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NBA Playgrounds Review (XB1)

Time to pick up the rock and make your mark on the NBA Playgrounds. This game is fun, wacky, and entertaining to say the least, but it's not withouts its share of flaws and holes that provide a more complete experience.

NBA Playgrounds Review (Xbox One)

Introduction

NBA Playgrounds is a 2-on-2 basketball game that allows the player to hit the courts in an arcade style basketball game that throws out the rule book and allows the player to get a little crazy on the playground. Players can pick from a wide range of NBA players both past and present and take to the streets and duke it out for playground supremacy. From Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, to Lebron James and Stephen Curry, the legends of every era are here to play… for the most part. Other than a few very noticeable absentees from the roster, it still features a wide variety of talented guards and big men for you to use. You must collect the players from all different eras and build your dream tag team.

Many are calling it the successor to NBA Jam, take that however you want to, but the art style and gameplay certainly help to differentiate it from many of the other basketball game franchises out there. NBA Playgrounds developer Saber Interactive has already stated that they are planning to release more players in the future with names like Klay Thompson, Giannis "The Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo, and Kenny "The Jet" Smith to name a few.

You can grab NBA Playgrounds for $19.99 on the Xbox One Marketplace.

Story

NBA Playgrounds Review (XB1) - "Big Diesel" Vs. "The Stilt"

The game doesn't feature much of a story in any modern sense but does feature a series of tournaments for you to compete in. They each consist of four rounds going against increasingly difficult pairs of players culminating in a very difficult match against two of the greatest to ever do it, Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal; all the while building your own collection of legends to play against them. The game does fall pretty short in this aspect as theres only a total 6 tournaments to play for a grand total of 24 matches available for playing. 
Aside from the tournaments, there is also your standard exhibition matches that allow you play 2-on-2 against computers or against your friends. You can change the settings to be a timed game or you can play to a point limit.

On top of those, the game also features an online mode where you face off against opponents from around the world and win to progress your way through the online divisions and work your way up through the various leagues and the divisions within each of them to reach the top tiered Diamond League. 

Gameplay

NBA Playgrounds Review (XB1) - The King Throws Down
The gameplay mechanics of this game are simple, yet require time to master them and use them to their full potential. The goal of each match is obviously to win, you want to outscore your opponent by scoring more points then them. This can be achieved by any number of ways you choose to make baskets: dunks, 2-pt shots, 3-pt shots, layups, and even alley-oops; on top of that there are numerous defensive moves and even power-ups, that can be used once you fill up the Lottery Pick bar, and they can help pave the way to a win. Just as with the NBA, not all players are the same, some excel in one area and others in another area.

When selecting your players you will see they have a rating from 1 to 10 in each area of play, with 1 being the worst and 10 the best. So for instance the higher a player's 3-pt. rating the more likely they are to hit 3-pt. shots; simple enough right? All it requires is good timing and not having your shot blocked by a defender.

Now in addition to the shooting mechanics, there are other factors that lead to winning a game. The most important of which is Stealing. This is done by pressing the steal button when near the ball handler and your player will attempt to knock the ball from his hands. This is a crucial aspect of the game as it allows you to come away with valuable extra possessions. The steal isn't a guarantee though and you may have to try numerous times, but if you want a definite then you want to use the Push button. You can press this button while on defense to shove the opposing player and make them drop the ball at the cost of some of your Lottery Pick bar. Like, a lot of it.

Next we have Rebounding/ Blocking which is done by pressing what is essentially a jump button. This jump can be used to contest your opponent's shots and hopefully stop the shot from going in and saving some points as well as using it to smack players going in for the dunk causing them to fall and drop the ball. It can also be used to rebound a missed shot or even catch a lob for the alley-oop.

Lastly we have the most crucial tool for making sure the defender doesn't steal the ball from you and for getting around and away from defenders is the oh so important Crossover. By moving the right stick a direction this will allow your player to crossover to in that direction and create an opening for the shot.

These are all key components to a successful game and they are only made better by the players you choose. Legendary players come with some signature moves they can use in game, such as Dirk Nowitzki's step-back jumper, and Bill Russel's block. There is a lot of experimenting to do to find a pair you like and that compliments the gameplay style you prefer.

Graphics and Audio

The game features a bright art style that screams game time. The characters in the game are designed as caricatures of themselves, allowing for a more laid back and easy-going toned game. The bright colors and happy-go-lucky looking players make it a visually pleasing game. Though there are some players whose appearance doesn't seem to resemble them at all which is most evident to me through John Wall, who looks like a 60 year old man in this game for some reason. For the most part though everyone looks nice and are well depicted. The courts are also very nice looking with the 8 courts varying differently and featuring very different backdrops. If you get bored of the sun-drenched sand of Venice Beach, then head on over to the neon light night court of Las Vegas. 

The music is very unique, but can become irritating as the main menu only plays the same song on repeat. One of the best aspects of the game however is the two announcers that are constantly commenting on the happenings over the course of the game. They are constantly barraging the players with insults during failures such as missed shots and losing the ball, and will praise them after a great play such as a really awesome dunk. Other than that the audio and graphics don't really contribute much to the game as with most arcade-style games.

Conclusion

NBA Playgrounds Review (XB1) - Player Packs
The game is good, I can absolutely give it that, but it falls short in a lot of places. The biggest area is the fact that once you clear the 6 tournaments, your left with little to do by yourself but play exhibition against computers, complete each tournament match's challenge for new balls to use, and try to play online. Playing online however, is more trouble then its worth, since it can take forever to find someone who isn't lagging all over the place and making the match unplayable, and when you do they are likely to quit as soon as you are about to win, as there is no penalty for quitting early.

The game also favors the 3-pt shot a lot! Now there is a tradeoff for the extra point as you wont earn as much in you Lottery Pick bar as you would for a 2-pt shot or a dunk. But the dependency on the 3-pt shot often leads to boring matches where there is no defense since it is way to easy to hit a 3. Also the computers seemingly defy logic at times, which can be seen in the final match against Shaq and AI, when Shaquille O'Neal, one of the worst shooters in history is draining perfectly timed half-court shots back-to-back. The lack of a shot meter also makes it very difficult to gauge shot timing. The addition of an option to turn on a shot meter would help immensely, especially on dunks and alley-oops. There is also a very noticeable difficulty spike when playing against players who excel in stealing such as Chris Paul and John Stockton as they almost always succeed in stripping the ball no matter what you do. There are also a few text errors that I noticed in the loading screen hints and tips, which isn't a big deal but it is still an error. I also ran into the odd circumstance where the ball became stuck on top of the rim and even after the shot clock ran out, no player retrieved the ball and I was forced to wait it out as the clock ran down and I frustratingly lost by 2 because of that.

All of that aside, the game is fun, energetic, wacky, over-the-top, and is a blast to play with friends. The fact that players can do backflips off the rim and then dunk the ball is also a nice touch. The tournaments become challenging and push the player to better understand the controls. A big problem with this game is that it seems to underutilize its potential. This is a problem easily fixed with more content as it would give the players more to do. The long and short of it is that if you're looking for a fun game to play with friends and doesn't have much of a learning curve then this is the game for you, but that's really all your getting as of the current state of the game and what it offers the player. If you expect something on the scale of NBA 2K17, then you are going to be painfully disappointed in what you actually end up with. But it is a quality game that just seems to require some refinement and some more content to increase the single-player experience, but all things considered its a pretty good buy for only $20.

PROSCONS
+ Energetic and Satisfying Gameplay– Limited Single-Player Content
+ Fun and Enjoyable Visuals– Repetitive Gameplay
+ Bright Graphics and Character Models– Lack of Online Accountability
+ Great Local Multiplayer– Lack of Necessary Setting and Options
+ Easy for Anyone to Play

7
Good

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