I’ve never been very good at basketball games. In the past I have attempted to play several such as NBA 2K and NBA Live, but as a veteran FIFA player I’ve always found them to have a steep learning curve. Obviously basketball is a much different game from football with it’s quicker pace and rate of scoring, but it’s rules on tackling and fouls can be a little confusing for newcomers.
With NBA Playgrounds I was expecting an arcade game with simple gameplay and easy to use controls, however despite cutting some of the typical rules of the game such as fouls, the game still takes a little while to get used to. Effort has been put into making the button mapping as clear and uncluttered as possible, but for the first match you’ll appreciate the on-screen pop up tutorials throughout, breaking it down as and when you encounter different situations. For many it will take a good five or six games before you get the hang of it and are able to not only score baskets, but win games comfortably.
Upon first starting the game, anyone familiar with FIFA Ultimate Team will feel at home. You’re initially given three packs of cards to open, each containing five cards. These cards contain real life past and present NBA players and will be added to your collection and used in matches you play. As you field players they will gain experience points and rank up, and as you win matches and level up you will be awarded new packs of cards to unlock other players to use in your team. It’s an enjoyable style of progress and after the success of Ultimate Team it’s no surprise other games are starting to adopt it.
Games are played as two on two and you can select any two players in your collection from every fully licensed NBA team. As matches play out your team has a Lottery Pick bar or power bar which charges by landing dunks, alley-oops, stealing the ball or blocking shots. Once fully charged you’re able to take advantage of various power ups offered such as a speed boost, a points boost for any dunks made in a specific area or an electric ball to prevent your shots from being blocked. These little extras do make the game more fun and if used effectively can turn a game around if you find yourself on the losing side.
The most difficult aspect of the game I found was timing shots and this varies depending on the player stats, how far you are from the hoop and what type of shot it is. This is done by holding down the shoot button and releasing at the right moment. Suffice to say during the first few games most of my shots I released too soon or too late. It can be quite frustrating as you constantly watch the ball bounce off the rim, but if you stick with it you’ll gradually learn the desired amount of time and it will became almost instinctive.
Standard game modes are included; Exhibition for you to practice your game, Tournament mode, set in a variety of worldwide cities, pitting you against set opposition as you work your way toward being champion (and unlock courts to use in exhibition) and an Online mode. You’re also able to look through your collection of cards and check the stats of all the players you currently have. Additional settings allow for change of game time length, or first to a set amount of points plus changing what design of ball to use.
The visual style of the game is no doubt a highlight with it’s cartoonish influence and caricatures of real life players. It reminded me of the big head cheat mode from NBA Jam as the players lug around their oversized craniums. This clearly helps set the game apart from it’s authentic competitors and sets itself up as the arcade basketball game for those who want a more relaxed and fun experience.
Whilst NBA Playgrounds strips away some of the complexities of traditional basketball games and revels in the playfulness it has opted for, it still offers challenging gameplay with a learning curve that may put off newcomers. For those who love their basketball, but don’t want all the drama that comes with it this is a game that will provide hours of enjoyment.