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Review

NBA 2K21 (Switch) Review

As with any yearly iteration of a sports game, it can easily just feel like another year, another NBA 2K game. Last year’s NBA 2K20 legacy was the casino theme that marred the already-gross microtransactions. NBA 2K21 has arrived at a time where not only the world in the midst of a pandemic that affected the actual NBA, but we’re also on the cusp of the next-gen consoles and cross-gen titles. With EA already leaning on FIFA legacy editions, does the Switch version of NBA 2K21 stay fresh enough to keep from the same fate?

I’ve always enjoyed the NBA Jam/Hangtime games more than I’ve been into the more realistic sports games. This hasn’t meant I didn’t wind up with the previous two NBA 2K games. While I’m definitely not as good at a more grounded game of Basketball, I can manage. By the time I’ve gotten to these games they’ve sorted out most of the performance issues and bugs, so what’s usually been left is a solid game of Basketball. With NBA 2K21 the Basketball side of things is still fine. There’s a new shot meter that is a little different from the usual kind of aiming. Use the right stick to control what kind of shot you play, as well as aim it once the meter shows up. If you don’t like it you can also just hit the Y button and take a shot that way too. There aren’t a lot of other changes this year, which is good if everything works well. Although it does raise the question of how necessary a completely new game is? 

There are a few returning modes, MyTeam is back with the whole card collecting shebang. MyCareer also returns with a new story; The Long Shadow, chronicling your rise into the ranks of the NBA. After you create your character you are plonked into a world where your recently deceased father was a basketball great. After trying your luck at Football (NFL), you’ve come back to basketball while living in the shadow of your father’s legacy. As with other years, 2K are bringing in the star power with Djimon Hounsou and Michael K. Williams appearing early on.  The first thing you’ll notice starting this mode is how badly the cutscenes run.  Strangely, it’s here where the game struggles. These aren’t action-filled scenes, so it doesn’t make sense why it would run this badly. The visuals aren’t any better, it looks like current-gen motion capture has been stuffed into last-gen bodies.  It’s something you can overlook, but it’s hard to focus on the pretty average story going on.

Your rise to the NBA has you dealing with a shady agent, a coach that believes in you (despite my awful playing), and college romance. It’s pretty standard stuff, the actors are doing the best with what they’re given. If you want to get to the NBA and the Neighbourhood street basketball straight away you can even skip all the narrative story. You wouldn’t be missing much, but if you want to get a little more from the game it’s relatively short while you work your way through Collage basketball.

The NBA 2K21 Neighbourhood is more of a social space if you want to play against other people online, customise your player and boost your stats. This mode takes place in 2K Beach, a coastal basketball hub for playing matches against the CPU or other players. There’s also several different shops for fully accessorising your player, whether it’s clothes, shoes or animations. It’s a cool area that really stands out compared to the stadiums and courts that fill the rest of the game. You can’t access this mode initially without either progressing in the MyCareer story or skipping it outright. If you want to engage with the 2K21 community or hang out with your friends then the 2K Beach will have something for you, especially if you have the cash to splash on outfitting your player.

The NBA 2K21 Neighbourhood is more of a social space if you want to play against other people online, customise your player and boost your stats. This mode takes place in 2K Beach, a coastal basketball hub for playing matches against the CPU or other players. There’s also several different shops for fully accessorising your player, whether it’s clothes, shoes or animations. It’s a cool area that really stands out compared to the stadiums and courts that fill the rest of the game. You can’t access this mode initially without either progressing in the MyCareer story or skipping it outright. If you want to engage with the 2K21 community or hang out with your friends then the 2K Beach will have something for you, especially if you have the cash to splash on outfitting your player.

The MyCareer mode isn’t helped by being online only. Having the Switch go into sleep mode will boot you from your single player game. The MyTeam stuff didn’t surprise me being online, but once again it’s annoying to get booted to the main screen.

Micro transactions are still very present and aggressive as ever. Even without the casino rubbish from last year, its hooks are still very much in the game. Currency is used to purchase card packs in MyTeam, but it is also used to upgrade your character in the MyCareer mode. 

You can also earn the coins in game, however NBA 2K21 is also very careful with letting you get them. If you play really well in MyCareer you could scrape some coins together, performance throughout the game will net you these coins. If you slip up or just have a bad game it will deduct from the coins you’ve been building up over the match. This isn’t helped by the fact that your player has pretty crappy stats and you can only control them. You need the coins to spend on upgrading those stats or…purchase some more coins. It’s just gross, it feels like 2K takes every chance to try and squeeze extra money out of players if they don’t want to grind for currency. It leaves a bad taste that sours most of the game as a result. For return NBA 2K fans none of this will be a surprise, it’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.

MyTeam is a mode that you’re likely either really invested in or won’t go anywhere near. Similar to the FIFA Ultimate Team, MyTeam involves building up your own team through collecting cards, representing players as well as customisation options. There’s online matches as well as single player challenges, although even playing solo still requires being connected online. To get far in MyTeam involves getting more cards, upgrading cards as you use your team to earn more cash to get more cards. While it’s possible to constantly grind for the money in game to buy more card packs, the odds aren’t in your favour. You will wind up wasting a lot of time building up enough money to get dud cards, knowing the game is hoping you’ll just fork out your real money. Now I understand there will be plenty of people who enjoy this mode, they might even play it more than the other modes. There’s time-limited cards to earn for the fans, with seasons to keep you coming back. If you’re on the fence about MyTeam or have no interest in engaging with it, this year’s version will do nothing to win you over.

MyLeague is when you want to do more than play a few rounds, you want to run a league of your own. As with last year, MyLeague includes the WNBA teams. This is great, but it’s still a shame they are relegated only to this mode.

Stepping away from the court for a bit, I wanted to spend some time with MyGM  (General Manager) and manage my own team on behalf of the owner.  Choose the owner who best represents what kind of outcomes you want to try and achieve. Do they expect you to focus on being a profitable team? Is it all about winning? Every day in the calendar you’re given limited action points to spend, these points can be spent on talking with management, chatting with a player, or changing staff. Then there’s the matches, you can either play these yourself or let the AI play for you. I was only interested in the management side so I let the AI do it’s thing. 

There’s some weird product placement in the MyGM mode. Engaging in ‘chit chat’ with the players has conversations with some blatant product placement. Early conversations include buying shoes from Nike, and some very enthusiastic talk about M&Ms and Sour Patch Kids. I know it’s a bit rich to have a gripe with product placement in a game with sponsorship advertising plastered wherever possible. While it’s goofy, it’s also that little bit extra on the nose.  It’s also disappointing because I would like to see MyGM given more attention in the whole 2k21 package.

Fake social media discussing Covid 19 around December 2020 is a bit surreal, especially when it’s set for that far in the future given the constant dumpster fire that is 2020. The NBA in the real world has of course been impacted by Covid 19, just as most other sports have. The pandemic has also impacted the live data that is updated within the game for the modes that use it. It’ll be in the game, but at the time of playing it wasn’t yet there.

NBA 2k21 on the Switch doesn’t have the same dilemma as the other consoles. There’s no next-gen version popping up on a Nintendo console this year, this version is all there is. The basketball itself is solid, it alternates between looking really nice and surprisingly dated. The new shot meter will divide people, but it’s optional and one of the few changes from last year’s game. The microtransactions were previously a sore point with 2K20, and it is even sorer here. For a full-priced AAA game, you should never feel like you have to spend more money to engage with half of the game. If you really want the most up to date NBA game and the MyTeam seasons then 2K21 is the obvious choice. Otherwise, NBA 2K21 is mostly the same game you played last year.

Rating: 3/5

Some screenshots captured from the demo as the game does not allow capture directly.

The Good

+ Solid basketball action
+ The Neighbourhood, MyLeague and MyGM are interesting distractions

The Bad

- The microtransactions are still gross
- Doesn’t add much since NBA 2K20

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Final Thoughts

NBA 2k21 on the Switch doesn’t have the same dilemma as the other consoles. There’s no next-gen version popping up on a Nintendo console this year, this version is all there is. The basketball itself is solid, it alternates between looking really nice and surprisingly dated. The new shot meter will divide people, but it’s optional and one of the few changes from last year's game. The microtransactions were previously a sore point with 2K20, and it is even sorer here. For a full-priced AAA game, you should never feel like you have to spend more money to engage with half of the game. If you really want the most up to date NBA game and the MyTeam seasons then 2K21 is the obvious choice. Otherwise, NBA 2K21 is mostly the same game you played last year.

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About The Author
Paul Roberts
Lego enthusiast, Picross Master and appreciator of games.

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