[Beyond PlayStation] NBA Playgrounds Review
Let’s get this out of the way first: NBA Playgrounds is NOT a spiritual successor to NBA Jam. There are a lot of things that make each game stand on its own and which might make some players favor the classic franchise while others will like what NBA Playgrounds is trying to do. By the end of this NBA Playgrounds review, you will certainly be able to tell if this game is for you or if it’s not what you’ve been looking for to scratch that NBA arcade gaming itch.
NBA Playgrounds gets things going by giving players three booster packs to open. Booster Packs include cards that represent players in the game, so the more booster packs you open and unique cards you get, the more players you’ll be able to select. My first three packs gave me Brangon Ingram (Lakers), Shawn Kemp (Cavaliers), Reggie Jackson (Pistons), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Dwayne Wade (Bulls), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), C.J. McCollum (Trail Blazers), Rudy Gay (Kings), Enes Kanter (Thunder), Draymond Green (Warriors), John Stockton (Jazz), Derrick Rose (Nicks), Steven Adams (Thunder), DeAndre Johnson (Clippers) and Willis Reed (Knicks). Overall, it was a very varied selection of players to get things going.
After this, I was able to select either an exhibition match (a first match that basically works as the game’s tutorial) or check my cards collection. Checking the card collection allowed me to check each of my players to review their stats in attack (Dunk, 3-point, 2 point shots), defense (Steal and Blocks), and others (Speed, Stamina, and Rebound). I was also able to take a look at a player’s career stats for things such as minutes per game, points per game, field goals percentage, free throws percentage, rebounds per game, assists per game, and blocks per game. There’s also a chance to check a short bio with facts for players, along with a “Did you know?” section. The final piece of valuable information is the XP meter that shows a player’s current level and XP obtained towards the next level.
The better you do in a game, the more XP you’ll get, not to mention that your players will also get more XP to improve their skills. You’ll also get packs to open as you level up, so that you can add more players to your collection. Something that NBA Playgrounds does well is that when you get a duplicate card, the player ends up receiving a boost of XP instead of players just ending up with a duplicate that wouldn’t be useful. It’s a nice touch that makes collecting easier on everyone and which motivates you to keep going.
My first exhibition match was in New York since it was the only area open for a game – other cities open up as you play some more, and currently include, Tokyo, Paris, Shangai, London, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Venice Beach. All courts are the same and gameplay remains consistent between all areas, so all you’re really aiming for is having more varied locations for you to play in. Some are more colorful and lively than others, and you’ll surely find a favorite or two for your time with the game.
The first thing you need to learn is the game’s controls. You move around with the left analog stick and can use the ZR button to sprint. When on the attack, the B button is for passing, the Y button is for shooting (if you hold it out for a bit). The ZL button is for an alley-oop, while the ZR button plus the Y button is used for dunking. When on the defense, you can change between your two players with the B button, can try to steal with the Y button, to push a player with the A button, or block/rebound with the X button. Got it?
The game does have a learning curve since you have to release the Y button at the perfect time to make a shot/dunk the ball. Release it to early, and you’ll miss. Release it too late, and you’ll overshoot. This does get some used to, and it’s certainly what separates the game from a pure arcade game like NBA Jam – and it will probably be a deal-breaker for those of you looking for a fast drop-in/drop-out experience like the one provided by the beloved ballgame franchise of ages past.
But when you do manage to execute dunks, alley-oops, blocks and steals properly, you will get a boost to the blue bar at the top of the screen. Once the bar is full, the Lottery Pick will activate, giving your team a bonus that will give you the edge for a short bit. How great would it be if your next shot could not be blocked and could not be missed? You’d definitely take a three point shot because of it, right?
For the game’s launch in May, the Nintendo Switch version was missing the online mode, as well as some optimization to improve overall performance and lower loading times. A few days ago, this version of the game finally got a patch of a considerable size which finally introduced online gaming for Switch owners. On top of this, loading times have been halved both in Portable and Docked mode, and graphics have been improved as well. But the biggest change to the game is the shooting meter.
Before the patch, making a dunk or a shot was a bit of an ordeal since you needed to release the shot button at the exact moment of a perfect of said shot, or else you’d miss. Now everything is clearer since you’ll see a meter that will have a lot of red and either a yellow or a green area. The closer to the center of either the yellow or the green area, the better the odds of you making a successful shot. The better a player’s stats for a particular shot (be that a 2-point or a 3-point shot or a dunk), the larger the success area for it. This completely changes the game, but if you feel that you liked the original shooting system, you can disable the meter in the options menu.
With the latest update, NBA Playgrounds becomes an enjoyable arcade-style basketball game that is not as arcade-heavy as most of us thought it would be, but that is definitely a much, much better game than it was at launch. With the first massive patch out of the way, the game is probably going to get more patches for the rest of the year to add more players, more courts to play in, and hopefully, even more, improvements to the game’s performance and resolution. If you want a basketball game to play at home or on the go, then you can certainly give this one a go.
This NBA Playgrounds review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy provided by Saber Interactive.