Don't Get NBA Playgrounds On The Switch Just Yet

Image: Kotaku

NBA Playgrounds was pitched as a spiritual successor to the iconic NBA Jam games, which sounds like the perfect sort of game for the Switch. But it's got some key flaws, and it's also the first game I've played on the Switch that has made me think about how underpowered the Switch really is.

Let's get the basics out of the way: NBA Playgrounds is a 2-on-2 side-scrolling basketball game. Like NBA Jam, the court is occupied by caricatures of real-life jumping several kilometres in the air, doing backflips with the ball, and shooting 3-pointers from half court while the ball is engulfed in purple fire. It's silly basketball, but it's accessible as all hell, and games only take a few minutes.

That's the theory, anyway.

Where NBA Playgrounds falls apart is in the timing. Most basketball games have some sort of timing mechanic when taking a shot, but Playgrounds might be the most aggressive yet. I had more success making shots off the bat in NBA 2K17's Hall of Fame mode than I did with Playgrounds, although it's also dependent on what players you get from the start.

Some players, like their real-life counterparts, shoot the ball supremely quickly (like Steph Curry), while others have a much slower release timing. It's not the kind of thing you expect to have to seriously manage in an arcade game. It's far too easy to miss dunks and layups as a result, and working out the perfect release timing for those can be a lot harder because the animations can vary so much. (With jump shots, you at least have the general theory of letting go when the player gets to the top of their arc.)

NBA Playgrounds Is Not The New NBA Jam

NBA Playgrounds' trailer -- indeed, its entire existence -- is a throwback to arcade sports games like NBA Jam and NBA Street. The kind of experiences where you don't even need to be a fan of the sport in question to be able to jump on, learn a few moves, and have a good time.

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Luke already covered some of the game's flaws above, but what's especially glaring is how technically limited the game is on the Switch. In handheld mode, my preferred way to use the Switch, character models are blurry and unfocused. The loading times are surprisingly long - we're talking about 20 seconds or so between the game and menus at points - which seems bizarre something that, on the surface, isn't doing as much as a Fast RMX, Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8.

Image: Kotaku
Image: Kotaku

That said, Playgrounds does run at a stable 60fps. The developers made the right call prioritising that over image quality, but it also means Playgrounds is the first game that has genuinely made me think about what I'm missing out on with the Switch. Even on the main screen, player models look blurry and unfocused.

One of the developers responded on Facebook, saying that "there will be overall improvements" but the addition of online play was first cab off the ranked. Oh yeah: if you buy Playgrounds on the Switch now, you won't be able to play online. The feature is disabled, although it's scheduled to be patched in very soon.

It's not just online play that needs a patch, either. As Luke mentioned in his impressions, Playgrounds has some pretty substantial - and bizarre - differences from NBA Jam. If you release the ball at the perfect moment, you'll get an extra point for your shot. With the inclusion of powerups, or the bonus for the first basket of the match, it means you can be getting four or five point baskets. (Which, if you're playing the AI towards the end of a tournament, means your double digit lead could vanish very quickly.)

There's also a frustrating delay before play can be restarted after every basket. The game doesn't restart until the defending team's players are sent back to half court, which means you will often sit there waiting to pass the ball. Initially I thought I'd done something wrong, or hadn't pressed something, but in actuality you're just waiting for things to happen off-screen. It slows the game down and it's a frustrating experience.

The balance is a bit off, too. Rebounding seems a completely useless stat right now, and there's no stamina penalty on stealing the ball. That means you can just spam the steal button endlessly, which makes players with high speed and steal stats infinitely more effective than they should be.

But these things can be fixed up with a patch, and Sabre Interactive added that they'll be working on optimising the game as well. So if you're looking for an NBA Jam experience but you really want it on the Switch, I'd suggest you wait. The game can use a patch or two, and waiting a week is worth it for online play.

In the meantime, you might as well get NBA Jam on your mobile. The gameplay is actually still better than the moment-to-moment offering of NBA Playgrounds, although getting a stable multiplayer game is an utter nightmare.


Comments

    I legit can't believe you guys are picking up on the slightly blurry (it's 60fps on a SWITCH) character models, and not one SINGLE peep about the black levels on Zelda.

      60fps on a Switch is not exactly some kind of magical accomplishment, and I don't think the black levels on Zelda are criminal enough to ruin the experience.

      It's terribly blurry in handheld mode which like many others is all I use my switch for. BoTW on the other hand is an absolute master piece and a pleasure to play. I've no problem with NBA having depth in terms of players having their own feel and quirks but honestly, if I could get a refund I'd be on it until they patched some visuals in. I don't believe it's a matter of lack of horse power, I think it's a rushed port hence the lack of online.

    I still can't believe people are supporting the switch when it has only half a dozen games, Most of which are minor indies or budget titles repackaged at full price.
    Also there is no guarantee of meaningful third party support - which is exactly the same situation as the previous console.
    Is a slow trickle of good first party games enough to sel a console? Apparently so. But it's a crappy way to treat their user base.

      For me it's a top game every month so I've no issues, of course they need 3rd party support but now poor or stripped down ports. They need original stuff. I'm not a big Nintendo fan and I do want more from them but I think they're doing well this time around.

      Considering just within the last month Kotaku published an article asking where we find time for the amount of games coming out, where the vast majority responded "we don't" or some variation thereof, I think the slow trickle of games is exactly the way to go.

      Last edited 12/05/17 7:01 pm

      Pretty sure there are close to 30 or 40 games out now...

      I don't give stuff about power, I have an Xbox or ps for the generic stuff. I just want fun games. Nintendo does that. They are the only company that do anything different, That's why I support them.

      Last edited 12/05/17 11:16 pm

        Almost all of those 30 to 40 games are also available on other platforms with well established 3rd party support, alongside a vast library and enough tech power to support the games so that devs do not have to waste money on porting it to equal the power. This includes NBA Playgrounds, which is available on PC, PS4 and X1.

        Technical power is important for the Switch because the 3rd party devs want the switch to be powerful enough to run their games on. Otherwise they would have to downgrade it, delaying release and adding production time, which costs money and if the game doesn't sell on Switch, then that would be a waste and would affect that publisher's next move on the Switch. Which is pretty much what EA is currently doing now. Nintendo cannot survive without third party support and they cannot maintain a console's library by themselves. The Wii U is a prime example of that.

        Also I am sick and tired of this generic "PS and X1" bullcrap. PS4 just had Ni-oh, Yakuza Zero, and HZD, two out of which are Japanese developed games and all are serious GOTY contenders. X1 last year released Forza Horizon 3, one of the best racing games of this generation, and are set to release Sea of Thieves from RareWare. Third party titles for both include NieR Automata, Prey, and RE7, all great titles to play. There is nothing generic about those games, and while we are at it, how is BOTW any different from Skyrim? Or Horizon? How is Mario Kart 8 any different from Mario Kart 7?

        Nintendo was never really a company that did anything different. Back in the 80s they just made games and simple hardware. They were involved in the bit wars with SEGA, and like Sony and Microsoft, went out their way to become a powerhouse. It was even in the name with the N64 (64-bit). The last few consoles before the Wii were the most powerful of its generation (N64, GCN). The Wii was when they tapped into motion gaming, and then the WiiU was... something. The great thing about the hardware in PS4 and X1 is that it is identical to PC, making porting easier for devs that give a shit. PS3 always would up getting the end of the stick because of the complex hardware it has. Now it has a large library of games alongside X1 and PC and established TPS.

        Hell, the Switch is no different than the bloody Razer Edge. I own the Switch, and it works for what it does, but it needs Third party support. So far I do not see any, and devs appear to still be cautious about this system.

          I get where you're coming from, but asking whether Breath of the Wild is any different to Skyrim is drawing the bow a bit far. Third party devs seem much more keen on the Switch however, especially those dabbling in the couch co-op/multiplayer market. AAA devs ... we'll see.

          Nintendo cannot survive without third party support

          As a matter of fact they can and have done without it since the days of the N64. And with the Wii they didn't just "survive", they thrived. I take that you wish that your investment in the Switch meant that you didn't need to own one of the other competing consoles because it'd get ports of all the AAA non-exclusive games, but that's simply never been the aim of Nintendo or their ways of doing business. You may not like it, but it has worked for them so far and if the Wii U was mostly a failure, lack of third-party support was not the biggest cause.

      I don't "support" anything and don't feel I've been "treated" in any particular way. I was fully aware of the games, the features and the build and no amount of rhetoric will change that. I've gotten my money's worth in play time and enjoyment so far. You don't need to pretend there's an issue, it's based on absolutely nothing. Considering the breadth of launches over the course of time, this was a pretty good one. You're trying to make enjoyment objective, which it isn't.

      Why wouldn't I support the Switch? Just buying it and Zelda provided better value per hour than the movies for me. Every game after that just adds to it.

    Yeah, the devs have been responding to people saying they're aware if the issues, it's not due to any limitations on the switch, it's just poorly optimised because they rushed the port to meet the release date on the other consoles. Check the Switch subreddit, they're responding directly through there recently.

    This will continue to be a problem with many games that aren't 'made with the Switch in mind'. Some crossplatform games will work without problem, others, not so much.

      Based on what exactly?

        This is mostly the problem of the Switch being marketed as a console rather than a handheld. The fact of the matter is the Switch is only slightly more powerful than the Wii U, which means porting games back from the Xbox and Playstation need to be very mindful of their performance targets.

    Yeah look it does need some improvements that's for sure. Shame as it can't be that hard to re do a game that was perfected over 20 years ago.

    The HD rumble for this game is running on maximum. Which is distracting while playing. There's no way that I've found to turn it off.

      You have to go into the Switch's system settings, you can't do it in-game.

    You can't call for a push when playing 1v1 (AI mode) on the separate Joycons. There aren't enough buttons to assign that function.

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