NBA Playgrounds Review
I rarely review games, this marks the first time I've felt so strongly about a game that I felt compelled to review it, and unfortunately its not good, at all.
I've been a long time basketball fan, as well as a long time arcade sports fan, specifically the old NBA Jam games as well as the NBA Street games, with NBA Street being perhaps my favorite sports series of all time. I recently gave in and purchased XBOX Gamepass, and although this wasn't one of the main selling points of the pass to me, I was looking forward to a fresh arcade basketball experience.
I will say, the game looks good, and plays smoothly. The animations are fine, the graphics have a nice cartoonish look that feels a little childish but works well enough for the game.
Outside of this positive aspect of the game, there isn't much else I enjoyed about it. The gameplay is simple basketball, extremely similar to the NBA Jam series, featuring two on two arcade action with a few unique rules and powerups that become available through performing moves such as steals, blocks, or slam dunks. While the gameplay is fun for a few games, it is so simple that it quickly becomes stale. Games, especially against the CPU become lopsided after a mere minute or so in, making the remaining two - four minutes in the game feel redundant. The stamina meters given to players that become drained after performing one or two moves makes the fluidity of the game grind to a halt after one wrong move, not really providing a sense of creating a really awesome combo or play. Thankfully, most players, even the ones with a poor three point statistic, are able to make most shots if you get the timing right. I notice this with the CPU also, where it seems like almost any player can hit a half court shot at whim even while heavily guarded.
While a good roster of characters are available, almost none of them feel special in any way, oftentimes with statistics that do not feel accurate to their real life counterparts. Players like Lebron James are barely separated from more average players, taking away any excitement that comes from opening up a Lebron James legend card in a pack. Players are unlocked seemingly randomly through packs acquired from leveling up or completing a tournament. I completed most of the game using a combination of Steve Nash and Rudy Gobert, using one to block shots and one to chuck up three pointers, a strategy that while highly effective was not very much fun. I experimented with a few other two player combinations, putting two players with a high dunk percentage together, or pairing two big men together, but these combinations didn't do much to change the game experience in any way, with the most effective options still being to block and shove the opponent and shoot threes, or just boost the powerup meter quickly by storming down the court to get easy dunks.
The worst part of this game, by far, is the commentary and the audio. The commentators have about twenty total lines, that are recycled constantly. Not a single one of the quips is funny in any way, and it feels like the creators of the game completely missed the point. An additional complaint is that the commentators don't even seem to understand which shots went in, and which shots missed often complaining about misses on alley-oops, or saying completely random lines. Part of what made NBA Street such a special series was the commentary and the general culture of the game. The quips, although repetitive made sense and gave the game an actual "street" vibe. The commentary in this game was probably written by somebody who has never browsed the internet further than Facebook memes, and certainly hasn't watched much basketball. I understand that the game was designed for a younger audience but even if you're buying this for a child, understand that within twenty minutes of it you'll want to mute your television. While playing this my roommates politely asked me to turn off the volume, which I did and instead put on music leading to a much more pleasant experience.
My bottom line here is that I would not buy this game at all. I would not play it against friends when I have access to much better arcade basketball games in my library as well. It is however a relatively painless 1000 gamerscore so it does have that going for it, I just cannot recommend it at all and am extremely disappointed that between this game, and its sequel there seems like there isn't much hope for a decent new arcade basketball experience.