The 2D-X Excellence Award-winning NBA 2K12 is the game to purchase for the realistic pro hoops experience, but those desirous of a pick-up-and-play multiplayer madness that’s both fun and addictive, look no farther than EA’s NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. Simultaneously new and nostalgic, the downloadable title sports simple controls, wacky characters, and an emphasis on over-the-top entertainment that’s expertly narrated by returning series announcer Tim Kitzrow.
NBA Jam: OFE features the classic 2 vs. 2 nearly-anything-goes arcade action featured in the recent NBA Jam reboot. There aren’t any fouls, three seconds violations, double dribbles, or other momentum-stopping calls; shot clock violations and goaltending are the only observed rules. That’s old, but here’s what new: You can finally switch between teammates on the fly (previously, if you played a one-player game, you were locked in as one baller). It might not seem like a big deal, but this added mechanic gives you more control and opens up a huge amount of strategic possibilities.
Surprisingly, NBA Jam: OFE is incredibly deep. On defense, every attempted maneuver (blocks, shoves, steals) keeps your player locked into place until the animation plays out. On offensive, your goal is to avoid these moves by all means, which transforms the matchups into mental tug-of-wars as the defensive player tries to anticipate a move and time a shove or block to obtain the ball. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding. Soaring to the rim and scoring with a monstrous dunk by our Commander In Chief Barack Obama, and then following that with a Dick Cheney three is the essence of NBA Jam.
Taunting your opponent by taking sitting three pointers or no look shots is both hilarious and demoralizing. But the real fun begins when you score three unanswered buckets with the same player. The virtual athlete catches on fire and gains infinite turbo, so every dunk becomes more showtimey (somersaults!) and scoring scorches the net. This mechanic has been around since NBA Jam‘s arcade days, and is still as rewarding as ever. A new addition is the Team Fire ability, which kicks in when a team nails three alley oops in a row. Team Fire lasts either twenty seconds or until the opposing team performs an alley oop of their own–and can be utterly devastating as you can put up big points quickly.
Of course it wouldn’t be NBA Jam without the vocal stylings of Tim Kitzrow. The squeaks of the sneakers, the groans from players, and thumps from emphatic dunks wouldn’t matter without the famous BOOMSHAKALAKA blaring through your speakers. There are also some cool references to pop culture, like the “Pants on the Ground” craze that was made famous by American Idol. Hearing Tim Kitzrow recite the lyrics literally had me in tears from laughter. The visuals are roughly the same as the previous Jam’s: Large 2D faces on animated 3D models. They convey the game’s goofy good times.
The previous NBA Jam featured Remix Tour; sadly that’s out. It’s replaced by a new career mode called Road Trip. Here you face off with each NBA team in a bronze, silver and gold challenges. The challenges become increasingly difficult. All Bronze challenges are regular two-on-two match ups, but normality ends there. Silver and Gold challenges are far more difficult as they have their own oddball settings (such as dunks being worth four points, or threes being worth one). This makes you think about the team you choose for each challenge and adds even more depth and strategy to the game. You are also rewarded Jam Bucks that can be spent unlocking players, teams, and game types. The only major downside? Lag plagues online gameplay sessions. More than half of the matches I found online, were absolutely unplayable.
Still, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is an excellent arcade sports title. For 1200 Microsoft Points, or $14.99 on the PlayStation Network you get an insane, addictive and surprisingly deep arcade basketball experience. Get it. Now.