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NBA Playgrounds sequel coming this summer

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Better online play is a focus this time

NBA Playgrounds, the lukewarmly received but popular arcade basketball game from indie studio Saber Interactive, is getting a sequel this summer.

The follow-up, simply called NBA Playgrounds 2, will continue to offer two-on-two basketball action in the over-the-top style of NBA Jam. Saber Interactive said in a news release that it is expanding on the original game with a suite of new modes, both for local and online play, as well as additional courts set in locations around the globe.

NBA Playgrounds 2 is led by the new Playgrounds Championship mode, an online league setup with global rankings across “multiple competitive solo and co-op division ladders for player to climb,” according to Saber. The company is introducing a single-player season mode, in which player takes a team through the NBA regular season and playoffs in an attempt to win a championship. NBA Playgrounds 2 will also offer modes that Saber patched into the original game after launch, such as a 3-point contest.

The original NBA Playgrounds offered two-on-two matches, but only in local play; online games were limited to one-on-one action. Although Saber told Polygon at launch that it planned to add two-on-two online matches in a post-release patch, that feature never made it into the game. Instead, four-person online play — with “any combination of human and AI opponents,” according to a PlayStation Blog post from Saber CEO Matthew Karch — will be available in NBA Playgrounds 2.

In addition, the sequel will rely on dedicated servers for network connections. “We know lag was a problem in the first game for some and this should address the concern,” said Karch.

NBA Playgrounds 2 will launch with a roster of more than 200 current and retired NBA players. Here’s a sampling of the list from Saber: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Shaquille O’Neal, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Allen Iverson and Larry Bird. As in the original game, players will unlock new athletes by earning packs of virtual cards.

Although NBA Playgrounds was a commercial success — Saber said in late July 2017, about two and a half months after release, that it had sold “half a million copies” of the game — it did not find many fans among reviewers. The game drew criticism at launch for shortcomings such as inept AI teammates (and robotically perfect AI opponents), a punishing stamina mechanic, confusing shot timing and a bare-bones feature set.

NBA Playgrounds was released simultaneously on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One, but the Switch version did not offer online play at launch. Saber was not able to patch in the feature until mid-July, and later re-released the game on Switch in an “Enhanced Edition” to bring it up to par with the other versions.

NBA Playgrounds 2, which is being published by Mad Dog Games, is set for release this summer on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. You can see the game’s debut trailer and three screenshots above.

Update (April 20): Saber Interactive said in an email to Polygon that it is committed to not repeating the mishandled launch of the original NBA Playgrounds.

“I can say with confidence that all four platforms are in parity feature-wise, and that our plan right now is to release all four platforms on the same day,” said Saber CEO Matthew Karch.

Karch once again apologized for the delayed release of online play for the Switch version of NBA Playgrounds, saying that “the circumstances weren’t entirely within our ability to dictate” but that “our mistake was not being more upfront about everything that was happening.” He also reiterated that Saber will give a free copy of Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn to anybody who bought the Switch version of NBA Playgrounds before June 10, 2017.

As for why Saber is making NBA Playgrounds 2 instead of continuing to release downloadable content for the original game, Karch said, “We definitely hit a point where it became clear it’d be substantially difficult to keep adding onto the first game on all platforms with feature parity, so we chose to start fresh across the board.

“We came at NBA Playgrounds 2 with a long list of features and improvements we wanted to deliver, as well as the lessons we learned from the original, all of which combine to make this sequel feel warranted, and we hope fans agree when they get their hands on it,” Karch added.

The full roster for NBA Playgrounds 2 will feature “over 400” players, according to Karch, up from the 325 or so that were eventually released for the first game. Karch affirmed to Polygon that the sequel will, like its predecessor, allow players to buy an unlock code for the entire roster — an item that “over 150,000” customers bought for the $9.99 asking price. Karch is actually hoping that fewer people purchase it in NBA Playgrounds 2.

“Strange as it sounds, my personal hope is players enjoy the huge improvements we’ve made to the progression system, and that results in a lower overall adoption of the unlock this time around,” said Karch.