The new licensed game from the NBA is NBA Playgrounds, and whether it's fair or not, it immediately draws comparison to NBA Street and NBA Jam. So the question that nostalgic gamers have to ask themselves is can this game really compare to the culture changing games of yesteryear?
If you approach NBA Playgrounds expecting the same game as NBA Jams, you will be disappointed, but that doesn't mean that this isn't a good game on its own. They definitely share some similarities, NBA Playgrounds is a two on two games features real stars. It has all of the relevant current players and many legends that have hung up their sneakers a while ago. As expected every player also have ridiculous dunks and crossovers that without a doubt set this game in a fantasy realm when it comes to gravity. While NBA Playgrounds has many similarities to the games of the past it also has many differences.
When I was younger I used to love playing NBA Jam and like every other player I would constantly mash the turbo button, that tactic will absolutely not work in NBA Playgrounds. Stamina drains very quickly in this game, you can probably only accomplish one cross over and set up for a dunk before your stamina is completely drained. Stamina is key and the way you conserve it will be crucial to winning.
All moves besides basic dribbling drain stamina, which is indicated by a bar underneath your player. Using turbo or performing crossovers will drain it quickly. When you first start playing NBA Playgrounds you will feel that the stamina bar is very limited, but you'll soon appreciate the strategy that it forces upon the game. Unleashing for a monster dunk will hinder your ability to get back on defense and go for a steal. The limited stamina will actually force you to be more cautious with your decision making and introduces an added layer to the game that is welcome once you get used to it.
The shooting mechanics in NBA Playgrounds also take some getting used to. Shooting requires you to release the shot at the correct time to make the shot, which sounds easy enough. Unfortunately, the main issue is that the timing doesn't mesh with the animation. In other words, the timing will always be the same regardless if you're doing an insane somersault dunk or if you're simply taking a jump shot. Initially, you will try to line up your release with the animation but once you realize that, the animation doesn't matter you will finally begin to drain your shots and dunks.
Another quirk in the game is that between baskets the team that scored is automatically pushed back to their side of the court until you inbound the ball. That wouldn't be an issue until you realize that some opposing players have very long dunk celebrations and you will not be allowed to inbound the ball until they return to their side of the court. During my play thru I had to wait for Shaq to finish doing the worm, and for Karl Malone to finish dancing around for a good 10 seconds before the gameplay was allowed to continue. When you see these celebrations for the first time they are funny but once you have to wait six to seven times watching the same celebration before you can continue they get very annoying very fast.
Performing special moves such as alley-oops, blocks, steals and insane dunks fill up your power meter. Once your bar is filled, you receive a random power up for a short time. The power ups that I experienced were making the other teams shot clock go really fast, and that my next shot would automatically go in regardless of who, or where I shot it from. The power ups that I saw didn't seem overpowered and while they definitely affected the gameplay, they didn't seal the game for either team once activated.
When you first start NBA Playgrounds all the mode are locked besides exhibition, this is done so that you are forced to play thru the tutorial. After a few games tournaments and online matches unlock. There are six tournaments of four games each, all taking place at a new venue. This is the main way to unlock content. Completing a tournament unlocks the level and awards a card pack. Each game in the tournaments also has a challenge, like scoring a certain number of three-pointers or blocking the ball X amount of times. This is a great addition because it awards players for mixing up their team
As you play games and complete challenges you are awarded XP. For every level you complete you are then awarded a card pack. This is how you gain new players in NBA Playgrounds. Card packs consist of 5 different player cards, which range from normal players to epic or legendary players. I currently have a legendary Harden and an Epic Durant that I am currently using in my game. The digital card packs have become a trend in most sports game, and are a very popular feature. They are just as popular in NBA Playgrounds. Opening a pack gives you a sense of suspense wishing you can get the next great player for your collection.
Overall the graphics and animations look amazing in NBA Playgrounds. All the players have a wacky look to them and everything is exaggerated. The game is not very demanding on your graphics card at all, I was able to play the game on ultra 1440p on an older Nvidia GTX 980Ti without any issues at all.
While NBA Playgrounds isn't as deep as NBA Streets or a game changer the way NBA JAM was, it is a very good game. I would recommend it especially for gamers who wants to take a break from simulation basketball and just enjoy an over the top basketball experience.