From publishers 2K comes the latest installment of the more outrageous basketball game – NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is almost a homage to the NBA Jam games from many years ago. It’s silly and it’s clearly not trying to compete with its more realistic 2K19 counterpart. But, is it a bit of fun on the side, or is it just too ridiculous?
With a price tag of just £24.99, it isn’t selling itself as a AAA title, and instead NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is here to let you have fun with friends, playing some 2-on-2 basketball as your favourite players from the NBA. When it comes to these players, they are all caricatures and have exaggerated attributes; Anthony Davis has a crazy-huge mono-brow and James Harden a great bushy beard, you get the idea. One thing everyone does have, though, is a huge head. Like, really huge! It does look strange but I guess it makes all the players immediately recognisable and plays into the fact that the game really isn’t too serious.
There is also a glorious range of diverse playgrounds (courts) to play on. Each one is colourful and feels genuinely alive with passers by walking just off court and a range of activities happening in the background. This isn’t distracting though, it just makes this crazy game a little more realistic.
In terms of game modes, you get what you expect from a mid-priced game; basic exhibition matches, a season mode where you can take your team to the playoffs and win the trophy, a randomly placed 3-point contest (but no dunk contest) and then the Playgrounds Championship, an online mode where you can take on other teams head to head to dominate the Playgrounds. There’s a disappointingly low amount of modes to chose from though and they all feel very samey; there just isn’t the depth you’d expect. Seeing as NBA 2K19 has such an unbelievable amount of choice and has so many different levels of detail and customisation, basketball fans have been spoilt, so when other games don’t have the same level of immersion, disappointment arises. I know this sort of game is meant to be a bit of fun and isn’t trying to be 2K19, but when it has 3 modes that are pretty much exactly the same and then a 3-point contest mode thrown in just for the hell of it, it just feels lazy.
Gameplay wise, and again, it’s as you expect. It’s very clearly a throwback to the old school NBA Jam and NBA Street Homecourt titles, where gravity doesn’t seem to exist and movements are quick, arcadey and just generally very unrealistic. The movements are slick and each player can perform crazy acrobatics when they flip in the air to dunk or almost breakdance during a crossover. It’s awesome and is always great to have such a variety.
This is fun for a while and serves as a great distraction from other, more simulation style of basketball games such as NBA 2K19 and NBA Live. Picking up the basics is simple enough as they are the same as every other basketball game I’ve played, but when you want to practice and hone these skills, you’ll find yourself being sold short. There isn’t a “practice” mode and instead, the tutorial modes are just images of how to perform said manoeuvre. It tells you what to do just fine, but I want a less pressured environment than a full flung game to practice the moves I’m about to learn for the first time.
Going back to the opening experience of Playgrounds 2, and the first thing that will greet you are the card packs. I was given 2 Bronze packs, a VIP Swag pack and a Gold pack. Now, this immediately started to ring some alarm bells. I’ve gone deep with NBA 2K19 and was frustrated as to how heavily that game relied on micro-transactions in order for you to get better quicker. If the entire game starts this way then how much is Playgrounds 2 going to rely on them? It turns out an unfathomable amount. In fact, a disgusting amount!
There are two ways to earn and spend in Playgrounds 2 – you earn Baller Bucks (terrible name) by playing games and can then spend them on items marked with the Baller Bucks icon. You can also earn Golden Bucks (slightly better name), by buying coin packs, opening character packs, burning swag items and competing in online games. Then, the same as Baller Bucks (sighs) you can purchase items which have a Golden Bucks icon. Sounds simple enough right? Well, even though micro-transactions are something that should never exist, that’s where the issue comes in… it takes FOREVER to earn the most minute of Baller Bucks and then you realise it will cost thousands of Bucks to unlock even the most basic of packs! It’s not just down to pure luck as to whether you get anything good or not either and this is highly frustrating. I wanted to play as my favourite players and I wasn’t going to pay any more real money for them so it is all a case of grinding away and keeping fingers crossed that I actually got a player I wanted. Poor form, 2K. Very poor form indeed.
This whole ordeal has left a very bad taste in my mouth – in fact, it has put me off NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 in a big way. The gameplay itself is fun and it’s a great throwback to NBA Jam, allowing you to have some fun for a few hours either with friends or online to dominate the playgrounds and become number 1. However, the grind needed to get any good players just isn’t worth the work. I don’t want to spend any more money than I’ve already paid to just have some kind of choice when picking a team, especially when luck then comes into the equation. It’s a rather disgusting way of making you spend money and I hope 2K learns from their mistakes.