Xbox 360
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
3.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
4.5 Stars

NBA Jam: On Fire

Street Date:
October 4th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
October 27th, 2011
Game Release Year:
Xbox 360
Electronic Arts
EA Canada


“NBA Jam: On Fire Edition” arrives on the heels of the surprise hit that spawned from EA’s failed “NBA Elite 11.” Initially intended as a DLC bonus to purchasers of that game, the new “NBA Jam” showed up as a Wii game before emerging on the other two big consoles. About a year later, a much more polished, value packed edition arrives as a downloadable only title, at a fraction of the price of last year’s release. Whether you’re new to the series or someone who invested many hours into its original heyday in the mid-90s, this new incarnation of the game is worth your time and money.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Taking the core mechanics of basketball and stripping them down to a few basic moves and two rules (no goaltending, 24-second shot clock), “NBA Jam On Fire” is one of the most accessible sports games in recent memory. The concept is simple: you play two-on-two basketball over four, three-minute quarters. Players select from a roster of modern NBA stars and at half time have the option to change make additional swaps. From there it boils down to how well you can grasp the concept of the right analog stick moves, X shoots, A passes, and the triggers are turbo. Defense is equally simple, with A allowing you two swap between players, X acting as steal (or the simultaneously game winning and breaking push when combined with turbo) and Y sends your player jumping for a block or rebound. Not a lot has changed from 1994, score three uncontested buckets and you’re “on fire,” which for the uninitiated allows you to have unlimited turbo and perform physics defying dunks.

What this new incarnation adds is the previously mentioned player swap ability. No longer are you forced to play as one-half your team. The game, by default on offense gives you control of whoever has control of the ball, and on defense the vital ability to switch back and forth on the fly, eliminating clunky AI partners from botching simple plays. Even the trademark game “fire” gets a boost, provided you score three uncontested ally-oops (passes straight into a dunk), now both teammates are “on fire,” the only catch being no matter how well you play, you get it for 20-seconds, which slowly ticks down whenever you’re on offense. To get the full Jam experience though, a noble attempt at a “campaign” mode has been offered to single players, titled Road Trip. If you want to unlock all the little quirks that made the old games so much fun, prepare to spend some time here.

Road Trip consists of beating each team three times, earning medals with each victory (bronze, silver, and gold naturally). Each successive medal is a step up on the difficulty, but each victory nets you in-game currency to unlock vital features such as bonus teams (including the Seattle Supersonics, Beastie Boys, NBA Mascots, and yes, Republicans and Democrats, team legends (the only real notable omissions include Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, and Wilt Chamberlain), custom icons and titles for your online persona, and little quirks such as big head mode, 8-bit filters, and custom basketball skins. Road Trip doesn’t take ages to complete, but over time you’ll find that the game has some shortcomings when it comes to the AI.

Most games against the computer left me feeling things were too easy or too hard (especially when the superhuman R.E.A.L AI shows up in the optional platinum matches). Gold level matches gave the best balance between challenge and raw fun, but when you near the end of Road Trip, believe it or not, it gets very tiresome doing bronze challenges that end with you winning by thirty or more points. Thankfully, there is the option for local multiplayer for up to four-players or the old standby of online play. Unfortunately, here amidst a sea of often overly competitive gamers, “NBA Jam: On Fire” begins to fizzle out.

First and foremost there’s no way to refine your matchmaking choices, which often leaves players connected to someone with a poor ping which makes for an unplayable, laggy match. When you do find a steady connection, at least in my experience, players gravitate towards the same handful of pumped-up legends and a one-word strategy: pushing. The push move, at times feels broken in this incarnation of the series and I’ve gone more than my fair share of matches where blocks are a rare commodity, instead replaced by the push spammed over-and-over-and-over. I understand the need for some players to win at any cost and EA could have fixed this by allowing for game lobbies, which limit roster selections or do something to nullify the push, maybe have it take more of the vital turbo meter per use?

“NBA Jam: On Fire” is still a load of fun and at the low price point an absolute steal. With the exception of the wonky matchmaking system online, the other two flaws can be fixed through a gentleman’s agreement with your fellow player, should he or she be willing. This isn’t a game like “NBA 2K11” that benefits from lengthy sessions. It’s best approached an hour here or there from time to time, unless you have a solid human player base to draw from for sessions. Otherwise, the limitations of the AI can make the game grow a bit tiresome. The bottom line though, is that a great series is back with a vengeance.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

“NBA Jam: On Fire” doesn’t set out to compete with the big boys like “NBA 2K12.” It’s an Arcade title at its core and to be perfectly honest, the graphics are more than adequate. What is greatly appreciated and noticed first and foremost, is how smoothly everything comes together. The animations are fluid and varied. Even when the screen gets busy, there’s no tearing or drops in the frame rate. On that front, a player should never find him or herself cursing the game itself for “causing” a missed shot or botched play. It’s reliable to the core.

From a pure design point, the game does feel like a very fancy version of the “NBA Jam” of the 90s. Characters could be animated a little more than they actually are and the player models fall more on the line of realism than cartoon. That said, a few matches in and one notices that there’s not much to the backgrounds and when you take a close look, they’re decidedly bland. Taken in small spurts, most of these issues aren’t as apparent, but should a player find themselves sitting down for an extended session, “NBA Jam: On Fire” reveals itself to be an affair that as good deal to grow.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Shockingly, the commentary driven nature of the game doesn’t grow tiresome. The announcers don’t dominate the basic sound design, but keeping with the feel of the series, never fail to produce a smile or even a chuckle at times. The commentary is filled with the classic riffs from decades past as well as some new additions that any internet meme connoisseur will recognize.

The game’s soundtrack, made up of thumping hip-hop/electronic beats keeps the time spent in the menus lively. Like the commentary, they don’t easily become repetitive and there’s a good level of variety to their basic elemental designs. To be fair, a lot of the game’s sounds go unnoticed in the heat of a game, save for the announcers. “NBA Jam: On Fire” bring anything revolutionary to the sound front, but what it does, it does well. The audio is well balanced and succeeds in bringing as many little elements of a basketball game to a quick arcade based game.

Replay Factor

The Road Trip mode will keep diligent players busy for quite a few hours, if only to earn enough credits to unlock NBA veterans and hidden teams. The most satisfying replay value will come from getting some friends in person or online to play with. With the option for four-player, two-on-two action, the game shows off its best qualities. Playing with friends ensures, should you desire to come to a gentleman’s agreement on abusing high-ranking legends and overusing the shoves, which nearly kill the notion of venturing into online against random players. Even if you are without a consistent human player base, the higher difficulty levels are more than competent for the causal gamer that wishes to kill an hour or so with a modern spin on a great nostalgic franchise.

Final Thoughts

“NBA Jam: On Fire” is a great modern spin on a series that still holds up through years of time and nostalgia. With a modern roster to choose from as well as a nearly perfect vault of legends and novelty players, even the casual basketball fan will find something to love. The game is easy to pick up, plays quickly, and in casual company is a ton of fun. The game does have room for improvement with online play hampered by poor matchmaking abilities and overuse of the shove feature (and legend players) often ending in a sour time. "NBA Jam: On Fire" earns a solid recommendation for anyone with a passing interest in basketball.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus
  • Offline Co-op

Motion Controls

  • No

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