In a world of serious sports sims the gap in the market for a fun pick up and play experience was there to be exploited; now awakening the long-dead ghost of NBA Jam, enter NBA Playgrounds.
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Mad Dog Games
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Out Now
In my opinion, NBA 2K17 is the pinnacle of sports games, the level of depth the game goes into is truly astounding. It can, on occasion, come across a little dry and perhaps serious, however it is what the sports videogame world is missing; an easy-to-pick-up game that is, most importantly, fun.
Not since EA Sports and their big range of sports games have we had such an accessible NBA game. Saber Interactive have tapped into the fun that is often missing from couch multiplayer gaming in most modern gaming. At its heart, NBA Playgrounds is a pack opening game, and even with a passing look at YouTube these days you can’t help but notice the endless FIFA 17 Ultimate Team pack opening videos. The plus here is that Playgrounds doesn’t require you to spend any actual money to get said packs; when you boot the game for the first time you are presented with 3 packs, these each contain 5 players of varying skill levels. Needing to find the best team of two players to take on the game’s single player tournaments and online vs modes – do you go for two 3 point sharpshooters? Or maybe even the two biggest players possible to form an unbeatable defensive team? Personally, I like the mix of a big lad to block opposition shots and a dunker to make use of the in-game power up meter (more on that in a minute).
The game does hold your hand in the first game as you are made to play a simple exhibition to learn the ropes, however they are very basic to learn and by the end of your first game you shouldn’t have any problems going forward, and if for some reason you can’t remember any of them they are shown before every game you play anyway. The previously-mentioned power-up meter is filled when you perform dunks or the always spectacular Alley-oops. Once filled, the game will randomly select you a lottery pick power-up, be that an unmissable shot or a double points power-up making every shot you make worth double. This is especially useful if you can match that with a perfect shot and if you make a perfect shot, done by timing your shot perfectly, seemingly at random you get an extra point so a 2 becomes a 3 and a 3 becomes worth 4 points. Match that up with the x2 power-up and you’ve got yourself an 8 point play! Once the exhibition game is done, the main bulk of the single player experience is unlocked. Tournaments sees you traveling the globe to compete in a knockout competition, with 3 rounds of 3 minute games against progressively harder opponents before taking on a “Dream Team” in the 5-minute final. With currently only 6 tournaments to compete in, you can – as I did – get through them all in one sitting, though hopefully more are added down the line to encourage future playthroughs.
So, online mode then…It’s broken, plain and simply it’s broken. I tried, and I should emphasize, tried to play countless games online and from opponents freezing for minutes at a time to complete disconnections to some pretty major input lag, it’s basically impossible to play. Which is a shame as this game is primed for online play. With shallow single player options available to you, the online mode needs to be working to have hope of pulling people back to the game after the initial playthrough, which at £15.99 is not a cheap game by any means.
If you’re an experienced 2K17 player you’ll be used to superb AI team mates. Here they’re basically useless, often running into the same spot as you’re standing rather than spacing the court as you’d expect. They don’t offer much support on the defensive side of the game either but then trying to stop the opposition scoring is often more luck than skill, with the only real option to stop them is to swing a wild slap and hope you knock the ball loose (works about 20% of the time) or try and push them (works even less often than stealing).
Even with its bad points, and they are quite numerous, this game just awakens the NBA Jam love that I hold somewhere deep within. It’s fun, and if you’re looking for a quick fun game to play when you don’t have much time you could do much worse than NBA Playgrounds. If you have a partner or specific friend to play couch games with then this should be in your collection.