When you talk to the developers at EA Canada about the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network release, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, the first thing they address is value. They want to give basketball fans and loyalists of the series as much as possible without breaking the bank. Having had the opportunity to play around with the game before it launches, their statement rings true.
In terms of features, gamers will spend the majority of their time in Road Trip or in the Online Arena. Road Trip plays similarly to last year's Remix Tour, with a few modifications. Gone are the half-court games against legends or matches where you had to win a really odd-ball scenario. Again, the league is split up by division, but how you tackle the opposition is a bit more open. Teams all have three medals: bronze, silver, and gold. Defeating a team and earning the bronze medal unlocks their silver, and beating that unlocks gold. As you progress through these medals, the challenge gets tougher, so be prepared for some really difficult matchups. But the nice thing is that you can approach these in a number of ways. You don't have to win a bronze match against every team in a division to unlock the silver. If you beat the Timberwolves at bronze, you can jump right away to silver and try to win that match. The door is open as to how you decide to handle this mode. Once you complete gold, though, expect even more challenges, including a few surprise matchups.
If a meaty Road Trip mode, which also can be played cooperatively, isn't enough for you, then how about the additional treats that can be unlocked as you play? On Fire Edition doesn't have you win specific matches to unlock additional content. Instead, everything is unlocked using Jam bucks. These work two ways; for starters, they are the experience points you earn in every match you play, be it offline or online. Completing such objectives as performing a certain number of razzle-dazzles in a match, scoring a specific number of rebounds overall, and others will earn you jam bucks. Every win and loss also earns you jam bucks, so regardless of your play, you increase your jam level and obtain jam bucks to spend on treats. And you can spend them on a lot of available treats.
We're not just talking about cosmetic improvements to your NBA Jam gamertag. Yes, there are flag and city avatars, cool backgrounds, and even labels to unlock, but there is even more. There are gameplay modifiers, as well as a large number of unlockable players to purchase. But the really fun part comes in the number of different unlockable teams. Secret teams have been a staple in the NBA Jam franchise, and that holds true here. Yes, there are a few expected teams (Republicans and Democrats), but there will also be a number of surprises along the way. In all, expect there to be more than 25 secret teams available once all is said and done.
Jam bucks even work in the game's Online Arena. You can play against other people in head-to-head matches, and your performance will earn you additional bucks. On top of that, there are arena challenges that will improve your level. These include how many points your entire friends list gets in online matches, matches against others, and how you perform certain actions.
A cool aspect of the Online Arena is that the challenges reset every week. No longer will people feel like they don't stand a change against other players. Because the arena rewards reset, you can dominate one week and be a minnow the next, or vice versa. Again, there are so many cool challenges you'll encounter that coming back each week should offer something different and entice people to come back to see what new challenge awaits.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition hits digitally next week, and with its value incentive features, fans of the series and those looking for a game that packs a lot of punch but costs less than a movie and popcorn should be in for quite a treat. Expect our full verdict shortly.