiating
devastating alley-oops with simple taps on the shoulder button. You switch
players with ease, depending on who you want to control.
with a friend, things will fall apart unless you’re communicating constantly.
We allowed more open three pointers than we’d like to admit when our teammate
would attempt to shove the same defender we were covering, and miss alley-oop
attempts on a regular basis until we screamed “Going for it!” beforehand.
Conversely, when you establish a rhythm and familiarity with your teammate, Jam
is a beautiful experience – and anyone can be beaten regardless of the team.
Of course, it
wouldn’t be Jam without player-versus-player options, and there’s plenty of
that. Whether you’re taking on someone locally or online in the Arena, it
remains our favorite way to play the game. NBA Jam is at its best when it’s you
versus one other person, each of you desperately trying to get someone On Fire
to rain down unstoppable 50-foot helicopter dunks or 30-foot three pointers. In
addition to the traditional Fire feature (when a single player gets three
consecutive buckets), there’s also Team Fire when you get three straight alley-oops.
Both players enjoy the effects, and it lasts for a little while even if you
give up points. Just don’t expect to nail many alley-oops in advanced games. It
what mode you’re playing, you’ll gather in-game currency that will let you
purchase all sorts of swag at the Jam Store. Whether you’re looking for
long-lost players, mascots, oddball basketballs, or badge customizations, there
are hundreds of items available. We’re still trying to figure out if it’s
brilliant or evil that EA will let you spend 400 Microsoft Points to unlock
everything the store has to offer. Considering the game costs 1200 points, and
the most common tier of points you can buy is 1600, it’s almost too much of a
coincidence. Besides, what’s the point of playing the game if you buy
everything off the bat?
ever played NBA Jam – and really, who hasn’t at some point – you won’t have a
problem jumping right in. The controls are simple and even the “advanced” moves
can be pulled off without much trouble. The action is so fast, though, that
it’s easy to lose control of your player and wind up far past the action.
Defense, in particular, is tough to get right. Getting the timing down on
shoves and blocks is definitely a skill – and when you’ve got that down pat,
you’re virtually unstoppable.
have any online connection problems in our games, but it does seem to take
forever to get through the loading screen. The sub-menu screens are pretty
baffling, too, which isn’t helped by microscopic text on them. Ultimately, our
biggest problem was fatigue; after 90 minutes or so, no matter what kind of match
we were in, the games began to grow stale. Luckily, each game is pretty quick –
less than 15 minutes most of the time – so you can get a lot accomplished in
one- or two-hour blocks.
It’s a shame
that Jam On Fire has been released right now. Thanks to the NBA lockout,
there’s a bunch of negative pro basketball buzz in the sports world these days.
Meanwhile, NBA 2K12 came out on the same day and is, in a word, incredible. We
have a feeling On Fire will get lost in the shuffle, which is a bummer. Between
the price, the modes, and the online play, it’s a gem.