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Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina reviews NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
If you’ve ever uttered the words “Boomshakalaka” while shooting a piece of wadded-up paper into a trash bin, then you have undoubtedly felt the influence of NBA Jam. A long time staple of the arcade sports genre, Jam was the game everyone flocked to for over-the-top dramatics and witty commentating.

It took some time for NBA Jam to resurface but when it did, with last year’s Wii iteration (and subsequent PS3 and Xbox 360 ports), players around the world were reminded of how incredibly fun the series can be – even if that installment was a thin retail game offering. This year’s follow-up, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, takes that same formula but makes it deeper and more challenging.

The same core concepts are at play in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition — dribble, juke, 20-foot high dunk or alley-oop — but the way the game keeps those elements exciting is through an ongoing series of challenges. By completing certain objectives the player can earn in-game currency that goes toward purchasing bonus items like new players (Isaac Clarke from Dead Space for example) or identity modifiers for online play.

But this currency isn’t as up for grabs as it might sound – players are going to have to work hard for their money and, subsequently, use the credits wisely. While moving through “Road Trip,” Jam’s version of a season mode, players will encounter multiple tiers of matches (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) for every NBA team. The bronze level is your typical NBA Jam game — where gamers will typically dominate by upwards of 10 points — but in the higher tiers the challenge becomes extremely difficult.

There’s a lot of variety in the higher medal matches, like altering the scoring for three-pointers and dunks or playing one quarter with a 10-second shot clock, but these scenarios usually impact human players, not the AI, more dramatically. As a result, the changes can end up multiplying frustration – rather than create a new and challenging experience.

NBA Jam On Fire Edition Review - Challenges

That isn’t to say the matches aren’t winnable but they will make Jammers work for every basket. The game can be daunting, initially an extremely thrilling experience on lower levels – and never-ending source of challenge/frustration at the “platinum” benchmark. Since the game doesn’t carry a deep or robust set of plays or moves, found in traditional EA Sports titles, many higher difficulty matches will come down to a matter of luck. Needless to say, players with an urge to get more involved in “Road Trip” at higher levels should be prepared.

Alley-oops are more prominent in On Fire – allowing for two-man “on fire” teams – not just solo players. Simply sink three alley-oops in a row, just like with singular “on fire,” and the team is rewarded with 20 seconds of “team fire” that cannot be interrupted by an opponent basket (unless it’s a retaliatory alley-oop). Unfortunately, the aforementioned difficulty level makes it extremely challenging to land normal dunks and range shots, let alone attempt to sink consecutive alley-oops.

Players who do not take note of NBA Jam’s core mechanics will definitely be punished. There are plenty of tools at the ready, including a new default “tag mode” (which switches from player to player depending on importance), but without a near-perfect handling of these mechanics, gamers will surely be doomed to turnover the ball, again and again. While the “rubber banding” of past installments is mostly absent in lower difficulties, the challenge posed by the higher level matches will no doubt be reminiscent of the controller-throwing days of yesteryear.

NBA Jam On Fire Edition Review - Gameplay

That said, don’t be discouraged by the difficulty in the higher tier sections – as many players won’t even bother with them. There are plenty of lower level matches, and the option to swap out teams in road trip (play as the Denver Nuggets, then the Democrats, then the Republicans, then the Honey Badgers, all in one campaign) – as a result, there is so much variety for the casual NBA Jam player that they may never even know the brutality of the game at platinum difficulty. Multiplayer also offers the chance to smack talk in local or online matches – representing the epitome of what made NBA Jam, in the arcade or at home, so much fun.

Being able to execute a high-flying dunk, or last minute steal, has never felt more rewarding than it does in On Fire. If you’ve pined for the excitement of a quick NBA Jam match but were put-off by the price or game modes in last year’s retail installment, this digital installment will no doubt be a satisfying offering.

NBA Jam: On Fire Edition offers a fresh next-gen sheen, as well as a robust set of options, challenges, and matches to choose from – meaning players might never find the end to this game. For fans of the original, there’s enough callbacks to make the title enjoyably familiar – and, for newcomers, this Jam is a treat waiting to unwrapped one layer at a time. It’s exactly what one would expect out of a downloadable sports title. Play for as little or as long as you want and you’re guaranteed to have a blast.

Have you had a chance to check out NBA Jam: On Fire Edition? Which team are you playing as and what other crazy roster additions would you like to see added as DLC?

NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is available now on XBLA and PSN.