Publisher: Mad Dog Games
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: May 9th, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
This review is based of the Nintendo Switch version.
Whether you were at home or pushing quarters into the arcade, there is a good chance you played plenty of NBA Jam in the 90’s. What made it so great was that you really didn’t even have to be a huge fan of basketball even to enjoy the over-the-top gameplay and boom shakalakas that came from catching on fire. Its been a few years since we’ve seen the fan favorite series but now Saber Interactive wants you back on the court with some zany basketball of their own. Does it hold up compared to such a legendary series?
NBA Playground is classic two on two streetball with a slight twist. You’ll already have the standard spectacular dunks and crazy crossovers. Where NBA Jam would have you catch fire after scoring three consecutive times, Playground uses a special lottery meter that will feel from things like scoring and successful steals. The lottery will randomly select one of several temporary power ups, like unlimited stamina, shortened shot clock for your opponent, or a guaranteed shot or dunk no matter how bad your timing is. The actual “playgrounds” are outside courts around the world featuring various trademarks from each locale.
As much as it wants to be a worthy successor to NBA Jam, it doesn’t quite reach that level. At least in regards to the Switch version, we saw annoying slowdowns on some of the later courts that took us out of the action. The Tournament mode that will take you around the world and unlock the new courts is a fun diversion from the normal Exhibition, but it’s not super deep and you’ll be finished with it in a day or two. While the online for the Switch version isn’t available still, its sounds like that been out of the developer’s hands, so its nothing we will hold against them.
The feature that will keep you occupied for quite some time is that you actually have to unlock the players from gaining card packs. When you start the game you’ll be given a couple of packs to start with and can gain more from playing. Not only will you gain more players, but the ones you play with can gain experience and unlock new moves to showcase on the court. There’s only one thing we wish they could have added. In NBA Jam you could unlock celebrities and mascots to take on the court, adding to the craziness. Here you will be using strict current NBA players sprinkled with a few legends along the way. Of course that’s always something they could add in later through some updates, something we’re really keeping our fingers crossed for.
At its base, NBA Playgrounds has a solid foundation that can just get hampered at times from some technical aspects. What keeps it from reaching NBA Jam heights is the lack of extra bells and whistles that could have given it just a little more longevity and pizzaz. Still, if you are looking for a fun arcade sports game, even one that doesn’t quite reach what came before, NBA Playgrounds is still a very fun experience.