Gamers who grew up in the nineties certainly know what to think of when they hear the terms, “He’s on fire!” and “Boomshakalaka!” Now, a new generation of gamers is able to experience over-the-top, arcade basketball on their high-definition video game consoles, with the release of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition.
The second release in the franchise by EA Sports, who took over the series after Midway‘s bankruptcy, is a downloadable affair. It’s available for an affordable fifteen dollar price tag. Your entry fee provides a fun and nostalgic look back at one of gaming’s most popular sports titles, with only the odd change to be found. With that being said, the dorm room battle season is surely to heat up again.
Like its predecessors, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is an arcade take on the popular sport of basketball and its premier league, the National Basketball Association. Playing as your favourite team, it’s your duty to take it to your opponents using high-flying, intensity-filled dunks and swooshing shots. Keep a good offensive streak going and you’re sure to heat up, becoming a flame-spewing version of the high-scoring player. This means that you’re a bit faster (though the use of turbo makes even regular players pretty quick), have better aiming for shots and that you’re a dunking machine. Routine dunks become spectacles as soon as flames enter the picture, which is where a lot of the attraction of this series comes from.
The gameplay found within isn’t very realistic, though it still retains the annoying goalkeeping rule, which prevents players from swatting the ball away as it’s about to go into their net. Other than that, it’s a pretty wide-open affair, with steals boiled down to swatting the ball away from an opposing player and shoving becoming allowed contact.
Think of it as the way a kid would dream up basketball, making it much more of a spectacle than a fair sport. There is a lot of fun to be found within, especially if you can find good players to battle against online or with up to four controllers on the same console. Two on two on the same console is certainly aimed at dorm room gamers and friends getting together for a party.
Where the classic formula is altered is in the player control department. The last time I played an NBA Jam title, it was back in the 1990s. At that time, joystick moving ballers were limited to controlling just one of the players on their utilized two-man team. Usually, that would be a superstar of the era, with my favourite team being the Chicago Bulls at the time.
You can still do this by choosing the tag option inside of the game options menu, but things have changed during standard play. You can now control both players, switching between each with the use of one button, which tends to make things a bit easier and a tad more fluid. Now, there’s no need to rely on artificial intelligence for defence if you’ve been caught cherry picking.
Two players on one team can catch fire together, showing as a ferociously intense blue flame as opposed to orange ones. It’s during this time of extreme greatness on the court, where players’ maximum potentials are really shown, using skill enhancements. You’re able to move the ball around with great speed, becoming very difficult to stop, with incredible offensive powers.
Blue flame dunks are the best of them all, being a treat to pull off and watch. The sound of clicking cameras fills the air and your superstar of choice becomes one with the net. Of course, like the regular form of fire enhancement, it only lasts for a limited time and can be nullified by the opposing team through scoring. What this means is that defence becomes just as important as offence when you’re flame-endowed.
On the court, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition plays quite well, bringing back great memories of when I used to spend hours in front of my Super Nintendo playing the early releases in this classic series. For the most part, it’s fast and furious with a decent amount of precision. Though, I noticed a bit of clunkiness with the controls and the occasional move, leaving it not feeling as fluid as it could be.
Still, this modernized take on one of gaming’s favourite series is a good one. It not only provides a nice throwback to virtual days of the past, but also proves that this series is still fun these days, feeling only a tad dated. The inclusion of right joystick controls was a good idea, though I didn’t find the shooting to be as precise as the button-based option.
The development team at EA Sports did a good job of creating an experience which caters to the series’ hardcore fans and newcomers alike. Those who haven’t played an NBA Jam game before will be able to easily jump right in with great accessibility, interesting tweaks (the aforementioned tag mode, big head mode and some others), plus relatively basic controls.
Their more seasoned compatriots will be happy to find that their favourite basketball series is still in good form, enjoying the fact that jamming superstars from years past can be unlocked with earned player points. If you remember the dunk-tastic days of Magic Johnson, Vince Carter and Tim Hardaway, then why not unlock those players for use in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition? That’s a nice touch which I quite enjoyed. Being able to unlock team mascots through progress was also something I quite liked.
A downside to this experience is a lack of modes. There’s a road trip challenge against every team in the league, with bronze, silver (2 on 2 classic) and gold (score variations and the like) challenges. Plus, full online play in what is called the online arena. However, I wish the development team would have decided to add in some extra options such as mini-games or perhaps even a season mode, in order to expand the experience.
Once you’ve completed the single player content and all of its offerings, the main draw is stat-based challenges, which can be unlocked from bronze to platinum. These are what you’d expect: A tally of dunks completed, missed shots, steals and more, with online play having its own set of challenges. It’s nice to have something to strive for, but only trophy and achievement fans will worry about getting to platinum.
Jumping back into this series after all of these years, through NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, was a fun experience. I had a good time reliving past memories in full high-definition. This is certainly a fun game, which will appeal to arcade sports game fans, basketball lovers and those who like absurd dunks. Though, there are a couple of issues, mentioned above. For an affordable price, these faults are easier to gloss over, though they’re still there. There’s a good game here which screams for groups of friends to set-up tournaments. I just wish there was more of it and that things were refined a tad more than they are.
Visually, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is a shiny revamp of what we grew up playing. In full three-dimensions, the players look quite good, though their animations can be a bit rigid. Their faces are comprised of real-life photography, taken at somewhat comical times. Facial expressions never change, which adds some humour to the experience. Their fire effects look quite good, as do some nice visual touches which trail off quick moving players as identifiers. All of this takes place during fast-paced gameplay that runs without performance issues on courts which change colours depending on the metallic challenge type.
Timeless Tim Kitzrow returns to lend his booming pipes to our favourite NBA Jam commentary terms. Without him, this series would be drastically different, as his imaginary take on hilarious lines has become almost iconic. He does a phenomenal job and is hilarious throughout, making the game feel more absurd than its fire effects already have. The quality of this commentary is extraordinary, with the same attention to detail focused on every other aspect of its audio offerings. It’s hard to find a fault here as the game’s sound effects, commentary and techno-based original soundtrack are all so well-crafted.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition marks a quality return of a beloved sports franchise, appearing for the first time as a digital download. Fans of the series will certainly find a lot to like about this version, though it’s a bit rough around the edges and lacking in expanded content. If you’re looking for something to pick-up and play with friends and even by your lonesome, it’s certainly a good purchase. That is especially true if you love absurd, high-flying, fire-based basketball. Boomshakalaka!
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.