Thursday, October 18

Review: NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


If you asked me about multiplayer games that are among the most memorable from over the years NBA Jam will always be a title that comes to mind quickly and easily. Whether in the arcade or playing on my SNES with friends in college I logged some serious time with that title. When NBA Playgrounds hit the scene last year, looking very much like it had that same style of play but with a visual upgrade, I was understandably thrilled. Of course playing it was a bit of a mess between its initial lack of Online support, misguidedly complicated controls, and a CPU that was too often pretty cheap to play against. So given the opportunity to try out this year’s version I was a bit nervous, but for its faults I’m also far happier with the results and it can definitely be a good time if you’re willing to overlook a few elements.


Starting with the positives the game absolutely looks great, has a ridiculous roster of players (including the likes of Michael Jordan), and features all sorts of preposterous on-court moves and dunks. The flow of games generally feels good and if you’re able to play some smart defense you’ll be able to pick some pockets, block some shots, and out-rebound your competition to give yourself an edge. Working solo you can rely on your teammate to do a reasonably good job of getting open, rebounding, and even improvising a dunk off the rim. With a friend you can definitely up your game and more consistently have fun with some alley-oops and more advanced set-ups.


My biggest complaint from last year’s incarnation had to do with the wonky shooting controls, which they did patch a bit, but that consistently ruined my hopes of an accessible game I could just play with friends out of the gate. When you have some hardcore gamers over, all who loved NBA Jam, and then watch them all struggle for far too long to do more than constantly miss (even dunks) there’s a sign that something is wrong. The good news is that though I still wish they’d just establish an “Arcade” or “Easy Control” mode as an option that would be beneficial in these situations the on-screen gauge and feel of the shooting has improved greatly since the last time I played the original. Another element that feels less cheap and annoying against the CPU involves the temporary power-ups each team can receive. Last year it always felt like you got stuck with one of the weaker ones while the CPU would consistently get something better and suddenly rocket past you even though they’d been behind the whole game. I’m not sure what they changed but this time around it feels far more fair and consistent and that’s appreciated.


In terms of play options you can play in Exhibition, compete with others Online, work through the new Season mode, or indulge in a quick 3-point shootout. As you play you’ll slowly build the experience level of the players you’re using, which will eventually boost their core stats, as well as accumulate in-game currency which you can then use to purchase various packs to try to obtain new and (hopefully) better players. Well, or you could just spend some additional real money and simply buy it all outright. This is where it seems most people I’ve talked to either choose to forgive the pretty blatant cash grab or immediately condemn the game completely for it. I find myself somewhere in the middle. A perfect example of what this system does is my first Online game I played where my opponent had spent the money and came at me with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. The good news is that through they’re awesome players with great stats and some serious moves this is still a skill-based game and I was able to beat him regardless of what he had. The bad news is that in the hands of more skilled players the stat advantages, even if somewhat marginal, could easily be a deciding factor. So in the end it isn’t quite play-to-win but it certainly walks right up to the line and at a minimum creates a haves versus have-nots scenario I’m not thrilled with.


At the end of the day until someone decides to give reviving the NBA Jam franchise a shot once more NBA 2K Playgrounds is your best option for arcade-style basketball. Where last year this was still true I would have struggled to give that version a positive review. This year the core game has improved enough that the recommendation is easier to give, but just understand what you’re getting if you’re unwilling to pony up additional cash to get everything unlocked right away. With as many characters as there and the slow speed of the grind to accumulate currency the odds of you unlocking your favorite players are dicey at best, at least anytime soon. That said, if you’re more about the core play than the aesthetics of it all and enjoy some good arcade basketball this is the best (though also the only) game in town.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • An amazing roster of players including legends like Michael Jordan and many others
  • Improved shot mechanics are less aggravating than last year’s iteration
  • Solid online play available right out of the gate

Cons:
  • The “pay up” versus grinding into eternity to unlock everything, or even just your favorite players, controversy is real
  • In terms of controls this still isn’t quite a “throw your friend a JoyCon end enjoy” experience. The learning curve is less severe but still present
  • While the new Season and 3-point modes are nice some additional variety would have been appreciated