Back in the 90’s everyone played NBA Jam because it offered over-the-top gameplay, hilarious animations, all with the actual NBA roster. What could be better than dunking a flaming basketball with M.J. with a massive head I ask? As the years went by, the series didn’t hold up well with the last Jam title being released back in 2011 for the PSN and XBLA (and mobile devices). NBA Playgrounds, looks to bring back the fun and zany gameplay from the hit Jam series of the past, but not without flaws.
NBA Playgrounds brings players an over-the-top basketball experience focusing on 2v2 matchups. When it comes to the roster you’re given a massive roster of stars from the past, and the present, including big names such as Lebron James, Lakers Shaq, and many more; but don’t expect every player as it only focuses on the bigger names. From the start though, you are only given a handful of characters to choose from, with most being unlocked through character packs. This gives you something to work towards, and it’s an incredible feeling when you get a legend in a pack. These packs are unlocked as you continue to play through the game, but playing through the game’s tournament mode is the fastest way to earn packs. The only downside to the roster deals with most of the characters playing almost exactly the same even with the differences in stats.
When it comes to gameplay, the true crazy gameplay is showcased. Players will fly higher than the backboard for blocks, crossovers have players doing cartwheels past the opposing players, and that’s not even mentioning the dunking. Much like NBA Jam, while you can play like a normal basketball game, dunks and alley-oops are the focus when it comes to scoring. Players will perform the most insane dunks ever witnessed on the courts with backflip dunks, skywalkers from the three-point line, and even a dunk where they’ll jump onto the rim and perform a backflip into a dunk; yeah, the dunks get pretty fun to watch.
To add to the madness on the court, lottery picks give players special abilities that vary. Lottery picks are earned as you play through the match, and help your either close the gap or extend your lead. Lottery picks include an unmissable and unblockable shot from anywhere past half-court, unlimited stamina, 2x the points for dunks, and many more that are unlocked as you progress through the tournament mode. These lottery picks end up playing a pivotal role as players can also earn an extra point by performing a perfectly timed shot; which the AI performs quite a bit.
What NBA Playgrounds really lacks is a variety of game modes, with only three game modes. Exhibition mode offers the most fun when playing with friends. Tournament mode, while fun falls flat as you are unable to change your team after starting tournament mode. For those playing on the Nintendo Switch, online mode will be added in a future update, which hurts the games replay value if you don’t have any friends to play with.
While gameplay has its flaws, the presentation doesn’t help. Visually the game looks vibrant, with characters and the environment looking pretty good. Animation wise the characters move fluidly, while the backgrounds tend to repeat the same animations; though this is forgivable as most of the time you’ll focus on the action on the court. Commentary is the worst part of the game as you’ll continuously hear the same corny jokes at least three times a game. It got so bad, I ended up playing the game with no volume as the same repetitive soundtrack doesn’t help either.
NBA Playgrounds looks to bring back the fun of the NBA Jam series of the past, yet does little to modernize the series. With limited game modes, horrible presentation, and a lack of online at launch, NBA Playgrounds feels like an unfinished project. While we hope that more content will be added in future updates, the current state of the game feels incomplete. If you’re looking for a fun basketball experience to play with friends NBA Playgrounds offers a fun competitive experience, but in terms of single-player the gameplay the game is lacking.
- Fun gameplay that is easy to pick-up and play
- Sizeable roster lets you play as all of your favorite players from the past, and the present.
- Only one game mode at launch
- Horrible, and repetitive soundtrack and commentary makes you want to mute the game
- Lack of individuality in players even with the difference in stats
- AI can be useless at times
*Complimentary review copy was provided by the developer for review purposes.