Review by Bill Wood
Reviewed: 02/19/13 | Updated: 02/19/13
Anyone remember 1993?
It was the glory days of the arcade scene, an era when game time was mostly paid for by the quarter. Back when console games were still compromised versions of their cabinet counterparts, and just before widespread use of the Internet turned every gaming secret into Day One common knowledge. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were at their peak when along came a brand-new basketball title from Midway, the same folks who brought us the mediocre hoops brawler Arch Rivals. That game was NBA Jam, which became an overnight success and over time, a timeless classic.
After numerous iterations over the years with varying degrees of content and quality, 2010 finally saw the proper rebirth of NBA Jam franchise. Arguably for the first time, the '10 reboot managed to recapture all of the excitement and appeal of the arcade original. One year later NBA Jam: On Fire Edition was released, the sequel which returned the series to peak form. Not since the days of Tournament Edition has Jam felt so fresh. If you're a hoops gamer -- or have ever been one -- you need to be playing this.
Just in case you've never heard of NBA Jam (and where exactly have you been these past twenty years?), this is over-the-top arcade b-ball at its very finest. The polar opposite of simulation, NBA Jam is all about chucking rules out the window and having fun fun fun. Flagrant fouls are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The gameplay is strictly 2-on-2, compressed into shortened quarters with blazing fast action. You simply haven't lived until you've seen Kobe or King James take off for a sky-high slam with flaming basketball in hand. Fortunately the thrill and reward of breaking ankles and bounding twenty feet in the air for the monster dunk is every bit as valid as it was in the old days, two decades and dozens of "Extreme Sports" spin-offs later and there's still nothing quite like it. The gameplay is easy enough for anyone to pick up and play, yet deep enough that experienced players can develop their skills and work circles around the opposition. Perhaps more importantly, the on-court action is exciting enough to encourage even non-basketball fans to get into the game. The only real negative is that three-pointers are far too easy, to the point of unbalancing the game. Grab a couple of Rain Makers, stick to the perimeter and you won't need much jamming, if any. Also, there is a decided emphasis on shoving, which can really get annoying at times.
The game's roster (which has just received a 2013 update as of this writing) is nothing short of phenomenal. Not only do you get the popular modern players on their respective teams, but tons of vintage Jammers as well. If you want to throw down with the classic Hornets combo of 'Zo and Grandmama, you can totally do it. Not content to stop there, Jam reaches even further to produce some truly memorable guest stars and legends, such and Johnson and Worthy on the Lakers, Bird and McHale on the Celtics, and Dr. J and Dawkins on the Sixers. I think it's safe to say that this is the best roster ever to appear in an NBA Jam game. Unsurprisingly, the most notable omission is the man with the fat 2K Sports contract, Michael Jordan.
The various game modes are what you'd expect, for the most part. Of course you have your standard online and offline modes, and then you have Road Trip, which is the closest thing you'll find to a Season or Career Mode in OFE. I found myself spending most of my time in Road Trip, playing games with bizarre stipulations (i.e. dunks are worth 3 points) and completing challenges in order to earn Jam Bucks, the currency used to unlock game content. If you're a junkie when it comes to grinding for bonuses, you'll find no shortage of entertainment value here. Want to play on a disco court with an ABA ball? No problem. How about aliens and robots in Big Head mode? It all depends on where you want to spend those Jam Bucks.
Special mention has to be made of returning Jam announcer Tim Kitzrow. Just like back in the day, Kitzrow brings the "BOOM-shaka-laka!", adding a ton of flavor and flair to the game with his trademark style of over-the-top commentary. Some of this stuff is laugh-out-loud worthy, and there's so much audio content that it's possible to play the game for days and still not hear everything. It great to see some things never change.
Another thing that hasn't changed is the game's brutal difficulty. Once you reach the Gold and Platinum challenges in Road Trip, the A.I. opponents will shove and swipe the ball away and slam it back in your face repeatedly. Although there are surefire methods to defeating the A.I. (please refer to my Road Trip guide on this very site if you need help!), the fact is the game can be every bit as difficult as it was back in its quarter-crunching days, which is either true to its arcade roots or downright unfair, depending on your perspective.
When it's all said and done, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is everything I could have hoped for in a modern remake. It's incredibly entertaining and challenging, with enough unlockables and online content to keep me coming back for more. The number of old-school legends who actually made it into the game is well appreciated by this classic hoops fan. But most importantly, the game is just fun fun fun. Highly recommended for older Jam fans and just about anyone who wants a great pick-up-and-play arcade experience.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition (US, 10/05/11)
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