NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (Switch) Review
Trying to be the next NBA Jam, last year’s NBA Playgrounds was an adequate arcade basketball experience, but it didn’t make a great first impression, needing a series of patches to fix several issues. Its follow-up, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 — published by 2K, the company behind the popular NBA 2K series — feels more like a minor upgrade than a complete sequel.
Similar to its predecessor, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 makes a weak first impression. My first experience was waiting ages for the game to start up in handheld mode. After several minutes, I closed and reopened the game, successfully. However, I still had to wait a while until I saw NBA 2K Playgrounds 2’s start menu. Bizarrely, I haven’t encountered any crashes since, but the occasional long load times are frustrating due to its suitability for quick pick-up-and-play sessions.
Now with a bit of 2K polish, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 looks and runs better than the original on Switch, which looked downright blurry when playing in handheld. Menus are slicker, animations and player models looks sharper, and last year’s bloody annoying shooting mechanics are much stronger. Holding down shoot prompts a meter to appear, where your aim is to release the button as close to the middle of the green section as possible. Unlike the prequel, where three-pointers were inexplicably easier to shoot than layups, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 feels more fair and reasonable. Shots within the key are almost guaranteed, whereas long-range baskets rely on both timing and the attribute points of your controlled player.
Continuing the card-based system reminiscent of that seen in FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode, players are unlocked by opening booster packs of cards. Each player has a unique set of attributes, such as favouring two-point shooting, blocking or dunking. Depending on the rarity of the card, indicated by the “epic” or “legend” labels, their attributes will vary accordingly. In addition to this, you can level up players through earning XP in games and completing challenges, which will boost their starting attributes. However, a levelled-up rare card will always be significantly better than a levelled-up common card, placing an immediate advantage onto whoever is lucky enough to snag the rare cards. Annoyingly, this forces you to grind games in order to unlock more booster packs. Plus, you can earn doubles of previously earned cards, so there’s no greater chance of unlocking new cards the longer you play — great!
Thankfully, despite 2K’s known history with heavy-handed microtransactions, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 avoids the lure of offering player cards in exchange for real money — for the most part. Booster packs are purchased using an in-game currency earned by playing games, whereas cosmetic costumes for your players are bought using “Golden Bucks” which are earned slowly in-game, but can also be acquired via the eShop. Furthermore, for a blanket fee, you can unlock all characters immediately, which I can slightly understand for those with limited time who want to play as their favourite players out of the box. However, this does feel somewhat predatory for those in this situation, compounded by how unbalanced online multiplayer becomes as a result.
Including online multiplayer, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 doesn’t host many different game types, with exhibition, season and three-point contests rounding out the relatively light package. Starting with the former, online multiplayer’s matchmaking is poor, setting me up against two players who had the best players unlocked and levelled-up, against my comparatively weak roster, which gave them a significant statistical advantage even before the opening jump ball. Aside from this, I did enjoy the NBA Season mode, where you play three-minute games in a season of 15, which you can easily play with a friend locally, online, or with a CPU against CPU opponents. Completing a season will net you a rare card based on the team you played as, which gives you some incentive to play again on a higher difficulty and with other teams. These three-minute games are a great length for playing a few quick games and coming back later for more, especially when playing multiplayer. Other than NBA Season, none of the other game modes held my interest for long.
As satisfying huge blocks and ridiculous slam dunks are, everything feels a bit too similar to the original NBA Playgrounds. While NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is better, it’s only incrementally better in various aspects. I still found myself getting frustrated at the unbalanced power-up system which serves up random bonuses or negative effects, such as double three-pointers or reduced attributes for 30 seconds. The random nature of these power-ups means that sometimes one team gains a stupidly unfair advantage that’s nearly impossible to claw back from, or it acts as an annoying form of rubberbanding, closing the gap between teams cheaply. I did enjoy the frozen bucket power-up, which coats the rim in ice that needs to be broken before scoring, but the power-ups that sap the skill out of the game are a bugger. Additionally, the same two or so music tracks play throughout NBA 2K Playgrounds 2’s entirety, albeit with one featuring remixed lyrics. Thankfully, the commentary is much less grating this time around.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a reasonably fun revisitation of the first game, carrying over the strong improvements its predecessor gained from patches, including a better shooting system. However, there’s not much in the way of deeply engaging content to keep you playing more than a couple of pickup games with your friends.
+ Decent arcade basketball game in short bursts
+ Shooting feels much better this time around
+ Bit more visual polish
- Only feels like a minor upgrade to the first game
- Grinding for good player cards unenjoyable
- Not many game modes