I remember back in my college days, all the hours I spent playing NBA Jam. “BOOMSHAKALAKA,” “He’s on Fire,” and “From Downtown” are just a few of the great phrases I remember playing this classic arcade game. So imagine my excitement when I heard a new game called NBA Playgrounds was announced and it looked similar to NBA Jam. I’ve taken a look at this game and while it doesn’t provide me the same excitement level as NBA Jam, I found it quite enjoyable.
NBA Playgrounds was developed by indie developer Saber Interactive and is a 2-on-2 arcade basketball game with NBA licensing. The game released with over 150 current and former NBA players including 44 “legend” players. Along with full licensing, there are various game modes including tournaments and online play. Players are obtained via card packs that are gained when you level up. Better packs are received after winning tournaments. One thing I noticed is that I received “Epic” players more frequently than I expected. I’m not sure if that was luck, or if the formula used is more generous in giving players better cards.
Gameplay in NBA Playgrounds is both exciting and frustrating. Alley-oops and dunks are satisfying, but achieving that extra point for the perfect shot is quite elusive to me. I don’t see any obvious meter indicating the ideal time to release the shot. Additionally, the AI at times feels a little overpowering with constant shoving and steals. Playing on the easiest level provided me tougher games that I anticipated given the difficulty level. Players have stamina that drains as you sprint down the court, but it replenishes very quickly when you stop. Shooting in the game is tricky as it requires precise timing. Stamina also plays a factor in your shooting percentage, so you want to make sure the player shooting the ball has plenty of stamina at the time of the shot. One note about gameplay that bothered me was there was no continual flow throughout the game. After every basket, the game essentially pauses until the defense is in position. You can’t quickly inbound the ball and drive toward the basket. This is especially frustrating when you are down and are trying to play catch up.
Graphics are on par from what you would expect for an arcade game. Players are represented with slightly oversized heads and certain players even have their signature moves in the game. Courts are bright and colorful, but I found it confusing at times when attempting to get rebounds in the game. I didn’t have a good sense of where to place my player as the colors melded together more around the hoop. The unique backdrops for each court is a nice touch and it was easy to identify each region. NBA Playgrounds provides full-screen gameplay, but there were a couple issues I noticed. I have a triple monitor setup with my PC and when I played the game on full-screen, it only used one monitor which I expected. However, my other two monitors were locked to a black screen. The monitors stayed black even after quitting the game. I had to log off my machine to resolve the issue. The other graphics issue I noticed was that when setting the game to windowed mode, it didn’t open at the full 1920 x 1080p resolution. I had to select the resolution option and press apply before it would maximize the window.
Final thoughts on NBA Playgrounds Review and Gameplay:
Despite the graphics issues I have with NBA Playgrounds I found it to be a fun game very reminiscent to NBA Jam. I enjoyed progressing through the tournaments to level my character and gain additional card packs. On May 21, 2017 Saber Interactive provided some insight on the upcoming patch which includes 15 new players, an additional game mode and various tweaks. Click here to see the list of features that will soon roll out to all systems. It’s great to see developers be transparent on what’s in development. These additions sound great. NBA Playgrounds costs $19.99 and is available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Steam.