NBA Playgrounds is now available for the PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch, and as the title of this review suggests NBA Jam fans need to check it out. The influences from that title are strong, but Playgrounds does a few unique things to set it apart just enough to not feel like a clone.
You can check out the full review below via the embedded video, or you can read the script, which is listed just below it.
Hey now ballers, Matt Heywood here from EntertainmentBuddha.com to review the latest arcade action basketball game to hit the gaming sphere, NBA Playgrounds, which is essentially a love letter to the NBA Jam franchise, or a blatant copycat of the game.
Either way, I don’t care because NBA Playgrounds provides exactly what I want out of a basketball video game. Which includes, oversized heads, gravity and death defying dunks, rules that would get most players shot on the playground, and of course power-ups to make the already frenetic gameplay experience that much more insane.
Oh, and having the NBA license with over 150 players, both new and old, is a nice touch as well.
NBA Playgrounds borrows damn near everything from the NBA Jam franchise, but as a super fan of said franchise, I couldn’t be happier. I would say Playgrounds is more of a love letter to the franchise than a blatant rip, but the moment you fire it up its hard not to make the comparison when you see cariacture-ized versions of the NBA’s biggest stars grinning at you on the splash screen.
Visually, the NBA Jam influence is strong, albeit with a bit more polish than the latest iteration, and much more attention to detail in the characters movements and dunks. The players feel like they have weight to them, so while their acrobatic dunks may not adhere to the rules of physics, pulling them off and controlling your player do, so the gameplay is a bit more authentic, if you’ll allow me to use that term cautiously in this example.
With that being said a NBA Playgrounds game is far from what you’d see on TNT this time of year. The gameplay, while a bit more tight, is still very over-the-top, thanks to the gymnastic style dunks, and the fact that you can knock people over to steal the ball. Again, the controls are just like NBA Jam, so you have a button to shoot, a button to steal, a button to throw some bows, a button to pass, and of course a turbo button. If you’ve played the Jam, then you will feel right at home with NBA Playgrounds, plain and simple.
There are also power ups you can earn, which include a ball that you can sink from anywhere on your half of the court, as well as a score multiplier for dunks that bump up their value from two to four points for close to 40 seconds of the game. Playgrounds also gets tricky with its scoring by offering bonus points for perfect shots, or three points to the team that scores first, so there are a few nuances that vary from the NBA Jam formula.
The game’s roster is massive and spans decades, so you can create dream twosomes such as my Clyde the Glide Drexler and Patrick Ewing duo, or a Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard mashup. Additional players can be unlocked through card packs, which are earned after completing games and the tournaments if you happen to earn enough XP to rank up. XP can be earned for your overall rank, as well as for each player, so by ranking up players you can earn new moves in the forms of dunks or dribbling animations. I appreciated this aspect of Playgrounds as it promotes replayability, while also unlocking even zanier moves for your roster to pull off.
In terms of available modes there are only three, which include an Exhibition Mode, a Tournament Mode, and an Online Mode. The Tournament Mode isn’t a run through the NBA Playoffs, or even playing through a NBA season, rather it’s just a means of unlocking new courts to play on by competing in four round tournaments against the AI. I would have loved some sort of Season or Career Mode to add a little more value to the game, but for $20 I do believe you get your money’s worth out of NBA Playgrounds.
If you like your video game basketball to be a bit more oddball and b-ball, then you will love NBA Playgrounds, which will be compounded if you’re already a fan of NBA Jam thanks to their glaring similarities. It may lack modes to keep you going for months on end, but for the low asking price there’s more than enough to keep you busy to justify your investment. If you live with gaming roommates it’s also a great couch co-op title, so dorm rooms and frat houses will benefit greatly by having a copy of this game.
NBA Playgrounds and its heavy dose of NBA Jam nostalgia earn an en fuego 80/100 from your friends at EB. If you’re an NBA Jam fan a purchase is a no brainer, but if you just like casual sports games with a penchant for over-the-top flair, you will definitely appreciate with NBA Playgrounds has to offer.
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Review Statement: The author of this review was provided a PS4 code by the publisher for the purposes of this review.