This preview was originally intended to be a podcast. Unfortunately unbeknownst to us the recording software crashed mid-podcast. Instead we’ve put together a preview based on that podcast. Apologies and enjoy — and special thanks to NBA Jam On Fire Edition producer Cody Sawatsky for taking the time to talk to us.
Is there honestly anyone out there that doesn’t have fond memories of NBA Jam? It’s part of every adult gamer’s past, whether pumping quarters into an arcade machine or playing some late night Tournament Edition with a friend on the Super Nintendo. Over the years the game has evolved, with several iterations in the 90’s, a solid last-gen release in 2003, and last year’s retail release. But perhaps the biggest jump in innovation comes in On Fire Edition, out tomorrow on Xbox Live Arcade.
While the 2010 edition of NBA Jam was meant to be true to the arcade, On Fire Edition takes those principles and set them on, well, fire quite frankly. NBA Jam producer Cody Sawatsky cited over 1,000 gameplay tweaks, changes and enhancements were made since the 2010 installment, including updated AI, new playable characters, easter eggs and more. It’s kind of like taking a new Camaro and stuffing in an even bigger engine, a kickin’ stereo and a set of sweet rims.
Bad comparisons aside, let’s break down why this is one of the can’t-pass-it-up games of 2011. For starters, its based a franchise that not only excites sports fans, but also those of us who don’t have player stats floating around in our heads. There’s something approachable about it. Fanatics and non-sports alike fans have fun with the over-the-top slam dunks, three pointers from half court or knocking over a buddy on a fast break. It’s the ultimate Friday night game night title when Halo and Gears sound tired and boring. Besides, where else are you going to see a white boy get ups higher than 12 feet?
And speaking of players, the roster is vast. Not only does it include every team from the NBA, but the final four teams from the Euroleague will be present, too. Mascots make an appearance, too–every single one from the NBA along with some EA-created mascots. And speaking of EA properties, Isaac from Dead Space and Faith from Mirror’s Edge will be unlockable along with three famed snowboarders from EA’s upcoming SSX title, due out next January. Then there’s the cherry on top of the sundae: Tim Kitzrow, the original announcer for NBA Jam, returns to call the plays with all his Dick Vitale flair. It’s awesome, baby!
The AI uses EA’s R.E.A.L. system, which bases its responses on data recorded during actual gameplay sessions at EA. The AI takes into account score, play style, and other input then makes its decisions based any number of actions from the recorded data. It’s a system that started out life in the Fight Night franchise and has since been adapted for several of EA’s titles. It makes the AI seem less mechanical and more like flesh and blood.
Unlockables this time around are points based. Instead of cheats or unlocking content for specific performances players earn credits after each game. These serve both as XP and to buy new content in the Jam Store. Cheats, unlockable players and the like can be purchased here, then used at the discretion of the player. No longer do you need to memorize button patterns before the loading screen to unlock a specific court, player, or cheat.
That’s all well and good, but one of the best features is EA’s sheer dedication to multiplayer. Players can sit on the couch with a friend, go online, or combine the two. Additionally all of the game’s multiple modes, including its career, can be played with friends locally or online. We as players often gripe when multiplayer is overlooked, but thankfully the developers knew how to treat their consumers right.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is yet another example about what makes Xbox Live Arcade great. It’s filled to the brim with goodness, but still something you can pick up and play at any time. And it’s cheap. 1200 MSP for what you get is downright amazing. If you’re strapped for points then put other games aside; it’s time to make a few shots from downtown.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition hits XBLA’s virtual shelves tomorrow, October 5, 2011.