NBA Playgrounds REVIEW

BY Jason Hojnacki | May 16, 2017

Layups are hard

Having grown up playing NBA Jam, and feeling the distinct lack of arcade sports games this generation, I was pretty excited when NBA Playgrounds was announced a few months ago. So did the game with high hopes, created by a small team deliver?

The game looks like an NBA Jam clone, is that how it plays?

Yes, but not really. It has the side scrolling 2 on 2 look of the classic, but once the game starts it never really feels as smooth as NBA Jam. Games are usually played in one 3 to 5 minute block, with no breaks or quarters. Power ups(called lottery picks) are earned by dunking, blocking shots or getting steals and can give your team infinite turbo, extra points for dunking or point bonuses. Honestly, the game tries it’s hardest to invoke the feel of NBA Jam, but sadly it just doesn’t flow the way you would hope.

Tell me a little bit about the mechanics. Do the shooting, dunking, defense and power-up system feel good?

I’m not sure what the developers were thinking here, but the shot mechanic, which should have been a no brainer, is all wrong. Instead of releasing the shot button at the end of the shot arc, you know, like every other basketball game ever, there is an odd timing based mechanic that is never properly explained(it boils down to counting to two and then releasing the button). This terrible mechanic makes shooting 3 pointers insanely easy, dunks harder than they should be and layups basically impossible.

Because of this, games basically turn into 3 point shootouts where you pick a player with a high 3 point stat, cross the half court line and fire a three. It should be noted that unless you hit a perfect shot, 3s don’t raise your lottery pick meter very much, so dunks still have their place. The shooting animations are also garbage, but that doesn’t really hurt the gameplay and is more of a personal thing.

Here are a few more quick gripes I had with the game, the scoreboard is oddly placed in the background, the shove mechanic takes a crazy amount of your lottery meter, buzzer beaters(a staple in NBA Jam) don’t count, rebounding is broken garbage and the wait time after making a basket is absurd and kills the flow of the game to the point that I thought it was a glitch my first game.

I’ve heard you complaining about the way the players are unlocked, is it really that bad?

Yes. I actually like what the team was trying to do here, you earn points for winning games that are then used to unlock packs of cards with various players in them(no real money is used). However, with a roster as deep as this game it will take way too long to unlock all of the characters. I haven’t done the math but your are going to have to spend some serious time grinding here, even if you cheat the system and shorten the time it takes to play exhibition games.

My gripe with this system might stem from playing on the Switch, where there is currently no online play. Because the tournament mode is only 6 stages, with 4 rounds each, I spent most of my time using the same combination of players (Ray Allen and Shaq) in my case.

You are playing on the Switch, which currently doesn’t have online play, is there enough single player content to keep you playing?

You will be done with the tournament mode in a few hours, maybe longer depending on how well you adapted to the cheesy AI. After that, your only real option is exhibition where you can grind out packs of cards or play your friends locally.

What do you think about the visual style?

It works, even if some of the players do look a little odd.

How about the announcers, any Boomshakalaka moments?

Not at all. These announcers sound like they recorded their lines after being told they weren’t getting paid for their work. To say they phoned it in would be an understatement.


"The potential for an awesome game is here, unfortunately the developers didn’t seem to grasp what made past arcade style basketball games great."


Gameplay - 2/5
Content - 2/5
Visuals - 4/5
Roster- 4/5
Announcers - 2/5
- The shot mechanic feels way off
- 3’s are easier to hit than layups which is insane
- The player unlocks don’t come fast enough
- The dunks are varied and look great
- The pace of the game is all wrong