NBA Jam: On Fire Edition | hands-on preview
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is both the best and worst game you could ever show to someone curious about basketball. It’s the worst because it bears few similarities to the real thing; basketball players don’t ignite, do somersaults or reach insane heights – well, they do jump high, but not that high.
The fact it has arcade sensibilities also makes it a great entry point for beginners. It has that pick up and play appeal, and it’s all about the tricks, spins and dunks — the eye catching stuff that make people go “woo”. There’s no rule book either, so you can foul with impunity. Anyone could play it.
On Fire remains largely unchanged from NBA Jam 2010, which itself was a prettier version of the NBA Jam arcade games from the early ‘90s. The format is still 2v2 and the gameplay remains welcomingly simple. Even the graphics have a retro charm; the player models are way out of proportion and the cardboard cut-out audience stands out. It’s goofy in a good way.
That’s not to say that On Fire isn’t moving on from NBA Jam 2010. Among the new gameplay innovations are a new Team Fire mode, which sees players ignite after three consecutive alley-oops (this allows for some gravity-defying dunks), and a new Tag Mode, which basically means you can now switch between your players on the fly. The player switching adds depth to the gameplay, increasing your options.
Trey Smith, creative director at EA Canada, says On Fire has over 1000 gameplay enhancements. That’s basically dev speak for: “A lot of the niggles in the gameplay have been ironed out.” Our translation wouldn’t look good on a poster, but it’s still good to hear. The gameplay is clearly smoother and more enjoyable.
In the end it’s the trick moves that make a game like this shine. EA Canada is calling its new tricks “Razzle Dazzle” moves. Perform one of these and your player will dazzle his opponent with an audacious move; he may sit down, dance, pose or even fire a granny shot. Nevertheless, the order of the day is still devastating alleys-oop, which are now bigger and more monstrous than before.
Some work has also been done to the AI behaviour, which is now based on archetypes – Big Man, Forward, All-Rounder, Shooting Guard and Point Guard (click here for more details). We didn’t get to test it ourselves; however, we’ll go out on a limb and say that On Live is a game that really needs to be played with humans, preferably ones who’re in the same room.
If that’s not possible, On Fire should have you covered with its online modes. One of which is called Road Trip. It’s a co-op online campaign which has you teaming up with a friend to compete in a series of “white-knuckle challenges” against current stars and old legends.
Numbers aren’t an issue. There are 125 current NBA stars, nearly 50 legends (including Detlef Schremp, Shawn Kemp and Gary Peyton) and 27 mascots. You can even play as politicians. Why not relive the last election with Palin and McCain vs. Obama and Clinton? Other politicians are available. Basically their faces are stamped on to the players. It looks hilarious, and the best we’ve seen so far is Dick Chaney’s contorted face.
Good news NBA Jam fans: the legendary Tim Kitzrow — the voice of Mr Boomshakalaka — is back. Smith told us they spent three good days in a booth with him. They got plenty of material and even some inappropriate stuff too. Only the good stuff made it into the game.
NBA Jam was an arcade classic that had people coming back for repeated dunking sessions. Will On Fire bring about a return for those glory days? Probably not. The landscape has changed since then and we expect more from our games today. Still, it’s good old-fashioned fun, and it certainly made a room full of gaming journalists laugh for an afternoon. If it can have that effect in your house, and offer some pre/post-match entertainment, it’ll be a steal at $14.99 (under £10 in the UK). Boomshakalaka
NBA Jam: On Fire is out on PSN this October.