To call NBA Playgrounds a “spiritual successor to NBA Jam would be akin to describing water as “wet”. NBA Jam, or more specifically NBA Jam: Tournament Edition is one of my favourite games of all time. It sits in my top five as the immovable object, never once meeting the metaphorical irresistible force. So, does Jam’s love child do it justice?
Yes and no. NBA Playgrounds retains the graphical style of Jam but leans more toward Pixar than pixels. Backgrounds and character models are colourful, bright and stylised. There’s no need to unlock “big head mode” here, it’s the default style.
Tournament Mode is essentially the career aspect of NBA Playgrounds. You travel the world playing quick four game tournaments where each game has a unique challenge to complete. This helps with the monotony of playing so many similar matches back-to-back.
Completing tournament games and challenges helps you level up and unlock packs of cards. Yes, loot boxes. The game is pretty much designed around them but I like it, for once!
Each pack of cards contains five players of varying quality. There are Silver, Gold, Epic and Legend cards, standard fare.
Playing through games in any mode helps to unlock packs. It’s a fun way to earn players and fill out each roster. The best part is that there is no way to buy these using real world money. They must be unlocked through gameplay. NBA Playgrounds should be commended for this. A video game where you unlock stuff…imagine that?!
It’s hard to feel cheated by a bad pack as there is no major grind to earn them. Some of the trickier challenges will give you better packs but that’s fair in my eyes. Better players are rewarded with better loot. Fancy that?!
It’s by far the best use of loot boxes in a sports game since this fad started, UFC 2 is a close second. Packs are fair and easy to earn.
My current team is a legend card Muggsy Bogues and Lebron James. Bogues is lightning quick and insanely accurate from three point range while Lebron is a beast on all areas. I’m cleaning up.
NBA Playgrounds looks and sounds great but on the court it comes up slightly short when compared to Jam.
Each player has a set of stats ranging from 1 to 10. No matter how high a players stats are long range shots and dunks seem to be a gamble. Three pointers are a little easier to nail. A meter appears over the players head, you need to hold down the shot button until the meter stops in the little green area. It’s a simple mechanic that just is not reliable enough. I have nailed the meter on many occasions only to see the ball bounce off the rim.
The dunking is laughable at times. Using LeBron who has a 10/10 stat for dunks (most of his meter is that green sweet spot) STILL doesn’t guarantee the dunk will land. 75% of his dunk meter is green, I have often tested stopping the meter directly in the centre of the green area and it still doesn’t work. When you can’t rely on the shooting mechanics to work what are you left with?
I have to assume this is part of the game to keep things competitive. Otherwise…woof.
Overall NBA Playgrounds is fun albeit a little frustrating with some of the shooting. NBA Jam it is not.
The €19.99 price point and it’s inclusion in Xbox Games Pass speaks to its longevity but you’ll have a good week with it! Not bad, not bad at all. Three Meltzers.