Last year's NBA Jam was a good game, but not as feature-rich as it could have been. Its brand of over-the-top basketball has been loved by many for decades, but the new inclusions to the series were not universally praised and easily forgotten. One year later, EA has made things right by releasing NBA Jam: On Fire Edition as a downloadable game and offering plenty of content that can be enjoyed either alone or with others. This is what arcade basketball fans have been waiting for.
Taking a cue from last year's NBA Jam, On Fire's Road Trip is the game's primary mode and replaces Remix Tour where you played against all 30 NBA teams in various match types. This time, the matches are broken up by medal statuses, with the first round of matches being classic, two-versus-two games. After winning the first, bronze match against a team, you immediately unlock their silver match; completing that, unlocking gold. Unlike last year where you had to win all of the first round matches against all teams in a particular division to unlock the next set of matches, you can play teams in any order. If you beat the Pacers' bronze match, then you can take on silver and gold matches immediately afterward. Conversely, if you want to jump around the league to mix and match, nothing is stopping you from doing so.
One complaint from last year's Remix Tour was that many half-court or "specialty" match types were required to win in order to progress and unlock additional, legendary teams or characters. In On Fire, this has been modified slightly. Yes, some silver and gold match types may still be your classic, two-versus-two matches against legendary players or mascots, but match variations do arise. These include one-quarter matches or games where every basket made has that player stay on fire until the other team scores. These variations certainly open the door to approaching a match differently and selecting specific teams to maximize your chances of victory.
The other mode you're likely to spend a lot of time in is the Online Arena. This mode has seen a number of different improvements over last year's relatively bare-bones offering. Road Trip can be played both locally and online with a friend, but Online Arena matches now give you greater incentive to play, thanks in part to another addition in the game: Jam levels and challenges.
Jam levels and Jam challenges offer an interesting way of tracking your progression while playing. As you reach challenge specific goals--such as scoring points, earning assists, and winning games--you accumulate Jam bucks and increase your Jam level. Later on, those Jam bucks can be spent on additional in-game content. Instead of having to unlock teams, players, and other treats by winning specific games, Jam bucks and your Jam level open the door to unlocking extra content.
NBA Jam is over the top basketball at its finest and that same, wild experience from last year is still on showcase in On Fire. Among the improvements and additions is the inclusion of Tag Mode, which allows you to control both players on a team instead of relying on the AI. This way, any mistake that is made is the player's fault, and it puts more pressure on knowing the right thing to do. To ensure that the non-controlling character still plays his role, the bumper buttons on the controller can issue different commands. On offense and defense, the left bumper has your teammate perform a pick or shove. On offense, the right bumper initiates your teammate to set up for an alley-oop, which is a very important function in On Fire.
Another addition this year is Team On Fires. In previous games, three consecutive baskets made by a player would have that player go on fire, but now, when three consecutive alley-oops are made, your team goes on fire. Team On Fire gives you 20 seconds of possession where both players are capable of doing some fantastic things, and only the passage of time or the opposing team pulling off its own alley-oop can end it. While the Team On Fire is a fantastic addition, it can quickly turn a match into an alley-oop fest, where every player is trying to make every basket as an alley-oop.
The last major addition on the court is the inclusion of razzle-dazzles. Everyone loves to showboat while playing, and razzle-dazzles allow for it. On offense, when holding both triggers, players can pull off one of two types of razzle-dazzles. By pressing the spin/pivot button, players will stop in place and do some sort of funky move to show off. These include doing "the Dougie," yawning, or tying their shoelaces. For those who really want to take it up a notch, doing a razzle-dazzle while attempting a shot can result in some interesting situations, such as taking a granny shot, spinning your arm in a circle before shooting, and even shooting with your back to the basket. Razzle-dazzles are a lot of fun, but doing them too often increases the chance of a turnover or a miss. Also, there aren't many of each type, so you can easily see them all after only playing a few games.
NBA Jam isn't without some faults. Even with a significantly better single-player portion, there are still times when the computer gets lucky far too often or your teammate's AI isn't up to par. As you progress through Road Trip, silver, gold, and even the additional content afterward is downright challenging and frustrating. It's aggravating when the AI can sink baskets with players who shouldn't be capable of certain kinds of shots.
Additional animations and even deeper commentary by legendary NBA Jam announcer Tim Kitzrow are included and add to an overall great package. Those who felt burnt by last year's game can think of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition as EA's way of apologizing for it. For everyone else, this is a fun and frantic arcade game that delivers hours of enjoyment.