To truly appreciate ‘NBA Jam: On Fire Edition’ requires an analogy not for the feint hearted.
Imagine the pretty guy/gal you had a crush on in High School…encountered but a few years later at a social function. He/she had changed a bit in appearance, but the allure, however, unaltered in the slightest. The vivid recall of his/her subtle nuances as fresh as new car smell.
Still, conversation never started, fondness stemmed from nostalgia versus emotion. You longed for the concept once desired years back, but shunned its current iteration devoid of the exuberant innocence and substance of its predecessor.
Only a couple years later, the two reignite in the seeming oddest of places. Grown apart, albeit together in understanding. A loving partner (see: NBA Live) betrayed your trust like a dagger through the most vulnerable places. The dating scene (see: NBA 2K12) was devoid of sustenance longed within your core.
One day – almost like a horoscope predicted - you stared at your High School sweetheart once more; this time a hotel only a day’s drive away. Expectations, timing, and challenges of yore became understanding. The rest is history.
That, my friends, is NBA Jam – On Fire Edition. The game we thought the original should and could be…is finally here. Surprisingly, at ¼ the price point.
Being amongst friends, let’s not pull punches: last year’s NBA Jam was – to NBA supporters – almost as disappointing as the corresponding cancellation of the NBA Elite title it was intended to accompany. Nobody wants dessert served at the same time as a cold, bland main dish. Especially one that never makes it out of the kitchen.
What a difference a year and development cycle makes: NBA Jam - On Fire Edition is the game we wanted the original remake to be, only better. If you own the original, disown and move on to the very greener pastures of its sequel.
Amazingly – and simply put – Electronic Arts (EA) heeded literally every complaint from gamers about 2010 NBA Jam, addressed then near-perfected the title for its apologetic sequel. (Somewhere, someone behind the Super Street Fighter IV correction is sporting a very wry, understanding smile.) To explain, On Fire Edition is no longer the formulaic, one-trick-pony of its predecessor, rather a title bursting with solid artificial intelligence (AI), a robust upgrade system, and online functionality. Last, I had no idea that simply being able to switch players on the fly would change everything about NBA Jam. But it did. And for the oh-so-better.
Meaning, goodbye to moronic shove and shove back dynamics where rubber band catch-up dominated gameplay. Instead, true AI is alive and well, with blowouts and/or nailbiters just as likely to occur. A new trick shot and shimmy mechanic keep things fair and laugh-out-loud funny.
2010’s methodical player/feature unlock engine is happily replaced in tandem, now a simple player level and purchase system where even a few hours of gameplay brings your favorite NBA Legend and/or veteran onto the NBA Jam court. High five for equal unlock cost for NBA heroes and/or the obscure role player your favorite team featured back in 1993. Ditto for ball, court, name card upgrades; all easily attainable and implemented into the game’s various modes.
These modes might not please all. EA opted to reduce game type amounts from its previous offering in lieu of cleaner regional-based play divided into 3 modes: standard, classic player showdowns, single quarter. What remains is NBA Jam in its core form only.
I, however, found this streamlining welcome. NBA Jam – at its heart – is an elementary system featuring wacky player models and advanced mastery of a simple yet diverse gameplay mechanic. The forced, differential modes of NBA Jam 2010 were unnaturally deliberate and confounding. In many ways, these additional modes appeared almost apologetic for EA’s snafu in failing to bring NBA Elite to the market.
On Fire also introduces an online matchup mode for Jam, one that – like most EA Sports titles – is a mixed bag. Connectivity issues remain an EA constant, meaning linking up with a silky smooth, online match versus staccato hell counterpart is a great online coin flip every time this plunge is taken. (No comment on the tools who select only top teams and/or exploits.) Sure, this is Australia playing a North America-centric sport title, but EA – at minimum – should rank order online matchups via network pings.
Thus and until this is remedied, I would consider On Fire a primarily offline title. Still, there’s a whole lot to like here, even more so for the true basketball aficionado. Attention to detail is refreshingly astounding, with a select group of Euroleague teams capable of being unlocked and playable within online/offline. I can only imagine the confounding look of my mysterious online opponent when Maccabi Electra’s Lior Eliyahu brought the windmill dunk of doom on his/her sorry rear. Ditto the irony of playing squads where locked out, NBA Players seek interim paychecks.
Literally speaking of which, commentary is substantially updated, so much so that it recognized dates (‘Blocktober Fest’ reference included), also welcomed my return gameplay. Second, said international teams feature accurate annunciation of full names,. Not a whole lot of visual upgrades, although retro, sepia and black and white modes introduce some flair to the experience. Lots of carryover music and sound effects from NBA Jam 2010.
The whinging among us might loathe player selection amongst On Fire unlockables, but this basketball supporter (being older than said whingers) recognizes selection as remnants from previous Jam titles versus testament to a franchise’s greatest players. Still no Michael Jordan…since his rights were never secured by NBA Jam. Purists, however, will recognize unlockable Orlando Magic Shaq, a rare appearance from only the first NBA Jam, arcade game offering.
Thus – and in sum- there’s little not to like about NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. Its PSN price point is fantastic for a game of this magnitude, but simultaneously sad in realization that a more inferior disc-based offering preceded it. Still, let bygones be bygones or risk avoiding the terrific NBA Jam title basketball fans always wanted. In doing so, be realistic of online limitations.
Four stars…with one in back pocket once online is remedied.