In the 1990s, I was pretty good at Midway’s arcade sports games. I never owned a Genesis or a SNES, so my experience with NBA Jam was limited to playing at a friend’s house. But we did get an N64 with NFL Blitz, and that was my jam. Both Blitz and Jam offered quick hitting bursts of excitement that everyone loved to play. NBA Playgrounds desperately tries to invoke the sensation of these 90’s arcade games. The difference being, it’s just not any fun.
It’s very much a possibility that I just don’t like sports arcade games anymore. I’ve grown too old and this type of game just doesn’t appeal to me at this stage in my life. But then why do I still play Tecmo Super Bowl? If I still had an N64, I guarantee I would still pick up NFL Blitz and play once in a while. Elvis Grbac was the man.
I think my lake of excitement for NBA Playgrounds just stems from it not being a good game. In its strive to emulate the Midway days of old, it borrows the worst aspects of the old games while not introducing any of the new techniques in video game design.
The AI in NBA Playgrounds rubber bands harder than NFL Blitz, and Blitz was the absolute worst. Think you’re doing well? Think you got things under control? Lol. Think again, because now all your shots are going to get blocked, and that’s if the opposing team doesn’t steal the ball first. Think you got that rebound? Ha. No, you’ll suddenly begin to whiff uncontested rebounds. And the computer will miraculously start hitting every shot, stealing every ball, grabbing every rebound. You can do nothing about it.
Don’t like the rubber banding? Don’t get a lead. It’s that simple. Pick crappy players for yourself, elite players for the computer and keep the game close. The AI will go back to sucking at the game, like you.
You will suck at this game.
See, you may not know this but in basketball you score points by putting a ball through a hoop. Professional basketball players are really good at doing this, except in NBA Playgrounds. In this video game, every NBA has the basket-making ability that I have in real life.
And yet, I honestly think I’m better at making a real basket than making a basket in NBA Playgrounds. At least in real life I now when to release the ball. The act of repetition has taught me. There is absolutely nothing in this video game that teaches you when to release the ball. You can shoot the ball over and over and over again, yet nothing helps you key into improvement.
The only instruction you receive on how to make a basket is to release the shoot button “in the right moment.” WHAT’S THE RIGHT MOMENT? There’s no gauge. There’s now visual feedback. There isn’t even any goddamn rumble. I mean, my control rumbles like crazy if I run out of stamina. Could you at least give me the tiniest of blips when it’s time to release the shot? Help me out here. I’m clanging shots left and right.
Wouldn’t I have more fun if I consistently made baskets? Wouldn’t I want to keep playing the game if I thought there was hope of improvement? NFL Blitz and NBA Jam, for all their ridiculous rubber banding, at least gave me a sense of progression. I sucked at first but I could still see how it all worked.
I slowly learned the mechanics, I started beating the computer if I choose a good team (most likely a team with a hoofed mascot), I improved and eventually began to dominate friends with the worst team in the game (most likely a team from Seattle).
I have the slimmest desire to give NBA Playgrounds any more of my time. If I can’t make a damn basket, it’s not a fun game. And the worst sin of all? Shawn Kemp is wearing a goddamn Cleveland Cavaliers jersey.
Screw it. NBA Playgrounds is no fun. I’m taking my Nintendo Switch and going home.