‘NBA Playgrounds’: Six Major Changes That The Developers Need To Make [Opinion]

NBA Playgrounds, which is developer Sabre Interactive’s attempt to revitalize the arcade basketball genre, was released this past Tuesday, and while it can, at times, be a ton of fun, there are still several major changes that need to be made to it.

Before I get started, I’d like to say that it’s hard to complain about a game that’s only $20, and, on top of that, there are no micro transactions — to unlock everything, all you need to do is play the game. Furthermore, it looks like all the upcoming DLC for the game which will reportedly include hundreds of additional players will be free, which is pretty awesome.

Most of the following complaints are gameplay related, and if they’re not addressed, I’m afraid that the NBA Playgrounds community will quickly dissipate, and as a result, we won’t see another game like this for several years, which isn’t something that I, nor this game’s community, want.

John Stockton

[Image by Sabre Interactive]

There’s really not a single game out there that doesn’t have a few overpowered characters at launch, and NBA Playgrounds isn’t the exception to that rule.

The game doesn’t have overall ratings for each character. Instead, they have ratings in eight different categories: speed, stamina, three-point shooting, two-point shooting, dunking, blocking, rebounding, and stealing, so we don’t know for a fact who has the best overall rating in the game. But if they did, John Stockton might actually be the highest-rated player in the game.

To put it in perspective, Stockton is one of the few players in the game who has two 10 ratings (the best rating a player can have for a specific category), while Russell Westbrook doesn’t have any. In fact, you’d be better off using the former Utah Jazz great than you would guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, or pretty much anyone else who’s available to play as.

Needless to say, this needs to be fixed. Sure, John Stockton was great, but to give him better stats than someone like Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, or LeBron James is pretty outrageous.

Make Multiple Versions of Legendary Players

NBA Playgrounds
[Image by Sabre Interactive]

In the photo above you can see Shawn Kemp — who is right in the middle — in a Seattle SuperSonics jersey. However, if you unlock him in the game, he’s wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. Sure, he was fine in Cleveland, but fans remember him best from his days in Seattle along with Gary Payton (who isn’t in the game).

The photo above is the photo used at the game’s main menu, so the fact that Kemp isn’t wearing a Seattle jersey in this game is a little odd, and hopefully it’ll be addressed in a future update.

Also, when I heard that Vince Carter was going to be a part of this game, I was really hyped about it. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to play a game like this with the Toronto Raptors’ version of Vince Carter? The only problem is, when you unlock him, it’s the current, 40-year old version of the ex-Raptors superstar, who is a part of the Memphis Grizzlies roster. To say that I was extremely disappointed when I unlocked him would be a massive understatement.

If you unlock a player who is, or will be, an NBA legend when he retires, it’d be nice to play as them from different times in their careers. For example, it’s cool to use the Lakers’ version of Shaquille O’Neal, but it’d be great to have options and use the Orlando Magic or even the Miami Heat version of him.

Repeat Cards

NBA Playgrounds
[Image by Sabre Interactive]

Unlocking new players in NBA Playgrounds requires card packs, which you earn by playing the game. The card pack system was fine at first, but once I finished up the player vs. AI tournaments, the system became pretty tedious.

You see, when you open a new card pack in the game, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get five new players. In fact, more often than not, I’ll get four players that I already have, and one new player who is someone that I’ll probably never use, as they’re, more often than not, a low-level player in real life.

If you get a repeat card, it’ll grant XP to the repeated player, which is nice, but after getting several repeat players in every pack that I opened, the excitement of opening packs was gone. This is a game which has hundreds of players, and hundreds more will be added, so at this rate, I probably won’t be able to unlock every player in the game if these card packs keep giving me repeat players.

The repeat players would make sense if the game had micro transactions, as it would likely cause most players to actually pay for the players that they want. But it doesn’t, so the repeat player thing is pointless. Just give us new players every time, please!

Make Shot Contesting Matter

NBA Playgrounds
[Image by GameSpot]

There are two things that my many hours with NBA Playgrounds have taught me about the game, and I’m going to address one of them here — contesting shots doesn’t matter unless you actually block the shot. So, you could be all over a shooter and defend his shot perfectly without blocking it, but if he has the shot release timing down, which most players do at this point, they’ll just keep hitting every shot they take. This often leads to games where players will just run up the court and jack up three-pointers, because they know they’ll go in almost every time if they’re not blocked.

Also, as a side note, the lightning ball thing that makes every shot go in no matter what should be able to be blocked, because if the other team has it, you pretty much can’t stop them from scoring unless you steal the ball, which is hard to do in this case because players often just jack up a shot from anywhere on the court when they have it, because they know it’s going in. The game does tell you that the lightning ball is unblockable, which is a bit silly. Here’s a good alternative: make it so that if a player blocks a lightning ball, not only does the team lose it, but it’ll then be given to the defensive team. Seems fair, right?

Make All of the Ratings Matter

NBA Playgrounds ratings
[Image by Sabre Interactive]

As previously mentioned, each player in NBA Playgrounds has their own ratings for each category, but the problem is, most players don’t really feel different from one another, with a few rare exceptions like the aforementioned John Stockton.

This issue became apparent early on in my online experience, as I took on the duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Russell, both of which have awful three-point ratings, as you would expect. However, if you’ve mastered the shot timing in NBA Playgrounds, your three-point rating simply doesn’t matter. So, back to my game against Shaq and Bill Russell — all I have to say is that, when the game was over (I lost by the way), both Shaq and Russell went 5 for 5 from beyond the three-point line. That’s not combined, which would be ridiculous in and of itself, but they went 5 for 5 individually. Also, most of those threes were contested, which goes back to the whole “make shot contesting matter” thing.

Look, I get it, it’s an arcade style basketball game. But, so was NBA Jam, and I don’t recall being lit up from beyond the three-point line in that game by Shaq, or any other person who wasn’t a great shooter in real life.

To be totally transparent here, this isn’t something that my opponents have done, but I’ve done it as well. I, like most of the community at this point, have mastered the shot timing to where I can pretty much hit a shot from anywhere with anyone. Sure, it’s kinda funny to see Patrick Ewing or Dikembe Mutombo light another team up with threes, but it gets really old really fast.

As of right now, you really can’t get a defensive stop in NBA Playgrounds unless you block a shot or steal the ball. If a player is able to get a shot off, it’s probably going in.

Rebounding/Loose Balls

NBA Playgrounds on PS4
[Image by Sabre Interactive]

This is, by far, the most frustrating aspect of the game, and it somewhat ties into some of the previous points that I’ve made.

As previously mentioned, it’s extremely rare to see someone actually miss a shot in NBA Playgrounds, but when they do, prepare to get more frustrated than you would if they actually made the shot.

One thing you’ll learn fairly early on is to never jump for a rebound, because more often than not, you’ll either miss the ball completely or your player will tip it somewhere else on the court, even though I hit the “rebound” button. Your best move will be to let the ball hit the floor, and then go for it. But even then, it’s still not a guarantee that you’ll get it.

The problem isn’t only in the rebounding category, but it’s in the loose ball category as well. See, what happens in the game is, if there’s a loose ball rolling around on the court as a result of a missed shot or a deflection, when you go to recover it, your player won’t always recover it, even if you’re the first one there. What happens is your player will, more often than not, just stand over the ball for a second before they pick it up, which allows your opponent to run over to you, push you down, and recover it for themselves. So, prepare to scream at your television and stomp your feet with every loose ball.

[Featured Image by Sabre Interactive]