NBA 2K20 (Switch) Review
When reviewing NBA 2K18, I was impressed with how well the hardcore basketball experience translated to the Nintendo Switch – albeit with aggressive microtransactions and a poorly implemented tutorial system. Impressively, NBA 2K20 is a significant improvement, particularly across the MyCareer and tutorial modes. While the in-game economy still looms everpresent, it feels less enticing than before.
Getting started with NBA 2K20 is an easier prospect than previous entries thanks to a better implementation of “2KU”, the series’ tutorial mode. This time around, 2KU is much more interactive and makes it easy for you to perform specific drills to hone the many basketball techniques on offer. Being able to practice and receive immediate feedback on controller inputs is a great way to figure out why you’re struggling with a certain shot type or dribble move. In fact, the only way I would improve 2KU now is to introduce the mode as a standalone icon on the main menu, instead of hiding within a sub-menu. However, I understand many of you considering playing NBA 2K20 would be returning players, but I believe making the experience as approachable as possible harms nobody in the process.
In line with prior games in the series, NBA 2K20 is overflowing with deeply engaging game modes. It’s just as easy to boot up a one-off exhibition game against a mate as it is to dive into one of the in-depth season simulation variants, where you can assume the role of a player, coach, general manager, or the whole team. NBA 2K20 also marks the first time you can play as any of the 12 WNBA teams in the exhibition and season modes. Arguably, this is an overdue inclusion, but a very welcome one – if the WNBA was included a couple of years earlier, I’d have been able to play as Erin Phillips!
As evidenced by an in-game poll around launch, nearly 80% of respondents indicated MyCareer is where everyone spends most of their time in NBA 2K. In line with this, I’ll dedicate most of this review to unpacking the popular create-your-own-player mode – although there’s still hours upon hours of high-quality basketballing action to enjoy across NBA 2K20’s other modes.
When starting your MyCareer journey, you’re prompted to create your own budding NBA superstar and choose from different skill distributions. In choosing the type of player you want to be, NBA 2K20 illustrates different playstyles via pie charts showing what specialties will be strongest. These specialties include finishing at the rim, shooting, playmaking (ability to bring teammates into the game with assists, etc.), plus defending and rebounding. This will establish your starting attributes while putting a cap on how much you can level up throughout MyCareer. Following this, you’ll tweak your athlete’s body composition which yields bonuses and penalties across relevant statistics – a five-foot guard is never going to be a dunking specialist, after all. While I respect this new approach to building a player does away with age-old player archetypes, I found the older method of choosing the type of player I wanted to be slightly easier to interpret.
One aspect MyCareer has pioneered for the better part of a decade is constructing narratives to follow, providing light choose-your-own-adventure elements, cutscenes, and even some games of basketball along the way. The quality of these scripted stories varies from year to year, but are usually interesting to engage with. NBA 2K20’s story follows your player, nicknamed “Che”, as they clash with the dream of playing in the NBA and standing up for what they believe in. This tale moves swiftly from one major story beat to the next without much in the way of contextual connecting threads, impacting the emotional weight of some of NBA 2K20’s major plot points. During multiple cutscenes, cinematic music swells at appropriate times in an effort to indicate you should be feeling something at that particular moment, but there’s little to care about when the narrative moves so briskly and most character interactions are so surface-level. Not even Idris Elba’s turn as an antagonistic coach of sorts is enough to generate the emotion needed. It doesn’t help that he puts in an uneven performance best described as lukewarm.
However, this is not to say NBA 2K20’s scripted MyCareer sections are poor. For the most part, it’s actually one of the series’ strongest stories yet. Refreshingly, the writing has improved substantially from previous entries, creating likeable and relatable characters, and far fewer painfully cringe-inducing moments. Admittedly, the latter point is a low bar to pass, as some of the series’ past protagonists and sidekicks were insufferable. Arguably the best aspect of NBA 2K20’s story sections is its strong message of staying true to your values and speaking up for those without a voice. Che champions this message – defending a teammate who loses a lucrative scholarship following a season-ending injury – despite the messy fallout that follows. NBA 2K20 executive producer, social activist, and Sprite evangelist LeBron James makes a cameo at the story’s conclusion. Here, he speaks about giving back and the obligation professional athletes have to use their platform for good. It’s a nice moment that may have been a bit on the nose if it weren’t delivered so sincerely. This message is a constant theme throughout NBA 2K20, and while several of the story’s elements waver, its earnest message sees it through.
One could be forgiven in forgetting there are games of basketball to be played outside all of this. After the scripted components of the story conclude, you’ll have much more time to dedicate towards training for and playing games. Thankfully, with the MyCareer attribute revamp, progressing and increasing your player’s stats feels less of a grind than before. Meaning, the dangling carrot of using real money to purchase Virtual Currency (VC) and level up quicker seems to be less intrusive. Until you start roaming the consumerism nightmare The Neighbourhood. Here, you can literally walk up to ATMs that will load up the eShop to purchase VC which can then be spent on cosmetic items or gambled against other players in an attempt to make more. It continually irks me that VC is a universal currency used across essential player upgrades and all other in-game shops. I would much prefer a purely organically earned separate currency for player progression, and VC for everything else. That way, there’s no murkiness as to what real money can be spent on.
While it’s impossible to separate NBA 2K20 from its questionable monetisation techniques, there’s no disputing that it’s a fantastic basketball game. Best of all, there are next to no concessions made for the Nintendo Switch version – it feels great to play and runs excellently.
+ Another great basketball game on Switch
+ Plenty of game modes and feature parity with other platforms
+ MyCareer progression is improving
- Virtual Currency and microtransactions remain pervasive
- MyCareer narrative is improving but is still an uneven experience