NBA Playgrounds (Review) Nintendo Switch

NBA Playgrounds (Review) Nintendo Switch
Review Score:

If NBA Street and NBA Jam were to get together, NBA Playgrounds by developer Saber Interactive would be the result of this union. On the surface, NBA Playgrounds closely resembles the NBA Jam series due to the basketball teams – comprised of both active and retired NBA stars – all having large, disproportionate heads. Even the game’s 2D perspective seems to be a nod to Midway’s critically-acclaimed quarter muncher, which has appeared on multiple platforms over the years.

But unlike the game that inspired it, NBA Playgrounds relies on a ‘Booster Pack’ system similar to trading cards, which unlocks additional teams and basketball players when the gamer levels their profile via Exhibition, Tournament and Online Multiplayer (when the feature is finally made available). Any duplicate player cards awarded by the Booster Pack system are immediately discarded for experience points, and added to the player’s profile. It’s a simple feature that requires no interaction whatsoever.

NBA Playgrounds’ gameplay isn’t for the faint of heart. Its 2-on-2 match ups are finger blistering excursions that will litterally have the player clenching their Nintendo Switch in desperation, as the CPU blocks and then steals the ball away for a final layup. Unfortunately, this happens more often than it should, as the CPU’s performance seems to improve by leaps and bounds (no pun intended) during the final seconds of a match. It’s perplexing to say the very least.

The player assisted AI isn’t perfect either. For example: The player can ask for an AI assisted push from their partner by pressing L button, but it doesn’t always work. When the AI isn’t ignoring the player’s input (which happens often), it’s either running in the opposite direction of the ball or ignoring opportunities to defend. The CPU isn’t perfect either. For example: During a single-player match, the CPU will score by performing dunks from behind the backboard, which is obviously impossible. It’s tongue-in-cheek moments like these that make NBA Playgrounds more difficult than it should be.

The in-game stamina system – which depletes rapidly if a player runs, pushes or dunks the ball – changes the way the game is played, limiting the player’s ability to block, etc. While awkward at first, the Stamina system adds a strategic element to the gameplay. The player must conserve their stamina, and only use it when it’s absolutely necessary.

The Lottery Bar system – which rewards the player with power ups – must also be monitored. The bar fills up when the player successfully performs an alley-oop or steals the ball, but will decrease when the player executes a defensive move like a ‘push’. When a power up is awarded, the player can receive bonuses that range from a score multiplier (i.e. 2x 3 pointers, etc.) to a 12″ Jump Boost, to name just a few. It should be mentioned that the power ups in question are random, and they cannot be chosen by the player.

NBA Playgrounds can be a fun basketball game when it’s not being hampered by its quirky AI. The game will be even better once developer Saber Interactive finally implements online multiplayer, which will hopefully be soon. While local multiplayer is fun, nothing beats online matchmaking and the convenience it brings.

Mike Pittaro
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Mad Dog Games
ESRB: E (Everyone)
Price: $19.99

NBA Playgrounds Official Website:

Review Score
The graphics contain eye-popping colors and smooth-looking environments.
Witty commentary from the announcers and a rockin' soundtrack add to the game's atmosphere.
While fun to play, NBA Playgrounds' single-player mode can be tedious due to quirky AI.
NBA Playgrounds can be a fun basketball when its not being hampered by its quirky AI.
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