Developed by Saber Interactive Published by Mad Dog Games Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (Also available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC)
For those that miss the nostalgic feeling of playing over the top, wacky arcade sport games such as NBA Jam, Saber interactive has taken the concept and produced NBA Playgrounds. It’s the game we’ve been waiting for years, but does Saber Interactive deliver the game play we miss so dearly from back in the day?
When jumping into NBA Playgrounds, you’ll automatically earn three player card packs to unlock your first couple of players to play as in the beginning. All players must be unlocked through card packs, each containing a total of five players. There are over 150 NBA basketball players to choose from, featuring both current and former NBA stars. Card packs can be earned by increasing your overall level or completing in tournaments, where you can earn gold card packs that contains legendary NBA players. If you get a repeat player card, you will automatically earn experience for that particular player; each NBA player has their own experience meter that fills as they level up. Player tiers range from bronze, silver, and gold status.
After you received your card packs, you’re ready to start your first exhibition match in NBA Playground. Once you choose an NBA player, you’ll start at tip off. As you play your first match, the game will walk you through a basic tutorial on how the game works. NBA Playgrounds offers fast paced arcade action just as NBA Jam or NBA Streets did, but at a much slower pace that feels just right. You’ll earn random, temporary power ups as you fill a lottery pick meter while you play. You can earn certain power ups such as always making shots or drunks that adds two extra points or gettomg four point shots by shooting on a star outline. Power ups keeps gameplay interesting and fun.
The major thing that makes NBA Playgrounds stand out is its introduction of skilled timed shooting mechanics. As I played my first couple of matches, I could not get the timing down. I was missing shots left and right and could barely even make a layup. The more I’d played, the more my timing improved and I began making more shots and layups. Still, it just never feels consistent even when I felt I was on point with my timing. You really need to watch all the shooting animations of the game to know just the exact time to release your shots or you’ll miss. The game at least tells you after you miss a shot if you released too early or too late. If you’re able to get to perfectly timed shot off, you can get an extra 1 or 2 points. It’s a good idea, but when the CPU is on medium difficulty, they tend to rarely miss and hit tons of perfect shots. They often take a considerable lead against you, making it really hard to make a comeback. I understand why they put this mechanics in the game, but its need fine tuning. At the moment it feels out of place in a fast paced sports arcade game of this style.
NBA Playgrounds offers three modes: exhibition, tournament mode, and online. Exhibition lets you compete against a friend or against the CPU in either timed matches or point matches. Exhibition mode is where you’ll end up spending most of your time to earn experience and to unlock the rest of the roster. Tournament mode is like the main campaign of the game. There’s five city stages to choose from and unlock after you’ve beaten that city’s tournament. Within each city there are four stages of the tourney you must complete in order to move on to the next city. There is a online feature in the game. Sadly, I was unable to match up with anybody after waiting to find a game for five to ten minutes. Hopefully Saber Interactive will release a patch to fix the online issues.
The game industry had over-saturation of over top arcade sports games like NFL Blitz that caused people to lose interest. Now that some time has passed, NBA Playgrounds makes for an appropriate release. NBA Playgrounds leaves a great first impression down to the art style, giant heads, huge jumps into the air, no fouls, goofy commentators, and that feeling of going head to head with your friends. However, aspects of NBA Playground lack polish. After a couple of season with the game, you’ll realize that the shooting mechanics are unlike anything you’ve ever played. There are moments where you feel spot on with your timing but yet you’ll still miss, making for a frustrating experience. The CPU can be difficult when it never misses a shot and regularly gets perfect shots. The online portion doesn’t seem like it was ready at launch and you can’t even play against a friend online as all matches are random. That’s if you can even find someone to play with; I still haven’t had anybody to play against online after waiting long periods of time. NBA Playgrounds isn’t perfect at all, but it has potential to be good. The developers have stated that there are patches on the way.