NBA PLAYGROUNDS
A solid foundation.

REVIEW
By JAY TEE
09/05/17

THE BASICS

Wonderfully unrealistic arcade basketball title, supporting local and online multiplayer and a huge roster of players.

PLATFORMS

PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.

PLAYERS

Offline - 4, Online - 4

CO-OP / MULTIPLAYER

2v2 offline, 1v1 online (with a 2v2 online patch very soon after launch. Thank you Polygon).

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

Increased player roster, confirmed to be free.

I defy anyone not to dance to the main theme. Seriously. Not since Rocket League have I cut shapes like this.

JTGA

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CONCLUSION

NBA Playgrounds feels like it needed a couple more weeks in the oven. Mechanically speaking the game is seriously great fun. The joy of local multiplayer shenanagins, as well as a fleshed out tournament mode, easily makes it a worthwhile purchase. But the current state of the online multiplayer leaves much to be desired. We will be following up our review with another look at the game after the promised updates.

For more information, check out: http://www.playgroundsgame.com/
Or follow @nba_playgrounds on Twitter.
PLEASE NOTE: We are reviewing the Switch version. Saber Interactive very kindly provided us with a copy.

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TAKEAWAYS

- Although the learning curve is pretty steep at first, as the game’s tutorial bombards you with a lot of inputs, once you get your head around them it feels really good. I’m VERY happy to report that single joy con, handheld, and pro controller configurations all feel exactly the same.

- The defensive controls, which consist of Steal, Push, and Block / Rebound, are effective but tied to a stamina meter, preventing every possession from becoming a slap fest. Dunking is also incredibly satisfying, with a fantastic slo mo effect that kicks in on particularly epic plays. If you manage to throw in a crossover (which acts as a sort of offensive dodge designed to get you past a defender), it looks awesome.

- Shooting desperately needs a shot meter. Pulling off the right timing took me a long time to master, and while eventually you’ll get a feel for the required length of button holding, I felt supremely incapable for far too long. It’s a frustrating omission, and since the stamina meter is already represented on screen, it could have been a very simple addition. SIDE NOTE: The HD Rumble, used when you’re out of stamina, is way too aggressive. I dislike the Switch’s HD Rumble anyway, but here it’s just plain annoying.

- Audio design is great, with toggle-able commentary and a catchy main theme. The ability to unlock new locations (by playing the tournament mode), as well as new basketballs, additional players, and the XP levelling system (tied directly to each players own progression) add depth to the overall package.

- The twelve second shot clock is a stroke of genius. It forces faster plays, and encourages you to maximise your more exotic abilities (like alley-oops and dunking). The Lottery Pick system, which gifts you a randomly selected powerup once you’ve achieved a certain number of baskets, steals, or other interesting plays, can even half the opponents shot clock.

- I realise I’ve mentioned it already, but… the online stuff is seriously broken. Patches are coming for all platforms, but the state it’s in right now is woeful.

Saber Interactive have positioned NBA Playgrounds as a delightfully silly alternative to the dominance of 2K’s behemoth sports franchise. It’s colourful and exaggerated, offering the kind of quick thrills perfectly suited to a pick up and play downloadable title. There’s strands of DNA sprinkled in from the old NBA Jam series; player models are gangly and top heavy, and the dunking mechanics feel just as satisfying.

On the flipside, the online side of things has launched in a fairly questionable state. Random 1v1 matches is your only option on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, but on Switch, online multiplayer is, at present, completely disabled. Patches for both have been promised, including the addition of tournaments which will hopefully open the door to private sessions with friends.  

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FINAL SCORE