NBA Playgrounds review for Nintendo Switch – Swish

Driving down court to the three point line, where you jump, fly through the air to the rim, and somersault off while slamming the ball through the hoop for a 4 point dunk; 2 for the dunk, 1 for a perfect shot, and 1 for executing from behind the arc.This scene encapsulates the NBA Playgrounds experience. In this title, Saber Interactive managed to blend over-the-top action, NBA fanfare, and strategy into a great sports arcade game. It might not have quite as much flash as NBA street, or be as simple as NBA jam, but it retains enough solid ideas from each to satisfy fans of either series.imageas
At the outset, the game affords the player three card packs containing past and present NBA stars. Winning individual matches and tournaments rewards both you and the players you’ve chosen for that match with some XP. When the player gains a level or wins a tournament she’ll unlock some more card packs containing fresh legs, closing the game’s main progression loop. Beyond leveling up your growing squad of ballers, each man has a bio detailing his accomplishments and contributions to the sport in addition to some other trivia. This little touch of celebrating the league and its players occupied the basketball nerd in me to the point where reviewing new cards to learn about the players was almost as exciting as putting them on the pavement.imagesa
Playgrounds makes choosing your team as simple as possible by breaking down each player’s effectiveness on court in 8 proficiencies: dunking, blocking, 3-point shooting, 2-point shooting, stealing, rebounding, speed, and stamina. Most of these should be fairly familiar, but stamina is the crux of what makes playgrounds unique. Actions like reaching in to steal or running in a short burst require a bit of stamina while speeding across the length of the court or executing a cross over consumes more. When a player’s stamina is depleted he’ll slow down and be unable to execute in any of the aforementioned moves for a short time. Having a higher stamina stat means pushing a player harder will drain less of his stamina but it often comes at the cost of other attributes.index
The way Saber balanced the players’ skills is one of its strongest accomplishments. All players’ stats are representative of their different real-world skills; as you might expect, you’re going to have a much harder time draining a 3 with Shaq than you would Steph Curry. Even with their extreme differences every player is acceptable in every combination if you adjust your play style to take advantage of their strengths. Two bigs can work offense by dunking over the competition. Conversely, two point guards can make up for a lack of blocks with an increase in steals. This accessibility to the entire roster gives everyone a chance to play with their favorite players no matter how absurd the combinations may be in the real world, all while retaining enough of their real-world similarities to be strategically demanding of the player.
While the experimenting with team composition is a large part of the fun I’ve had with Playgrounds, it pales in comparison to the over-the-top (often times hilarious) action of Saber’s first foray into the arcade sports genre. Dunking from the 3-point line, double crossovers to an alley oop, launching into the air to smack down shots—it’s all as satisfying as it sounds. To ratchet up the excitement even further, super meters add to the chaos. Every time one side successfully executes a steal, block, dunk or something exceptional on the court their “lottery pick” meter will go up a tick. When one team’s meter is full, that pair will get random ability to up their game. The animations for these specials aren’t as flashy as NBA street, but basketball fans will be excited to find that they layer further strategy onto the game. For example abilities might allow players to make their next shot without fail, score double points for a dunk, or gain unlimited stamina. Even more important than the strategy, these power-ups are fun to take advantage and every bit as enjoyable to stifle when you’re opponent has theirs.images
There’s a lot more I could say about NBA playgrounds. I love the way that it handles the typical on-screen elements you see in sports games (score, shot clock, game clock, etc.) and puts them entirely in the background, just visible enough to be useful but not obstruct the action. I could go on about just how much fun Playgrounds is for arcade sports fans in general (a genre that’s been sorely lacking in recent years). All this isn’t to say the game is without flaws—the load times are too long, the AI can suffer from sharp difficulty spikes, and off-screen play for the Switch version doesn’t render at a full 720p. While Saber has addressed all of these issues and commented that they’ll be added in a patch, these issues can’t help but tarnish what is otherwise an experience worth every bit of the $20 asking price.
In Spite of these minor gripes, NBA playgrounds succeeds by never trying to be anything more or less than a fun arcade sports experience with strategic gameplay and a clear fondness for the NBA. If you’re in search of a 15-man roster to optimi ze,plays to perfect, or dozens of complicated controller combinations to perfectly execute and dazzle the competition, you’ll be disappointed. NBA playgrounds isn’t any of that. Instead, if you want a stimulating, lighthearted, fast-paced game that provides nuggets of basketball nostalgia (and avoids stagnating in the hyper-realistic sports simulation we’re hit over the head with year after year), NBA playgrounds shoots and scores.

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