If we were to think of a quality arcade basketball game, the chances are our answers would all be the same. NBA Jam. A dominate force during the 16-bit era and one that has since been left relatively untouched in favour of more realistic incarnations of the sport. The zany, over the top, ballistic chaos that came with NBA Jam offered not only a unique 2v2 basketball experience, but more importantly it was extremely fun and addictive. Two decades later and we’re treated to a new title that aims to replicate such madness in the guise of NBA Playgrounds from Sabre Interactive.
Mechanics and Gameplay
Before you are let loose on the court, your first job is to build your team. You don’t have access to the full roster from the get go. Instead you have five packs of cards to unwrap, each containing five players. As you progress you’ll earn more packs to enhance your selection. Cards can duplicate however you’ll soon find two players that will suit your needs.
Once you’re set up and thrown into a training exhibition match, you learn the control basics. The controls are not overly complex compared to other more serious sports titles out there. They feel adequate, if not sometimes a bit unresponsive however, you’ll be performing alley-oops and slam dunking in no time. Even the framerate holds up well when the action starts to get a bit chaotic.
The tournament mode is the main feature here. Taking you across six locations across the globe as you aim for 2v2 world basketball domination. There is also an online mode although that isn’t active yet but will be released in a future update, according to the developers.
As you progress you earn XP, levelling up your team. Which in turn improves their own skill set and enhances their moves for each player. Pulling off a range of great moves in quick succession will quickly fill a power bar giving you the choice of an over the top move, which will most probably end up in scoring.
Speaking of scoring, brings us to Playgrounds one big flaw. The timing of your shots appears to be very spontaneous and at times inaccurate. Finding the right spot needed to release your shot is skilful when you have to learn a range of different shooting animations. It just feels a bit slack and disjointed.
Graphics & Audio
Playgrounds manages to capture a nostalgic essence with a variety of well-crafted courts and visual backdrops. The players themselves feature what is probably best described as ‘caricature’ style heads, which are way out of proportion to their bodies but that’s exactly the kind of madness we would expect from an NBA arcade title.
There’s a slew of commentary. Something that NBA Jam was well known for in terms of its quick witty one liners. And not before long, you’ll find the same lines being churned out. It’s not an annoyance, but a little extra commentary would not have hurt.
While Playgrounds attempts to offer a rebirth (if you forget the NBA Jam edition on Xbox 360 in 2012) for a much-loved franchise, it stutters in its execution. It is by no means a bad attempt, but with flaws of shot timing and not a vast range of over the top moves to pick from, it may leave hardcore Jam fans feeling short changed. For the rest, it’s a great pick up and play title that offers a fun single player experience. Only let down by the lack of online multiplayer at time of release. A bit more polish and this could have been essential. Otherwise you may want to dust off the Mega Drive and boot up NBA Jam for a more refined experience.
NBA Playgrounds is available now from the Xbox Store, priced at £15.99.
Whilst not the return to arcade basketball 2 on 2 madness we might have all been hoping for, NBA Playgrounds does offer a fun experience. With a range of moves and a large roster to collect from card packs through progression. There’s plenty to keep you coming back. Only let down by loose shot timings, Playgrounds is a decent effort that may satisfy that ‘pick up and play’ nature. Those looking for something more significant should stick to the 2K series or dust down a copy of NBA Jam.