Thursday, February 28, 2019

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

For the past month or so, I've dribbled, dunked, shot, stole balls, pushed other players, and blocked shots like Michael Jordan in his glory years. Obviously I didn't do this in real life, but I did do so in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. While the NBA season continues, why don't we take to the court together with this in-depth review of a surprisingly solid b-ball romp?

The court is your playground, so let's play some ball, y'all.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 brings with it high-octane, 2-on-2 b-ball with lots of engaging arcade action. Starting off, you get some Card Packs to open to unlock some random players to select from to play as. As you'll see as you begin playing, each player has their own stats based on how good, bad or ordinary they are at 2-pointers, 3-pointers, dunking, blocking, stealing, and running without blowing a lot of stamina.

There's an experience and leveling up mechanic for each player. To begin, it's as simple as playing continuously as a given player and playing well. If you want to advance a given player beyond the Gold rank, you need to complete a checklist of objectives for them, such simple tasks like performing two dunks in a game or doing five crossovers in a game to more challenging objectives like blocking two dunks or scoring five 3-pointers in one game.

Watch out. There are legends on the court!
As you level up players, they become more skillful in games. For instance, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 uses a gauge system when a player attempts to take their shot. Stopping the gauge as close to the middle of the green area (as opposed to the red, orange, or yellow) results in a better likelihood of the ball going in the net. Bronze-level players will more likely have a low 2-pointer stat number. As they level up to silver, gold, and then possibly diamond (done by completing all of a player's objectives), their stat numbers improve, allowing them better chances to score 2-pointers.

Fly like an eagle into the future--the future being a slam dunk worth two points.
This leveling up system can be a bit of a pain in the butt, though. For one, every player you get starts out with weak stats. Sure, they can be somewhat competent or even excel in one or two areas of the game, but they'll be lesser players all the same--even if they're Legends or Epic players like Kevin Durant or Allan Iverson, for example. This usually results in a lot of missed shots, frustratingly so, and a weak on-court experience. Furthermore, if you wish to play online with your favorite players and actually be competitive, you'll most likely need high leveled characters just to stand a chance. The player imbalances can result in some really lopsided games with one team's players shooting 3-pointers with ease while the other team struggles with simple layups and jump shots.

Still, when you get comfortable with the controls--which truthfully take some getting used to--and you level up your players enough, you'll find yourself easily laying up shots, performing finger roll baskets, killer dunks that have players leaping high into the air and jumping off the rim to slam the ball through the basket, blocking shots and even the occasional dunk attempt, pleasing the crowd with team and self-alley-oops, and much more. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 succeeds in the most important area of all--it's just plain darn fun, and I say that as someone with a passing interesting in basketball and the NBA at best. Perhaps I'd be more interested if St. Louis had an NBA team to call its own... Just sayin'.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 contains plenty of content to it to make for an arcade basketball game that'll have you spending a lot of time on the dozen themed courts within the game. Whether you're having an Exhibition game on a steamboat in St. Louis (See? At least 2K and Saber Interactive didn't let me down) or having a 3-point contest in the middle of the Outback in the Australia court, you're going to be delighted with the incredible hustling and bustling environments and backgrounds on each court.

Light up the already lit up Seoul court even more with some skillful shooting.
Meanwhile, Season Mode offers a a little over a dozen games to play as your favorite team, selecting a duo of players on the roster to take to the court and compete against other teams in your own conference. This leads to the NBA Playoffs, the Conference Finals, and then the NBA Finals themselves--all of which are a best 2 out of 3 set of series. Winning a championship as a team unlocks a special Legend to add to your collection of players. There can be a bit of a grind to play through 14 or 15 game seasons plus the playoffs to earn new Legends, but it's another optional goal to shoot for in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2.

This lottery pick froze the other team's net. They'll have to hit the net with three shots to unfreeze it.
Exhibition Games can use custom rules, such as choosing your court and basketball used, game time, how many seconds are on the shot clock, and whether lottery rules are used and which ones. Lottery rules include temporary things like two times the points for dunks and three-pointers, infinite stamina, a sped up shot clock for your opponents, and a ball that become caught in a blaze, allowing you to sink a shot from anywhere on the court--as long as your shot isn't blocked. All of these bonuses are temporary and randomly selected as rewards when the blue basketball meter on the bottom corner of the screen is fully filled. This is performed by successful shots and steals on the court by your team.

A big concern I had with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 was how microtransactions would interfere with the game. There are two currency within NBA 2K Playgrounds 2--Baller Bucks, which are earned from normal play, and Golden Bucks, which can be earned from completing daily challenges, earned from opening Gold Card Packs, and yes, purchasing with real world money. Getting Card Packs is performed by spending Baller Bucks, which come naturally and more often than Golden Bucks. If you are wanting to earn every player right off the back, you'll have to spend some actual money to purchase enough Golden Bucks to unlock the entire roster.

He's on FIRE! Wait. Wrong NBA game series.
Otherwise, if you're just like me, and were in no hurry to unlock everyone, you can just play through the game normally, hoping to unlock NBA players you're familiar with. No doubt NBA fans will want the best players in their roster, such as Lebron James or Michael Jordan--both players I lucked out on getting very early. Therefore, the RNG nature of opening Card Packs for the hopes of getting the NBA all-stars you want to play as can be maddening when you keep opening packs and get players you don't want rather than the ones you do. Still, if you have the patience to do so, by playing the game organically and completing daily challenges and opening Card Packs to earn Golden Bucks, you'll eventually get enough to unlock the entire roster by spending the 4,000 needed of the game's premium currency through ordinary play and perseverance.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 more than satisfies my desire for NBA Jam-like game that doesn't merely copy the formula, but instead adds to and iterates on it. The experience on the court is fast, fluid, fun, and exciting, having a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but then easy to shoot and move like an NBA pro. While the level up, player unlocking, and microtransaction systems in place gave me some pause, overall, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 sinks its shot from mid-court for an amazing three-pointer.

[SPC Says: B+]

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