Review: NBA Jam On Fire Edition
EA’s relationship with basketball hasn’t exactly been rainbows and butterflies as of late. With the 4th quarter cancellation of NBA Elite and no signs of revival in the near future all EA has at the moment is NBA Jam. As it turns out that might not actually be a bad thing. While last year’s disc-based release of NBA Jam may not have been the return that people had hoped for I think it’s pretty safe to say that NBA Jam: On Fire Edition will please long time fans of the arcade game.
New to NBA Jam is the Road Trip campaign that lets you take on all 30 NBA teams in any order you’d like. Each team contains a Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum level challenge to complete totaling in 120 challenges and one final match against a team that should probably be kept secret. Challenges in Road Trip add a little bit of variety to the usual 2v2 matches we all know and love. This usually means that certain types of shots get a change in point value. Other variations include single quarter matches, shorten shot clock and live ball mode. The majority of the matches still play out through the usual 2v2 mode but the occasional variation is great to see.
The issue with Road Trip however is within the AI itself. Playing through Bronze and Silver challenges will just about guarantee you a 20+ point victory margin. Gold matches might be close at first but eventually won’t offer much of a challenge either. Platinum matches are anything but fun as they devolve into an endless push-fest and AI’s that are seemingly unable to miss anything. This isn’t helped by the fact that your partner AI has the intelligence level of a rock. I never felt like I could rely on my partner to play defense and numerous times he stood right next to a live ball without thinking to pick it up before the other team did. The word frustrating has never been more fitting.
The online competent of the game might prove to be a little confusing at first. As is the case with the rest of the game’s UI you’re greeted with a rather cluttered display of information that doesn’t do a great job of explaining things to you. There’s a clock counting down each week that’s there to let you know when your ‘session-record’ will be reset. Winning five games will earn you a Bronze medal, 5 more a silver and so on. Wins get reset when the timer runs out and medals stay to show your history within the online mode. It’s a unique approach to online that I find really cool. It’s definitely there to entice people to keep playing each week and the constant high score tables that scroll through on the side of the screen provides easy comparisons among your friends list. Actually playing the game online however is hit or miss. I’d say about half of my matches played perfectly fine while the other half dropped frame rate to the point of being unplayable. Another thing to note is what happens when a player leaves your game. If you’re winning a match and someone leaves you’re granted a win for the session record. Sounds fine right? Despite being given a win the game also gives you a loss in your win streak. At one point I had a negative 6 win streak due to lost connections or players leaving.
When online works it’s great but NBA Jam shines in local multiplayer. Jam Now allows you to easily jump into a local multiplayer game, set your permissions (big head mode, quarter length and various other cheats), choose your teams and go. It’s just as much fun as it’s ever been and easily where you’ll spend the most time with NBA Jam.
As you play through the campaign, locally with friends or online you’ll start to complete Jam Challenges. These tiered challenges unlock when you hit a set number of dunks, jump shots, 3-pointers, alley-oops, blocks, steals and more. Leveling each of these challenges to the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and eventually Diamond tier will reward you with tokens that can be spent in the shop. The shop is in no way short on things to purchase. There’s legacy players, teams, permissions, titles, icons, and more to buy. I’ve done nearly everything there is to do within this game and I still have over half of the unlockables to purchase. If nothing else NBA Jam is packed to the brim with content to unlock.
REAL AI is something that EA touted a lot as a big feature for this game. The idea behind it being that the AI would learn from you and be able to provide a better challenge than your typical AI. I don’t think this works the way it should. On paper REAL AI sounds great but in practice it results in the AI pushing you to the ground over and over again. Perhaps this is how REAL AI was intended but I never felt like the other team was actually learning from my play style.
NBA Jam has its issues and can be really frustrating at times. However that doesn’t change the fact that the game is a lot of fun in multiplayer and that there’s a massive amount of content to get through and unlock. There’s no doubt in my mind that On Fire Edition is worth every penny of its fifteen dollar price point but you’re going to want to be sure you have friends to play against.
A copy of this game was purchased for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Lots of content
- Local multiplayer is a blast
- Disco mode
What I Dislike:
- UI can be confusing
- REAL AI doesn't work the way it should