‘NBA Playgrounds’ review: Resurrecting arcade basketball

No disrespect to the venerable “NBA 2K” franchise, but arcade-style basketball just feels right in video games.That’s why the addition …

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“NBA Playgrounds,” published by Mad Dog Games and developed by Saber Interactive, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC, $19.99

No disrespect to the venerable “NBA 2K” franchise, but arcade-style basketball just feels right in video games.

That’s why the addition of new franchise “NBA Playgrounds” is so welcome, even if the first version released Tuesday is far from perfect.

“Playgrounds” is basically “NBA Jam” on courts inspired by “NBA Street,” including a New York venue inspired by Rucker Park. Clearly, New Jersey-based developer Saber Interactive has great affection for these premier arcade franchises.

That’s good news for gamers. It’s a snap to pick up “Playgrounds” with friends for some five-minute couch competition without worrying about complex control schemes. There’s a minor learning curve in timing the release of jumpers, leaners, fadeaways and jams — a perfect shot earns an extra point — but nothing insurmountable.

In “Playgrounds,” which is more akin to “Street” than “Jam,” two-man squads aren’t restricted to one team. My go-to group consists of Magic Johnson and Kristaps Porzingis. Each player is a cartoonish caricature of himself, which makes for a fun art style.

The roster of 150 players, with the promise of more to come post-release, is both impressive and perplexing. In addition to major stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, kudos for including legends of the distant past like George Mikan and Bill Russell. However, the Warriors have Matt Barnes but not Klay Thompson. Just one of many head-scratchers.

Legends possess special moves, such as Magic’s pretty passes or Allen Iverson’s killer crossover. All players can be leveled up to gain more moves, but there’s no explanation for what’s new.

Even for an arcade-style game, “Playgrounds” is a little short on content. There’s exhibition play with friends or solo, random online play except (for now) on Nintendo Switch — oddly, no private matches yet — and tournament mode. Playing the tournaments unlocks new content such as additional Lottery Picks (an earned power-up decided at random like four-point dunks or unlimited turbo for a limited time). All the while, packs are earned to unlock more players — with zero microtransactions.

“NBA Playgrounds,” reviewed using a copy provided by Saber, is a good value and a solid start to a new franchise.

Scott Fontana