My love of backyard basketball games goes back as far as 1993’s NBA Jam on the Super Nes. Since then I’ve played just about every backyard Basketball game out there with NBA Street Vol. 2 being the crown jewel. Everything from the incredible soundtrack starring the likes of Nelly and Nate Dogg, to the various sound effects you’d hear in real life – sirens, traffic, the roaring crowd, etc. it really captured the magic of the sport. I’ve never been much of a hoops fan, but the backyard b-ball games have always spoken to me. I love dunking, big egos, and foul play and was eager to get my hands on the newly released NBA Playgrounds.
NBA Playgrounds is a fun little budget title that I’ve found myself and my pals enjoying over the past few weeks. It’s not perfect by any means but it does capture the backyard basketball aesthetic pretty well. This is an enjoyable tribute with some fun ideas and novel twists that doesn’t take itself to seriously though I wish It wasn’t afraid to be even more out there. I just wanna set that ball and hoop on fire!
NBA Playgrounds was developed by Saber Interactive who are best known for their work on Halo: The Masterchief Collection, Timeshift (Seriously underrated game) and Quake Champions. You start the game with five card packs to open, each pack unveiling 5 new player cards. If you acquire the same player twice you will level up your existing player. You’re going have to earn more cards by playing the game and I found myself collecting cards at a reasonable rate. Most teams have 7 actual players from the NBA as this game is officially licensed by the National Basketball Association. I would have loved a create-a-character option but playing as Lebron and Curry is a whole lot of fun.
In what seems like a rather strange decision, NBA Playgrounds must be played online even when in single and local multiplayer modes on the PS4. In single player tournaments, you play four games with different challenges on each court. At the end of each tournament, you acquire a gold pack which usually contain one star player.There’s also an online and exhibition mode where you can play freely to unlock bronze, silver or gold backs. Tournament mode could be completed in an afternoon and if you don’t depend on your friendly AI you’ll have a ton of fun. The enemy AI is constantly changing and I found myself getting beat and amazed by them.
I found the control scheme and landing 3 pointers incredibly difficult for my first few games but after some practice, I could keep up with the computer. I like that characters get tired so you don’t wanna be holding down the run button or constantly attempting to steal the ball. You can also unlock power-ups which will drastically change the outcome of the game. It is very easy to be stuck in a blowout match but it’s worth sucking up for the xp.
I had the most fun with this game locally with a buddy. It’s easy enough for friends to jump in and it’s a hell of a lot of fun after some beers. The drinking also helps distract from the horrendous character models. It’s funny, the characters look like deformed plasticine monsters but the actual environments are pretty groovy. They have a lot of life to them.
There isn’t much game here, with only a few different stages to unlock but there is plenty of characters to play as each with different styles and emotions (With more planned in the future). There’s a really good roster of both old and new players which is a nice touch. Playing with friends can be a blast, especially if you are landing some spectacular slam dunks or spamming the hit button to knock the ball out of your opponent’s hands from behind. The scoring system can be a bit of bitch and seriously unfairly weighted and the short singleplayer isn’t much to write home but I found the opposing AI was really good. Your friendly AI, however, is just absolutely useless.
NBA Playgrounds at $26.99 Canadian is a little pricey but if you catch it on sale and wanna relive the glory days of the NBA Jam series then this is worth checking out. Boomshakalaka my gaming friends.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher on a PlayStation 4.