NBA Jam On Fire Edition PreviewPublisher: Electronics Arts
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
, Playstation Network
We’re fairly sure that most gamers of a certain age have played NBA Jam on the Mega Drive at some point, just as everyone surely knows that Han shot first and that whatever it is that Ariston makes, it goes on. And on. And on. And on, and Ariston... Despite most of us UK kids not having a clue about basketball back in Sega’s hardware heyday (is it like netball for men?), NBA Jam was a riot to play. This latest XBLA and PSN version cranks the entertainment dial a few notches further.
You can tell some of this from the screenshots – players with oversized heads set the tone, as does the ability to play as dream-team Bill and Hilary Clinton or as team mascots. NBA Jam is a caricature of the stat-heavy seriousness of the real deal, from its appearance to the enjoyable constant babble of the commentator Tim Kitzrow (of ‘He’s On Fire!’
fame) to the ludicrously overblown slam-dunks.
Unlike those rubbish caricatures that people in parks draw of you for £5 – the ones with features so distorted that in truth it could be Jimmy Carr, Mick Jagger or pretty much anyone – NBA Jam captures the essence of the subject, peels away the dull parts and delivers unadulterated fun.
Within ten minutes of playing NBA Jam you realise that it’s not all silly heads and slam dunks, though; there’s a fair bit of skill and strategy involved. We first latched onto the alley-oop as the unbeatable weapon, hitting the top right shoulder button to command our AI teammate to leap into the air and lay off for a guaranteed dunk and two points. However, inviting another player to join us forced us to change our tactics, as a Turbo-block usually snatched the ball and is relatively easy to execute (trigger and Y or triangle). We then had to pass. And dribble. And shove (a lot). And actually think about what our opponent was up to.
That’s not to say we didn’t find ourselves still bursting out laughing after particularly ludicrous dunks or hyperbolic commentary lines. To add more variety, there are ‘razzle dazzle’ taunts and special dunks to really rub it in – crazy shots from between the legs or over the back, or just letting the ball bounce in front of your player as he stands with his arms up. These specials add a bit of difficulty when it comes to balancing for human-only matches, mainly because they rarely come off.
Put up a brick...
The matches are all two-on-two affairs, with co-op and versus multiplayer enabling four of you to get dunking. If you’re playing singleplayer, you'll also appreciate the new Tag Mode that allows you to switch between your two players (though you can order your AI teammate to do certain actions).
While NBA Jam contains what we assume is all of the NBA teams, the European league is a new addition this year. EA Canada also claims to have made over 1,000 gameplay tweaks, including the ability to turn your whole team ‘on fire’ by completing three sequential ally-oops.
From our hands-on preview, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is much more fun when played with at least one other person, and the speed of the matches means it’s ideal to drop into quickly. The easy learning curve also makes it a great option for guests looking for a bit more entertainment than waving a motion controller around.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is being developed by EA Canada and will be published by Electronic Arts. It’s due to go on sale via Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network in Autumn 2011 and is set to cost £10.