Arcade basketball is a missing gem in the world of gaming today. NBA Jam and NBA Street have both laid the foundation and have both been missing from the scene for much longer than the world would like. Does NBA Playgrounds bring back the excitement of 2-on-2 arcade basketball?
What Is It?
NBA Playgrounds is an arcade-style basketball game that is over-the-top and silly. Gone are the 5-on-5 games, and instead, players are able to pick teams of two from any of the 30 NBA teams to compete for an allotted time or up to a certain number of points. The controls have been minimized so much that even the Switch Joy-Cons can handle the various inputs.
A Lottery Pick Bar sits atop the screen as you fill it up throughout the game by shooting, dunking, and defending. When that Lottery Bar is full, you get a random power-up that can swing the game heavily in your favor.
Why Should I Care?
It has been years since any other kind of basketball game has come out other then the 2K franchise. EA Sports has yet to scrap together any resemblance of a basketball game and 2K has grown complacent with their domination over the basketball game world.
Enter NBA Playgrounds. It’s reminiscent of NBA Jam, and it’s easy to get excited having those fun battles that most gamers had growing up picking your favorite NBA team and knowing what comes next after you hear the announcer say, “He’s heating up!”
Progression is made throughout various courts around the world in tournament mode. As you clear each court, XP is given to your NBA player as they level up from bronze to gold, and you can use the XP to unlock hidden moves. Each time you level up or clear a court, you are granted a pack of player cards that unlock that character for your use in exhibition or tournament. Collecting every player is quite the challenge and if that isn’t enough, each game during the tournament mode has a challenge that can be completed for all the perfectionists out there.
While it may look the same, it plays a little differently. No longer do players catch fire, but a meter gets filled giving power-ups that range from double points for dunks or three-pointers, unlimited turbo, a shorter shot clock for your opponent, an electric ball (basically fire), and the Star Shot (which has a star players can shoot from to get the points indicated within the start).
Each player also has stats that don’t seem to make a huge impact. It only seems that three-pointers, dunks, blocks, and stamina are the stats you want to focus on. A simple crossover move in up, down, or either side can help you maneuver past those pesky defenders.
Timing is also crucial and unforgiving which is where this game begins to take a plunge. It’s easy to perfect the timing for some players’ shots while others can seem almost impossible to make even a simple layup. Including this mechanic in the dunk, alley-oop, and layup also becomes odd when there isn’t really any indicator of when to release the shot. I have never missed so many lay-ups in a video game, and it was frustrating. This game has also features the worst rebounding system ever created; it seems that just standing where the ball is going to land is more effective.
Despite these issues, the game is still very fun to play. The cartoon-like bodies and crazy high-flying dunks are still enjoyable and nothing really beats hitting a buzzer beater on your buddy.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
At a retail price of $20, I’d say NBA Playgrounds is worth the money. Tournament mode is actually difficult as it progresses and trying to collect every player also should keep players coming back. Mixing players from the different teams to find the duo that works best for you is also an ongoing experiment.
Being able to play this type of basketball game is nostalgic and easy to pick up. After playing on the review copy, I purchased a copy for the Nintendo Switch so I could get quick games when on the go. The game isn’t something that is going to have a lot of depth, but local and online play will keep me playing this game when a quick fun competitive fix is needed.
The developers have also taken responsibility for their issues and are hard at work fixing them. Adding new players and tweaking the balance is something they did with the game being so cheap, but it seems that they’ve taken pride in their work and want to get it right. That is the kind of team I can get behind.
While it may not be one of the beloved NBA arcade games of the past, NBA Playgrounds does a great job creating something new and gives a new generation of NBA fans a game to pick up and have fun with.