I’m looking back at my notes from last night’s EA event. There are a couple of pages on Burnout Crash, a few scribbles on the iPad games I played, but only five words regarding NBA Jam: On Fire Edition – “Lot of new catch phrases.” The reason why I barely wrote anything down is because in order to write I would have had to put the controller down. Didn’t want to do that. Now, Chris and I saw NBA Jam back at PAX Prime last August and I walked away completely unimpressed. Part of this was due to the fact that we played a Wii build, and another part was due to the fact that we knew it would be a disc-based release, something I (and many others) was not enthused about in the least. Last night, though, I played NBA Jam and felt like a kid again. I was literally laughing out loud as I 720-dunked across the court, playing as Harry, the Atlanta Hawks mascot. At first I was surprised, but it didn’t take me long to realize what was happening. I was playing NBA Jam.
The first thing I noticed about this version of NBA Jam is that the graphics look great. They aren’t unbelievably intricate, but they really fit the whole goofy aesthetic like a glove. The crowds in the background and the team coaches/benches get up and cheer when you make a shot, and all of the players look hilarious when they’re scrambling around the court for the ball. Think Saddam in South Park, and… well, I’m finding it tough to describe it in words. Check this commercial out. It’s kind of like that. The facial expressions in the game had me chuckling, but Tim Kitzrow’s dozens of new phrases are what really had me beaming like a kid who just unpacked an N64 on Christmas morning.
Some of my favorites:
“Two guys one dunk!” (when I performed an alley-oop)
“Stick that in the oven at 400″
“From the cave in Afghanistan!” (shooting from the opposite side of the court)
There were a lot more but I can’t remember them all. Trust me, they’re hilarious. This version of NBA Jam is also sporting some new control features. Holding either of the back triggers will cause your character to boost, but holding the boost button(s) and pressing pass/shoot will do some pretty cool stuff. If you hold both boost buttons then press the shoot button, you’ll perform a trick shot. Some of the trick shots I saw include an underhand granny shot, a soccer-ball-between-the-feet type shot, and one where the player sat down on the court and tossed the ball at the basket. Holding both boost buttons and pressing the pass button performs a “Razzle Dazzle”, which is similar to the taunts in NBA Street. The difference here is that Razzle Dazzles are just for fun, which is fine by me. One of them was a Street Fighter-inspired point then thumbs down. Another had the player placing the ball on the ground then picking it up. One of the funnier Razzle Dazzles has your player break out into The Dougie, swaying and brushing his hair with his hand. Kitzrow yelling, “that Dougie sensation still going strong!” didn’t hurt, either.
There are no boss fights in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. There will be an online co-op campaign, tag mode, team fire mode, and weekly tournaments that will be rolling out a bit after launch. Of course, one of the best ways to experience NBA Jam is locally, with a few friends who can smack talk each other senseless. If you’re anything like me, you probably wanted to know what the big deal is with the implementation of Fight Night’s AI. I had to ask, and what I got was a somewhat complex answer. The way NBA Jam’s AI now works is based on strings of play scenarios (as opposed to the old AI, which was based on patterns). The team at EA has spent unfathomable amounts of time logging sequences that the computer learns and strings together by itself, in a not-so-random but not quite ordered fashion. I made a joke about having a neural net processor, and the guy showing me the game said it wasn’t far from the truth. The game logs situations while you’re playing it. It does this during online and offline mode, so it will learn from your real-life opponents. It then uses these sequences to change dynamically. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it, and I’m positive that I neither fully understand it or can capably explain it. In short, you’ll be hard-pressed to cheat the computer out of wins.
NBA Jam: One Fire Edition is more than a coat of new paint. I was expecting a better looking version of the soulless game I played last year, but instead found myself loving it. The addition of taunts and trick shots is great, and a few little touches like the ability to call for a shove or call for an alley-oop are very welcome. To be honest, I’m not good at NBA Jam. I never was. But I did have a ton of fun playing it, which is what I look for in any game, especially when it’s a Jam title.
For screens and further info about the game, check my previous post. The game should be out in October for the price of $14.99.