NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Tomas Barry 25.11.2018

Review for NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 on Nintendo Switch

In the early '90s, there was a huge surge of basketball games, with series such as NBA Showdown, NBA Live, and NBA Action finding huge success on the SEGA Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, as well as in the arcades. While, at the time, most of these titles competed to be the most realistic and authentic representation of the sport, 1993's NBA Jam was special because it strayed into more exaggerated territory. Despite featuring licenced players and teams, it saw players defy gravity by leaping high into the air with ease, and performing high-flying slam-dunks, which were a real blast to pull off. Making three baskets in a row also triggered an 'on-fire' mode, where the player had unlimited turbo and more lethal offensive capabilities. This over-the-top formula was a massive hit, and NBA Jam became one of the games of its generation. Unsurprisingly, then, plenty of series have tried to emulate its style.

Before the Playgrounds series, there were spiritual successor projects, like EA's NBA Street from the early 2000s. They featured a very similar arcade emphasis, as well as an exaggerated sense of style. Although several entries were produced, they all paled in comparison to the quality of the original NBA Jam. Unfortunately, that was also the true of the first NBA Playgrounds, which released on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One back in May 2017. Thankfully, developer Saber Interactive has returned, just over a year later, with a second iteration that aims to offer something more robust. Does NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 learn the lessons of its predecessor or does it falter in a similar way? Well, the good news is that there are some notable additions, which address some of the most glaring omissions seen in the original. In Playgrounds 2 there's finally online co-op play, as well as an offline seasons mode, and both add a lot of depth and longevity to the package overall.

However, there's also a lot bad news when it comes to Playgrounds 2. One thing that doesn't exactly complement its exaggerated brand of basketball is microtransactions, amped up two-fold in terms of their intensity compared to last year's original instalment. As soon as players boot the game, they are bombarded by information about in-game currency, used to purchase player packs. Imposing such an ecosystem, especially in such cynical fashion, across successive iterations, seems particularly ridiculous for a game that costs over £20 on all platforms. There's certainly no point in pretending that the incessant salesmanship aspect of the title doesn't lower expectations. It feels inherently like a pay-to-win mobile venture, which is constantly trying to squeeze microtransactions out of the player. The title even has the audacity to dangle carrots like instantly unlocking the entire player roster for 5,000 gold coins.

Screenshot for NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 on Nintendo Switch

That's the major problem with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. Its microtransaction system, plus the under-lying pay-to-win philosophy, is overly prominent layers of the experience, detracting from the on-court action in far too many ways. Whether you refuse to shell out another buck and resign yourself to an overly tedious grind to earn credits, or end up giving in and paying for unlocks, there's a shallowness to the experience because of this structure that can't be shaken off. The currency ecosystem the title uses is unnecessarily complex and elaborate. There's one currency, which is earned by playing, which is for purchasing card packs that contain a random selection of players to be added to your team, but these can also be bought with real money. Then there are gold coins, which unlock aesthetic items like clothing and other elements of customisations. These credits can also be bought with real money, which the game unsurprisingly encourages. Unfortunately, none of this is supported by genuinely engrossing gameplay.

The two-versus-two mechanics certainly works well for local and online multiplayer, particularly on Switch, as the single Joy-Con holds up surprisingly well in that domain. However, the gameplay is nowhere near as rewarding or satisfying to play as NBA Jam was, nor 2K's hardcore simulation, NBA 2K19, for that matter. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is largely the same as the first instalment. There are some minor tweaks, such as a visible shot meter, which makes precision shooting easier. Elsewhere, the new Season Mode may add longevity but it's relentlessly repetitive and ought to be much more fleshed out. Overall, the fundamental gameplay seems to be neglected, with the microtransactions taking priority. It's just not the addictive formula of exaggerated basketball action that NBA Jam was. Consequently, it's hard to see why anyone should cough up real cash for player packs and golden coin currency. The title's bright cartoonish aesthetic is eye-catching and strikes its own style, but that's not exactly in line with the atmosphere of the original series.

Thus, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 seems quite a bland experience, and a missed opportunity to do something playful with an official NBA licence. Having over 400 NBA players, from the likes of legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, to current stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Jayson Tatum, certainly is appealing for collector basketball enthusiasts. That said, there's no way a player could feasibly grind their way towards the required card pack credits to access them all, so the entire system is built on this pushy credit economy that's always reminding the player they could make life easier by giving up a little more cash. A full-blown game taking such a cynical line like this is something most gamers will disprove of. Moreover, a properly focused spiritual successor to NBA Jam could be insanely great, if the developer approached it with the right attitude. Sadly, that's not the case here.

Screenshot for NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Despite the addition of four-player online games, improved matchmaking, head-to-head three-point contests, new Season and Playgrounds Championship modes, all-new playgrounds, plus a roster of over 400 past and present NBA players, it's difficult to recommend NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. The title sticks with last year's established formula too much, and doubles down on the microtransactions aspects whilst it's at it. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay just doesn't justify such an extravagant ecosystem wrapper, so only real NBA and collector fans will see the appeal in potentially putting more cash down for the best players. Overall, Playgrounds 2 is lacklustre and feels too much like a mobile game franchise. It takes advantage of its audience and never offers enough satisfaction in return for the money, or the grind sessions. Ultimately, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a bad game, and certainly no spiritual successor. Stick with NBA 2K19 or NBA Jam itself.

Developer

2K Sports

Publisher

2K Sports

Genre

Sport

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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