Officially licensed NBA arcade baller whose shot is a bit off from the reference material.
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Mad Dog Games
Consoles: Switch (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC
MonsterVine was provided a copy for review purposes.
Coming in hot just in time for the Playoffs is NBA Playgrounds, a 2-on-2 arcade side-scrolling basketball game, that serves up an amalgamation of NBA Jam and NBA Street and turns out slightly diluted. Much like it’s reference materials, it tries its best at imitating exaggerated character models and a flagrant disregard for real-world physics a la NBA Jam and the stylish dunks, alley-oops and extra-point opportunities of NBA Street.
Unfortunately, NBA Playgrounds is coming in so hot, in fact, that it’s apparent it could’ve used a bit more time in the oven. From the start, it’s missing key features like online, two weeks after launch for the Switch version, and lacks modes outside of exhibition and an uninspired tournament mode.
The knock-on effect being that you won’t unlock all the players by the time you’re done with all the single-player content, leaving you to farm exhibition matches against the AI for hours on end or play so much local multiplayer until you eventually unlock them all.
Once unlocked, though, it helps that NBA Playgrounds features most of the top names in the game — past and present. And you’re not stuck playing with players on the same team, either. You can, for example, mix up contemporary greats like Stephen Curry and LeBron James on the same team and put them up against whatever other Frankensteinian combination you desire. May I suggest MVP rivals Russell Westbrook and James Harden join forces to take them on?
Plenty of other marquee players make an appearance, as well, including emerging first and second 2016 draft picks Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, along with retired players like Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon. NBA fans will lament missing super stars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant but will enjoy arguing about some of the “Legend” and “Epic” classifications of each player in the 150+ roster.
On the gameplay front, the promise is there. NBA Playgrounds features a decent base game that serves up fun times with its timing-based shooting rewarding you for getting shots off just right. There’s also plenty of bonus points opportunities including at tip-off with the first shot made and specials triggered like a 3-point line worth double the points.
Playgrounds‘s arcade balling works well enough, but there’s still a few annoyances that could be ironed out like disparities in the stamina bar. For example, stealing is quite easy when it takes so little energy and the lack of buzzer-beater insanity as the ball falls flat instead of allowing a final shot before time runs out is disappointing.
The game plays well enough, but feels a bit derivative. Which isn’t so bad for NBA fans as you’re playing with a current roster of players, but for non-NBA fans, you’ll do just as well going back and pulling NBA Street Homecourt or NBA Jam out of your library for a fix.
Being that I reviewed the Switch version, there’s some unique pros and cons to this version of the game versus the other ports. Among the pros is the unique aspect of playing Playgrounds on the go wherever, whenever.
When undocked, the screen looks like it has a generous slathering of Vaseline over it and the framerate seems to dip for a bit while it catches up to the action. The visuals are obviously cleaner and the framerate more stable when docked but it doesn’t adversely affect the timing of your shots, for example.
Regardless, it’s still a great option to have an up to 4 player portable game on deck. The style of game of Playgrounds is perfectly suitable for it as there’s no split screen, just a single side scrolling screen where all the characters are clearly outlined and visible. It’s not better than having it displayed on your giant TV, of course, but a great alternative while away from the living room.
The cons to the Switch version, it’s a lesser port visually and drew the short end of the stick as far as an online component that has yet to materialize, two weeks after launch, when PS4/Xbox One/PC featured online day one.
NBA Playgrounds is a fine arcade baller that wears its inspirations clearly on its sleeveless sleeves and helps that it boasts a representative NBA roster for fun mix-and-match court battles. It’s too bad the Switch version is still missing an online component, but considering the device’s hybrid console/portable nature and built-in set of controllers, impromptu IRL matches are just a…*switch* away.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3 out of 5 – Average