It’s been a while since we’ve had a good arcade basketball experience. The last NBA Street game (NBA Street Homecourt) came out back in 2007 and NBA Jam briefly was revived in 2010, and since then there’s been a lack of high quality arcade hoops action. With NBA Playgrounds, Mad Dog Games aims to change that, offering up a quick and accessible arcade sports experience that’s easy to pick up and play. While it’s not as deep mechanically and as option rich as other experiences, it does the job, despite having some flaws.
Developed by Saber Interactive / Published by Mad Dog Games
Available on the Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
*Review code provided by Mad Dog Games
NBA Playgrounds harkens back to the day of simple and addictive basketball titles, complete with cartoonish visuals, quick movement speeds and high-flying exaggerated dunks. In this new sports game, players select from a pool of current and past NBA superstars and play quick street games in a variety of blacktop courts throughout the world, shooting and dribbling their way to victory. Initially, most of the playable NBA roster is locked, and a free card pack unlocks the first five players, with future team members unlocked as more card packs are earned through continuous play.
NBA Playgrounds’ gameplay is simple and to the point, but it’s also unfortunately a bit tricky to master. Players comes equipped with the barest of skills, allowing them to run, shoot, pass, steal, shove and dunk the ball, as well as fill up a Lottery Pick meter in order to gain a powerful, unmissable shot or a slew of bonuses. The controls are simple enough and are quite responsive, making it an experience that can be enjoyed by all ages. Still, some mechanics don’t work as well as they should.
For one, nailing shots require players to release the ball on time in order to improve accuracy. This is standard procedure in a basketball game, but the problem here is that the timing seems off, as shooting at the top of a jump can often lead to late shots. There seems to be a sweet spot before the peak of a jump shot, and it takes a bit to get used to as most basketball games aren’t like this. Additionally, dunks and layups involve complex, exaggeratedly cartoonish animations full of spins and flips, and while they look cool, they also make timing them perfectly a blind guess. Expect to miss quite a few easy shots until you learn each animation’s quirks, and prepare to get frustrated as rival teams land ‘perfect’ shots, which add one additional point to the score if they are timed flawlessly (and which are totally unnecessary in my opinion, but I guess it rewards players who luck out with the wonky timing). It’s harder than it should be.
Despite the issue with the weird shot timing, the rest of the game is still a blast to play, despite the oversimplified mechanics. Players will alley oop, jump shot, trick dribble and slam dunk their way for the win, and with repeated play the cast of players will improve as they level up, maxing out their skills to take on higher challenges.
Unfortunately, while the gameplay is fun, NBA Playgrounds doesn’t bring that many options to keep you playing, with the game only bringing exhibition matches and tournaments. Exhibition is as straightforward as it sounds, and players can pick four players to duke it out in simple matches. Tournaments are multiple matches stung together that offer in-game challenges, and if won reward more card packs and stages. There’s also online tournaments where players can duke it out against each other, but as of writing these are currently locked on the Nintendo Switch (and will be available at a later date). As you can very much see, the game is seriously lacking options that will keep players coming back for more.
The game is also a bit flawed in the animation and A.I. department too. When it comes to the animation, there are times when the basketball will actually jump out of the basket and give the shooting team points. It’s happens far too often for it to be a rare occurrence, and I’m not sure how it got through testing. Additionally, A.I. opponents often make terrible shots, like shooting from behind the backboard, passing for alley oops when the teammate is on the ground, and more.
Overall, NBA Playgrounds is a fun but flawed arcade basketball experience. While it provides entertaining and quick pick up and play two on two action, the shooting mechanics aren’t as sharp as they should be, and the lack of gameplay modes keep it from having any real replay value. A couple of updates can fix the game, but as of right now, it’s a missed opportunity.