There can always be the main NBA game with realistic character models and a focus on giving the fans accurate physics and gameplay elements, but it doesn’t mean that a more eccentric and arcade-like experience shouldn’t be attempted for basketball. NBA Jam has done it in the past, so it was time to see this attempted again. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 has deftly managed to seize an opportunity for this generation. Despite offering wacky looking player models and some fun arcade gameplay elements, there is a bizarre focus on microtransactions which leads to a bad outlook on the general quality of the game.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a sequel that is launching after just one year. The difference this time is that it is now backed by a prominent publisher, Take-Two Interactive, who additionally have their yearly NBA 2K series. Their games are notorious for microtransactions-laden gameplay, so just as most fans feared, this has turned out accurate for NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 as well. It is tragic to see, though, because the gameplay is incredibly fun and especially shines in a co-op session with a partner.
There is a rather rough history for NBA Playgrounds when it comes to the Nintendo Switch. This is because the first game was in a rather terrible shape during the launch period for the Nintendo Switch. It wasn’t receiving any updates for a while and there was no online support, despite multiple promises by the developer. This led to some outrage as expected, and there was rightfully some skepticism over the state of the sequel when Nintendo Switch ended up as one of the platforms.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 though, is in a more decent shape for its launch, even for the Nintendo Switch version. It appears the developers gathered the feedback about lacking content and gameplay modes and made it their focus this time for the sequel. The result is the gameplay hasn’t really witnessed any massive changes as far as iterative sequels go, but the content has been significantly expanded. There are various gameplay modes right from the beginning, and yes, you can play online on the Nintendo Switch in both offline and online co-op.
Initially, the game gives a favorable impression because it looks striking, plays great, and overall it is tons of fun. But as you dig deeper into each gameplay mode, it becomes understandable that there is a big hurdle in enjoying most of the content. It is the microtransactions offered in the form of card packs. They range from standard cards marked as bronze to epic and legendary cards. Each card pack unlocks a different type of NBA player depending on the ranking. It is a terrible practice that urges the user to invest real-life money just to acquire and unlock their favorite NBA Stars, even if you can technically obtain these cards using the in-game currency.
That said, I don’t think they are as forced as in some of the other games. They appear more as a shortcut if you can’t bother playing the game enough to unlock more of the NBA Stars. Keep in mind that you start with most of them locked and will gradually have to play more to get card packs and unlock them. This means limited options to use players in the start even if the gameplay stands unaffected. A few card packs are given at the beginning that can allow you to unlock some players. Others are gradually unlocked the more you invest time in the various gameplay modes.
There is inevitably a grind to unlock your favorite NBA Star, and it is typically a letdown too, but if you enjoy the game then it is all part of the experience. There are in fact a couple of ways to attempt to unlock them in the game. The microtransaction method is to purchase them using gold coins, which obviously means spending some money. The free solution is to unlock them by using the in-game currency that you get by simply playing the various modes. Since NBA players are randomly packed into a set of card packs, it is possible to end up with duplicates as well, although in such cases, there will usually be some benefit to getting the same player.
When it comes to the gameplay modes, they might seem thin on paper but offer an adequate amount of fun if you can find a friend to challenge in offline or online co-op. The gameplay options feel limited because of the focus on two-player teams instead of the complete roster, but the experience is still enjoyable. I have played many heated games in co-op, some of which were completely focused on the one side dominating the match until the other starts to accumulate points and ends up winning it in a complete upset. These are all thrilling to experience especially when you are the one in the lead during a comeback. The gameplay is easy to grasp even for a beginner and lets you attempt super moves and throws with simple button presses. Taking control of the ball is satisfying if you can score points one after another.
Nintendo Switch sadly suffers from a disappointing performance in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. The frame rate can tank especially when dunking the ball in the net with a glorious super move that can invoke particle effects. When this happens, there is always a mild stutter which is annoying. Visually, the game maintains a murky presentation on the screen, so I wouldn’t classify this one as aesthetically pleasing. The art style possesses a distinct cartoon-like appearance for the player models, and the background is nicely animated, which helps reduce its flaws with some of the post-process effects.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: NBA arcade action is back with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2! Pick your team, get ready to jam, and Ball Without Limits!
Final Score - 7/10
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 brings back the arcade experience in its sequel with some subtle but welcome improvements to gameplay and features more content. It suffers from a terrible player unlock system fueled by microtransactions, which is thankfully still optional and not a necessity to enjoy the game.