NBA Playgrounds takes a decent shot at revitalizing the once-great genre of arcade basketball games. It comes close to pulling it off, too, and even as it handed me some unfair-feeling defeats its retro style and simple gameplay reminded me why I still love this style of 2v2 basketball.
What stands out from the start in NBA Playgrounds are the aesthetics. From Oscar Robertson’s sideburns to Magic Johnson’s short shorts, the developers at Saber Interactive appreciate the past and present style of the NBA. They also went out of their way to add signature animations to certain players, so Shaquille O’Neal has his thunderous two-handed jam and Allen Iverson has a unique crossover that’s immediately recognizable. There was love and attention paid to the hundreds of dunk and pass animations in Playgrounds, and these visual payoffs are what give it a standout quality.
In a similar way, Playgrounds is pretty clearly trying to pay homage to old arcade classics like NBA Jam and NBA Street. What Playgrounds gets right about that is that it’s easy to pick up a controller and quickly feel at home. In no time I was drilling three-pointers and spinning into the lane for massive hammers. Its artistic style and tight controls are good at creating highlight reel-worthy moments, letting you meet someone at the summit to block a would-be ridiculous dunk or hit a late, long shot to seal the game.