EA Sports Gets One Right: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition Lives Up To Its NameOctober 23, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Posted in Reviews | 51 Comments
Tags: EA Sports, Gobblers, Jam Bots, NBA, NBA Jam, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, Playstation 3, PS3, PSN, Retro Gaming, Sports games, sports video games, video games, XBLA, Xbox 360
As a retro video game collector, downloadable titles would seem to conflict with my passion for the hobby. I love games that can be displayed in my office complete with their box and manual, representing my own personal archive of video game history. I do not have my head in the sand though. Downloading full games and additional game content is 100% the future of where gaming is going. We’ve already see it with the available titles on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live and possibly may with entire systems like the Playstation Vita (its predecessor, the PSP Go was full download only). As a sports gamer, there is potential with the avenue of download-only games but to date the execution and selection has been pretty poor. Perusing online marketplaces, your options are normally limited to darts, bowling, fishing or PSOne snowboarding titles. There have been attempts before to release unique standalone titles (we’ll explore them here at RSGW), but overall most are re-releases like Baseball Stars 2 or poor original arcade attempts like Madden Arcade and NHL 3-on-3 Arcade. Like a beacon in a storm of sports shovelware, EA Sports’ NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is exactly what downloadable sports gaming should be, and the results of their recent endeavor are glorious.
EA Sports is constantly under a microscope in the sports gaming world. When they obtained an exclusive license to produce the only NFL game on the market, plenty of backlash occurred (mainly from the group that worshiped at the altar of NFL 2K5). With each year of Madden that takes a step back from the previous version, the familiar cries are heard again. Sure, EA is crying in their real gold-sprinkled ice cream but expectations are high (and sometimes too high with the ridiculous complaints around very small nuances of franchise mode). For our heroes at Electronic Arts, a stagnant Madden franchise is the least of their worries. The once proud and dominant NBA Live franchise was given a reboot in NBA Elite 11, only to have the game pulled at the last-minute and cancelled, leaving EA with no regular NBA title for what is now two years (we are not counting the iOS release here). Fortunately for them, EA’s acquisition of the rights to a bankrupt Midway Company’s titles would prove plenty timely.
When EA obtained the rights to produce a new NBA Jam game and hired the original programmer Mark Turmell (and brought back the original announcer in another great move), they published only for the Wii at first since, you know, NBA Elite 11 was ready to go. When that title flunked out, thankfully a port of the Wii NBA Jam game followed to the PS3 and Xbox 360. After years of Nintendo 64 doppelgängers under the same Jam brand name, a not-so-hot mid 2000s NBA Jam release and a number of iterations like NBA Hoopz and NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC, we finally had the old NBA Jam we knew and once loved.
To follow-up their first NBA Jam release, and with NBA Elite 12 shelved for the 2011-2012 NBA season (if that even happens), EA released NBA Jam: On Fire Edition as a download-only title on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live in October, 2011. With NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, EA made a brilliant business decision to have the title avoid the typical overhead of producing and distributing a physical title to retail shelves and instead offered the game for $14.99 with an additional $4.99 getting you all the game’s unlockables. Considering how quickly updates to Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3 are ushered out as brand new games at full price (or close), EA actually waiting a full year and not charging full price is a refreshing change to an industry norm.
With the core engine of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition the same as the previous game, EA could have mailed this in under the cover of a roster update, made a quick buck and called it a day. Instead, they put together a better campaign mode, added new game play features and even landed previously unavailable legends and classic teams. EA’s NBA Jam was a mix of classic NBA Jam and EA’s previous NBA Jam-like series, NBA Street. While you did have the classic campaign mode of going through all the teams as well as classic teams, you also had Remix modes (with on-court power-ups) and Boss battles. In NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, the Road Trip campaign mode sees you going through each NBA team in the order of your choosing (and playing as whatever team you want for each game – a first in the series) in (at first) three medal matches. One will be a standard 2 vs. 2 match, while others will have classic players from that team involved or have specific rules and situations to battle through. After you’ve beaten all the teams in a NBA division for all three medals, you open up an additional challenge where you face the game’s antagonist – the Jam Bots. These robot dinosaur look-a-likes use cutting edge AI that mimics your own game style that the game has logged. I mention antagonist because if you read the description for some of the medal matches you’ll get lines like “Oh no, the Jam Bots have made everyone minis!” Quite the narrative, I know, but I didn’t feel the connection on this quest to overthrow the bots. They are hard as hell, and controller-throwing inducing, even on the easiest difficulty.
From a feature standpoint, EA brought the goods here. Tag Mode, where you can control both players and switch between, is back for the first time since early console releases (the ability to turn this off for the true arcade experience is still in the options). Team Fire is new (a capped amount of “on fire” after three alley oops) as well as Razzle Dazzle moves and shots. The Razzle Dazzle stuff is harmless and only helps achieve trophies and in-game J dollars anyway. I’d take that any day over the horrible idea of power-ups (On Fire excluded obviously). Jam dollars (J dollars in slang) are earned by winning games and accomplishing in-game tasks as well as cumulative items (100 dunks overall for example). I love straightforward unlocking setups like this as it kept me going back through Road Trip and playing online to buy all the players and teams. From a player standpoint, the big edition is original Orlando Magic Shaquille O’Neal – whose only previous appearance in the original games was in the very first arcade title (for licensing reasons). EA also procured the rights to the Seattle SuperSonics in this edition, giving you the now-defunct franchise as well as Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton (a killer team to use).
When looking at all the new features and campaign mode, coupling in a modest roster update (Ricky Rubio – Yes! Andres Nocioni – No!), and an excellent multiplayer experience, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is not only a great game – it supersedes its predecessor as the better title and is flat-out more fun! At $14.99, we have a burgeoning franchise on the comeback trail, with hopefully more incarnations in the future. While it pains me to not have this sitting on my shelf, I’m excited by what EA has done here to change the boring landscape of download-only sports titles. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is exactly what a downloadable sports game should be.