Even as some one who doesn’t usually play sports games, NBA Playgrounds was one of my most anticipated games of 2017. Despite my lack of fondness for the yearly sports franchises, the more goofy and over-the-top style of NBA Playgrounds, and other games preceding it, like NBA Jam and NBA Street, always managed to deliver quick doses of fun, and the lack of most rules meant that I could just jump in, pull off some flashy moves, have a great time and step away.
NBA Playgrounds stands up in this regard for the most part, but definitely falters in significant ways. For those new to these arcade-style sports games, NBA Playgrounds offers a two-vs two game of basketball, that you can play offline with bots, or with others via local and online multiplayer. You start off with a limited roster, but after an introductory tutorial match, you can play the tournament mode to unlock over 150 players from past and current NBA player-rosters. There are a total of 6 arenas, spread across various countries, which also unlock as you play and win matches. There are no rules for the most part, except for shot-clock violations. But that’s not where the over-the-top aspect of the game comes in.
Shots that you pull off are heavily stylized, with the players flipping in mid-air, jumping 10-20 feet up to slam down on the ring for a dunk, flying in from the three-point zone to pull off spectacular shots, and so on. When everything plays out right, pulling off these shots feel thrilling and satisfying. Sadly, that’s not the case always. AI behavior can be very unpredictable, and coordinating for alley-oops can become a guessing game. Regular shots also need to be timed, and can get really hard to nail. There’s no clear indicator as to when exactly you need to let go of the shoot button so as to get the perfect shot, and when your player enters a slow-mo animation, all bets are off. Eventually you get a hang of it, but it’s mostly based on instinct instead of actually knowing.
However, when things do go right, you start filling up a blue bar on the top, called the “Lottery Pick”. Once the bar is full, you get a random power-up for a given time, which can vary from getting a guaranteed shot from anywhere, unlimited sprint, double the points for any shot, and so on. They can be quickly get annoying when a close match takes a sharp turn when the opposition gets a 6 point lead by a random pick of chance. Regular shots can also be further timed to perfection to get a “Perfect Shot”, which nets you 1 extra point. Shots are usually flashy, and the animations themselves are great. However, the whole time I was playing the game, I didn’t always feet like I was actually nailing all the shots. NBA Playgrounds has a big problem of not being able to relay the right shot timings to the player, and it can really get frustrating.
But the game also get a lot of things right. Shots, dunks, and alley-oops are extremely well choreographed, and look impressively flashy. Character designs are also great, with them having a bobblehead-like look to them. They have also been designed with careful attention, and you’ll be able recognize players instantly. Magic Johnson’s shorts are really short, while Allen Iverson pulls off some sick crossovers. The roster is pretty impressive, and unlocking new players is enjoyable enough to keep me coming back. Different players have specific stats attached to them, but apart from a few, none of them really stand out. Arenas, however, look great overall, and are varied enough. NBA Playgrounds definitely nails the presentation aspect of the game.
Local multiplayer is easy to jump into, and immensely fun. Kicking back with a few beers after work, playing some NBA Playgrounds in local multiplayer has now replaced the time I earlier spent playing Rocket League. Online, however, is not the best. You can only take part in matchmaking, and can’t invite friends. After a few matches, I just gave up, since playing with random folks just wasn’t my thing. But that can vary form person to person, and your experience might differ.
One thing that remains constant throughout are the single soundtrack and the commentary, which are forgettable for the most part. Except for that one time the commentator said something about taking the opponent’s masculinity, which was both stupid and hilarious at the same time.
NBA Playgrounds is definitely fun, but it needs some important changes and additions to keep me hooked for much longer. Spectacular presentation and fast paced play can often lead to annoying missed shots and frustrating AI. Saber can easily patch out these issues, and have a game that keeps folks playing for a long time, but as of right now I can only recommend this to someone seeking to relive the glory days of NBA Jam and is willing to put up with NBA Playgrounds’ many problems.
NBA Playgrounds | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
- Gameplay Is Flashy
- Pulling Off Special Moves Feel Spectacular
- Easy To Get Into
- Immensely Fun To Play With Friends
- Soundtrack & Commentary Is Lacklustre
- Nailing Shot Timings Never Feels Perfect
- Few Multiplayer Options