Screenshot of NBA Playgrounds Game Cover

What is NBA Playgrounds?

NBA Playgrounds is a unique take on basketball video game simulators produced by Saber Interactive. It benefits from the backing of the National Basketball Association and is played in an arcade style. The game can be enjoyed on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch devices. It was unveiled internationally on May 9, 2017 and enjoyed average reviews early on.

Key facts about NBA Playgrounds

  • NBA Playgrounds has a different gameplay compared to most basketball simulators.
  • The aesthetics and sound effects are original and generally pleasing with few shortcomings.
  • NBA Playgrounds has a tongue-in-cheek humor and doesn’t take the narrative too seriously.
  • Music and announcing were regarded as mediocre by both critics and players.
  • NBA Playgrounds launched with just one game mode and a shallow roaster.

Gameplay of NBA Playgrounds

NBA Playgrounds gameplay bears many similarities to what mainstream basketball simulators have to offer. However, there are unique game mechanics that make it stand out from the crowd and fit in nicely with the new theme. Instead of playing on one of the NBA venues, this game takes players to outdoor courts in more informal settings. Basketball superstars are featured and they tell their story, while playing on fictional playgrounds all over the world.

The single player game is just an extended tutorial for the multiplayer, but the NBA Playgrounds gameplay remains largely unchanged. There is a tournament mode for players to hone their skills by defeating numerous teams in a row. The unique challenges on court provide the gameplay additional depth but don’t prepare them for multiplayer competition. When players finish a tournament, they unlock gold packs and a new court, therefore moving to the next venue.

In multiplayer, the gameplay of NBA Playgrounds shines the brightest, as players can move up the leaderboard. The basketball video game simulator is nowhere near to making the transition to the realm of eSports. NBA Playgrounds reviews depict the game as a live version for those who love the sport and seek a title easy to master.

Screenshot of NBA Playgrounds Super Shot

Plot of NBA Playgrounds

NBA Playgrounds doesn’t have a single player per se and there is no proper campaign for players. They can still choose their favorite athletes and listen to them as they tell their story in a funny way. The game lacks the inspirational tone that other basketball and sports simulators use to get players immersed into the atmosphere. During the tutorial missions, players get a sense of the game’s defense and offense. The real challenge is to find the perfect balance and move through the tournament scheme.

In the absence of a NBA Playgrounds plot, players can only aspire to fulfill as many challenges with different players. The roaster is far from impressive but still features the best and most famous NBA superstars. When playing in single player, it is possible to compete in one-on-one matches or enlist the assistance of AI. The computer-controlled teammates are usually more of a nuisance and sometimes fail to respond in a timely fashion.

Controlling the players on the pitch is a breeze and players can pick up the basic game mechanics right away. It is the interactions with the AI teammates that cause most of the headaches and can lead to failure in decisive matches. The best way to go through the substitute for the NBA Playgrounds plot is to rely less on your teammate. As a shepherd of the ball and passer he is fairly good but anything beyond that is fairly risky. Perfect synergy between the human player and his AI counterpart is rewarded with flash animations. There are also random lottery picks awarded when players feel up the teams special meter.

Screenshot of NBA Playgrounds Slam Dunk

Development of NBA Playgrounds

The development of NBA Playgrounds started in 2016 and producers had a clear goal in mind. They chose to include both retired and active NBA superstars in their roster. One important decision was to only sell the game over the Internet, with no retail copy. Initially, the game was scheduled for international release in early 2017 but was pushed back a few months. The reason was to make it compatible with Nintendo Switch which was announced on June 1.

Trailers and teasers released throughout 2016 painted an accurate image about what the game was all about. Despite some criticism from a small group of prospective players, developers chose to stick to their initial guidelines. The players are depicted in a funny way, with slightly smaller bodies and bigger heads to achieve the comedic effect. In the wake of its release, development of NBA Playgrounds continued and more games were released throughout 2017.

Where can I download NBA Playgrounds?

It is not possible to purchase the game from local stores, as it is only available in digital format. As a result, players can only hope to download NBA Playgrounds online from Steam or the official website. Saber Interactive has produced several other games spanning over different genres, but this is their most important yet. There are no other basketball simulators to be found here, so those who love the sport need to look elsewhere for this type of entertainment.

NBA 2K16, FIFA 16, PES 2016, MLB The Show 16 and Football Manager 2017 are all interesting options for those who enjoy sports simulators. The games can be played on consoles and PCs as well, so they are just as versatile as Saber Interactive’s basketball simulator.

Screenshot of NBA Playgrounds Game Time

What are others saying about NBA Playgrounds?

NBA Playgrounds reviews were average from the start and the rating didn’t improve too much over the course of time. The critics were particularly harsh with the game for the poor AI and shallow single player. The absence of a proper narrative was also criticized by players who were hoping for a more inclusive experience. At the same time, the gameplay mechanics were regarded as fun and fairly simple.

The goofy aesthetics generated mixed emotions, with some congratulating developers for their bold approach. Others were far from impressed by the tongue-in-cheek humor and were hoping for more serious NBA simulator. The roster was also regarded as a weak link despite the fact that both present and retired assays were featured. Furthermore, some players considered that the characters felt pretty much the same despite looking slightly different.

My Rating of NBA Playgrounds

I’ve had my share of basketball simulators recently, so I didn’t have exactly high expectations from NBA Playgrounds. Frankly I was happy to see a different approach and I didn’t mind one bit the humorous way in which players were depicted. What really disappointed me was the rather simplistic gameplay, based on too many repetitive movements. If you spend enough time playing, it is almost inevitable to run out of tricks to keep the game exciting.

In terms of replayability, NBA Playgrounds also leaves a lot to be desired and has a limited shelf life. Recruiting new players doesn’t really bring anything new into the equation and they are mostly achievements with no real meaning. To wrap it up, the single player is disappointing on many levels and the multiplayer enjoyable for a limited time. The lack of variety and the repetitive nature of the game prevent it from reaching its true potential. A review score of 5/10 is all I can go for.