Obviously inspired by NBA Jam, Saber Interactive’s NBA Playgrounds does so many things right, but is unable to truly cash in on a desperately desolate arcade basketball genre that needs to be filled thanks to subpar shooting mechanics. The end result is a basketball game that sometimes can be fun but is ultimately mediocre.
With a wild cast of NBA regulars and legends, NBA Playgrounds has an impressive amount of polish away from its actual gameplay. Opening up packs of cards and unlocking players is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Add in solid commentary and a few different parks to play in and the series has a plethora of potential.
However, once on the court, the game isn’t able to hold its own.
Overall, the game’s control is solid as players move around the court effortlessly. The Wallace and Gromit meets California Raisins-inspired look gets the job done too as modern players the likes of Dwight Howard and legends Bill Walton and Patrick Ewing all look cool. On the court, moving the ball up and down the court is seamless as well. Crossovers are fun, the blocking mechanic works well and alley-oops are just as cool as they are in NBA Jam. Shooting, however, is an absolute drag. After a dozen games or so, it feels almost impossible at times to know how to nail a three-pointer without the support of a power-up. Even the game’s dunks, which look awesome are ruined by a timing mechanic that is wonky and hard to read. While it gets easier in time, the game isn’t as accessible as it could have been. The fact that your stamina meter plays such a huge role also takes away from what could have been an arcade masterpiece.
As a result, you have a basketball game that could have been wonderful instead be annoying and frustrating. While it could obviously be fixed in a series of patches, it’s the second sports game from an indie developer this year (Old Time Hockey, being the first) that came so close to becoming something special before being ruined thanks to a fail that tarnished all the hard work.
On its merits, NBA Playgrounds could have been great, but with its shooting woes, it’s just barely playable. Requiring far less skill than it should, it’ll best be enjoyed by someone who wants to introduce someone to basketball video games, instead of its true target audience- someone who loves them.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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