Wednesday, October 24, 2018

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Review (XONE)

Maybe we've been doing it wrong our whole lives but isn't the point of arcade-style sports games to be easy to pick up and play with your friends? Unfortunately, if you're hoping to do that with the brand new NBA2K Playgrounds 2 I have some bad news for you. The gameplay itself is fine but the problem is a weird grindy player unlock and progression system that requires a surprising amount of work before it is really ready for multiplayer showtime - time and effort that probably won't really be worth it for most casual players. Continue reading for all of the details in our full NBA2K Playgrounds 2 review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: 2K Sports
  • Developer: Saber Interactive
  • ESRB Rating: "E" For Everyone
  • Genre: Arcade Basketball
  • Pros: Decent visuals; fun multiplayer
  • Cons: Unlocking players; leveling up players; microtransactions; kinda boring solo
  • MSRP: $30 (+$10 to unlock everything ...) 
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Playgrounds 2 at
Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, a scenario where you buy a brand new basketball game and take it home all excited to play it but when you start it up none of the players are actually available to use. Instead, you're greeted with card packs that you have to either grind for in-game currency or spend real world money to buy in order to unlock new players. It takes about 30-minues of playing to earn enough in-game currency for a low-tier pack and each pack only has 4 players in it. Oh, and you can (and will) get the same player cards over and over rather than new players. Now, multiply this process by the hundreds of current NBA players and legends available in the game so it will take hours and hours and hours and hours to unlock everyone. Sounds like a nightmare, right? OK. Open your eyes. SURPRISE! It's real! This is exactly what NBA2K Playgounds 2 is! Or, if you don't want to grind for hours and hours to unlock everyone, you can pay $10 straight up to unlock all of the players immediately, which is on top of the $30 you already paid for the game of course.

Even when you unlock players NBA2K Playgrounds 2 has another nasty surprise waiting for you - you have to individually level up the players to make them worth a damn. Players start out at bronze level and can be leveled up to diamond. Each rung up the ladder increases their stats a bit. What this means is that pretty much everyone sucks when you first start playing, but if you use the same players for several games in a row to level them up they start to round into the form and stats you'd expect from the real world player. Players also earn XP if you get a repeat of their card when you open a pack.

Read other arcade sports reviews - Mutant League Football, Bush Hockey League

This whole game - and apparently the first NBA Playgrounds did this too so it isn't as if 2K stunk up the joint by itself when it took over publishing of this one - just seems to be built on a weird wobbly foundation where they thought they needed to incentivize playing - the grind to unlock players and level them up - rather than expecting people to play it because it was fun. Arcade sports games are supposed to be fast and simple and easy to pick up and play so casual and hardcore players can both jump in and have a good time. I just can't imagine most casual players wanting to invest the time required to make this game truly enjoyable. 

The problem with this is obvious - if you invite friends over for an evening of NBA2K Playgrounds 2 you aren't going to have everyone unlocked or leveled up which makes the game way, way, way less fun. Even if you pay the $10 to unlock all of the players they still won't be leveled up so the actual on-court action won't be as fun as it should be. Maybe if you just want to play with one team and one set of players the grind isn't too bad, but this game, like pretty much every other arcade sports games, is way more fun in multiplayer than it is solo. Honestly, it's pretty darn boring playing solo. If you want to have fun in multiplayer, however, you have to grind it out for a while to get there and it isn't especially enjoyable. This is just a bad plan all around.

If the gameplay was phenomenal perhaps all of this could be forgiven, but NBA2K Playgrounds 2's on court action is really just OK. It's definitely arcade-style 2-on-2 basketball with laser precision passing and monstrous dunks - players with a high enough dunk rating can dunk from anywhere inside the 3-point line - but it isn't mind-blowingly fun or different from other arcade basketball titles. It isn't as stylish and smooth as NBA Street and it isn't as fast and accessible as NBA Jam. It just kind of "is" without anything in particular that sets the game above and beyond the titles that came before it. 

The only aspect of the gameplay that really does stand out is the shooting which takes both user skill and player stats into account to make it a little deeper than the "hold the shoot button and release at the top of the player's jump" like in every other basketball game. You see, when you press the shoot button in NBA2K Playgrounds 2 a little meter appears onscreen and you have to release the shot button when the marker is in the sweet spot on the meter. Different players have different sized sweet spots which makes it harder or easier to sink three-pointers or other shots. It's interesting and not all that hard to get used to, but it is also a little bit counter to the idea of arcade-style sports games being easy to pick up and play. And when you consider that all of the players suck to start with and have smaller than you'd like sweet spots until you level them up, it dings the multiplayer value. Yes, it always comes back to multiplayer.

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 isn't hurting for modes to play, at least. In fact, there are lots of single-player season modes, exhibition, and local and online multiplayer modes to play and all of them give you player XP and in-game currency to unlock stuff with. There is also a surprisingly fun 3-Point Shootout mode that utilizes the new shooting mechanic in an interesting way. No, the problem here isn't a lack of things to do in order to unlock stuff, it is more a lack of motivation to actually do most of them because the gameplay is only OK and playing solo is boring. By the time you unlock and level up the players you want you'll probably be burned out on the game anyway. I said it before - this was just a bad plan.

I wish I liked NBA2K Playgrounds 2 more than I do but it just doesn't hold up when compared to other arcade basketball games. The OK gameplay paired with the ridiculous player unlock and level-up system just make it tough to get especially excited about even if it does have plenty of modes and above average presentation because you won't want to play it solo and the multiplayer, which is usually the reason to play these games in the first place, is severely hamstrung by the aforementioned unlocks. I can't recommend it at all if you intend only to play solo and players looking for multiplayer fun should wait for a price drop.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.