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NBA Playgrounds review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Mad Dog Games
Developer: Sabre Interactive
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes
ESRB: E

Of all the major sports, basketball is my least favorite. So I bet you’re wondering why I would review an NBA game if that is the case? You see I consider myself a fan of all sports to a degree and going to plenty of arcades in the ’90s, I had quite a few run-ins with NBA Jam. Two on two arcade style basketball is about as far as I go in playing basketball games, that’s what NBA Jam was and that’s what NBA Playgrounds is. It hasn’t been all that long since we got a new NBA Jam title so I thought it a bit odd that Sabre Interactive was making an arcade style NBA game that in almost all regards seems like a successor to NBA Jam. After putting in a good amount of time with NBA Playgrounds I think the release was a worthwhile one… but certainly not a perfect one.

Playgrounds shares many similarities with Jam; 2 on 2, wacky dunks, power ups, exaggerated players and almost no rules. I would best categorize Playgrounds as an NBA Jam lite, without some of the polish that would take it to the next level. The commentary is just too repetitive and the jokes just fall flat. The shooting takes some time to master, which can cause frustration (even the dunks), and at points the gameplay just feels wonky. That last point I feel can be fixed or improved if the title sees updates. Besides those few gripes, I really enjoy what Playgrounds brings to the sports arcade genre. There aren’t a whole lot of modes; Exhibition (which is what you would expect), Tour (which is basically the career mode; traveling the world beating teams and unlocking items) and Online (which I couldn’t even test due to it not being patched into the Nintendo Switch version yet).

What keeps players coming back will probably be unlocking players. You see, the game doesn’t have a whole league of players to use immediately. You have to earn packs of cards, similar to something like Madden Ultimate Team Mode, you open the packs and that is how you fill in your available players to choose from. Packs are rewarded by how you play in the Exhibition and Tour modes. The packs are random, so you and a friend probably won’t get the same players as you progress. Now once I saw this was how players were obtained, I went hunting for the micro-transactions just to buy players and packs without playing the game, like most titles set up like this would have, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I give Sabre Interactive a lot of credit, not caving into the money grab scheme of micro-transactions in this day and age is a rarity and I appreciate actually having to play the game to unlock the full roster.

Like I said earlier, I received NBA Playgrounds for the Nintendo Switch and I think it’s necessary that I mention a few things regarding this release, specifically. As I said earlier, the Switch has yet to get online play (which Sabre Interactive did say was coming soon) but I also have another semi-major problem with the Switch version… You see, unlike pretty much all Switch games released up until this point, the game performs much worse in handheld mode. The character models and backgrounds are blurry and rough, basically meaning the game wasn’t optimized at all for handheld mode. Considering the game was a last minute port to Switch, this makes sense, but if you know the game isn’t truly ready for prime time why not delay it a few weeks and get it done right. On the plus side, I’m sure this is something that can be patched, but it’s unknown right now if it will be.

All in all, NBA Playgrounds was a pleasant surprise. Post release support will make or break how the game continues to be and if players stick around with it. I’ve already recommended the game to some friends for some arcade style sports fun. At this point it’s tough to recommend the Switch version over the other consoles, based on what I mentioned previously, but IF all my issues were corrected, it could be the definitive version. Playing at home or taking it on the go while hanging out and tipping back a few “sodas” is what this genre is all about. Now if only someone would give me a football game in the same classic arcade style and I’d be in heaven. NFL Blitz would feel right at home on the Switch… someone make it happen!

Grade: B-