It’s refreshing to see Nintendo focusing a number of their early releases on multiplayer and party games. The likes of 1-2 Switch, Snipperclips, and Mario Kart 8 are indicators of this, with NBA Playgrounds now joining the fray. Some of the releases have received a mixed reception, but Nintendo could be onto a winning formula in the long run. Read on to find out how NBA Playgrounds fared…
NBA Playgrounds is a throwback to classic arcade basketball games like NBA Jam and NBA Street. Fans of football may also find similarities between this and FIFA Street. The game has a strong retro feel to it which resonates from the off, as do its brilliantly over the top, wacky and unique visuals. Developers, Saber Interactive have created a game that undoubtedly stands out in this regard.
The game features a really cool soundtrack in the menus and in games. Although limited, the genre is very much similar to what you could expect from a typical NBA game - a hip hop and contemporary R&B vibe. When in a game however, the commentary just elevates the game to a whole new level. The commentators are loud, obnoxious (in a good way), enlightening, and pretty funny too. Their tone of voice and exuberant lexicon complement the in-game action superbly.
The gameplay itself is enjoyable, if not lacking. If you play this game on the Switch, as I did, you'll find that online play is currently unavailable, although you can play 2v2 local multiplayer. It's hugely frustrating to see a sports game not have online functionality, especially as this is the first real ‘sports game’ to be released on the console. Beyond that, the game just isn't that deep anyway - even if online play was present. The gameplay is great, and the controls are easy enough to pick up and play, but beyond the standard exhibition mode, there's only a tournament mode to really keep players motivated. The tournaments are pretty good in fairness; you take to the courts in 2v2 action, needing to progress through four rounds to win the tournament. From New York to Los Angeles, and London to Paris, players are taken around the globe and get to experience new court styles and use new basketballs. You can alter the settings in a pre-game lobby or from the options menu, where you can change things like CPU difficulty and the length the match will run for.
Players can unlock new locations and basketballs by playing tournaments, and the progression system is a well thought out concept, as it works to near perfection. After every game you’ll gain XP, and once you level up, you'll be able to open up packs. Inside the packs are NBA players - past and present - who once collected, can be used in-game. You'll be able to track their stats, level them up, and read up on their real life biographies. For people who love collecting cards and who are sticklers for collecting everything a game has to offer, this is the ideal scenario. A small but nice touch is that duplicate cards will not be wasted, instead they will serve as an XP boost to the card you already have.
It's always nice to experiment with new players, to see which combination works best. Do you opt for two quick attacking players, or do you mix it up and go for one more defensively minded player to be more balanced? The fast and frenetic pace of the game (such is the nature of basketball) means your best option is to go for games and try to outscore your opponent. However, there are a few minor issues in this regard. First, the shooting system is quite hard to grasp. If you underhit or overcook a shot, the ball will inevitably miss, but the game gives you little direction on how to amend that, and how to hit the perfect shot which will garner more points. It took a lot of trial and error before I managed to improve my ratio, but even now I struggle with the shooting mechanics. Once you do score, you’ll start accumulating a boost system, whereby scoring slam dunks or three-pointers will charge up the boost faster, as will dispossessing the opposition and performing skill moves. Once full, you'll be able to use a special power-up that may help you towards a win.
NBA Playgrounds (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
In summary, NBA Playgrounds is a really fun and quirky title. The lack of online play at launch is a big omission and although the game lacks replayability, the arcade aesthetics, easy to use controls and whirlwind gameplay make this game extremely enjoyable in short bursts. I found the game better on handheld rather than playing off a TV, due to its ‘on the move’ vibe, and in that respect, it's undoubtedly a nice game to just unwind with and enjoy for what it is.