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NBA Playgrounds lacks some important features at launch

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Online play is iffy

A stylized Lebron James soars over a carnival scene in NBA Playgrounds. Saber Interactive/Mad Dog Games

NBA Playgrounds, the NBA Jam-esque arcade basketball game from Saber Interactive, will eventually be the same game across the four platforms on which it is being released next week (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One). But at launch, the Switch version will lag behind its counterparts in one major area: It will have no online play, a representative for Saber confirmed to Polygon.

Saber will patch in online functionality “a few days after launch,” the spokesperson said. The rep also confirmed that the Switch version will be playable with a single Joy-Con pad held sideways, and that Saber is targeting a frame rate of 60 frames per second on all four platforms. That applies on all PS4s; NBA Playgrounds does not offer any enhancements on a PS4 Pro.

But online play on the Switch isn’t the only part of NBA Playgrounds that players will have to wait for, and people who buy the Switch version won’t be alone in waiting.

As we reported earlier this week, NBA Playgrounds will offer four-person local multiplayer action (i.e., two people versus two others, all playing on the same system), but only one-on-one play online. Saber plans to add two-on-two online functionality after launch in an “early update.”

There are two issues that are more significant.

NBA Playgrounds’ online matchmaking, which relies on your leaderboard ranking, will initially be the only way to get into online games — in other words, you won’t be able to invite people from your friends list when the game launches. The Saber rep told Polygon that the studio is aware of how important this feature is, and will add it in a post-release update.

Aside from one-off games, the online component of NBA Playgrounds will also allow people to compete in tournaments. At this point, it’s unclear exactly how online tournaments will play out. And we won’t know for some time, because they will also be missing at launch — on all platforms. Again, Saber will patch in that feature at some point in the future; the spokesperson said “exact timing [is] TBD.”

NBA Playgrounds - James Harden dunk Saber Interactive/Mad Dog Games

This level of missing functionality is sadly not uncommon, even for games from major publishers; consider how many elements EA Sports titles like NHL 15 and Rory McIlroy PGA Tour were lacking at launch. All the same, a major part of NBA Playgrounds’ promise stemmed from the fact that unlike some other indie sports games released in the past few years — Old Time Hockey and Super Mega Baseball come to mind — it would launch with online play.

“To me, without an online component, this is a half-assed game,” Saber president Matthew Karch told Polygon earlier this week. “I wouldn’t want to release this game without an online component.”

Now, the Saber spokesperson said that at the time of that meeting, Karch was unaware of the fact that some online features would be missing at launch. And the game will debut with online play on PC, PS4 and Xbox One — not that that’s much consolation to Switch owners. Even so, his comments don’t look great in this new light.

NBA Playgrounds will be released May 9 for $19.99. For much more on the game, check out our in-depth preview and the exclusive gameplay video below.