2K Games brings a sequel to the NBA Jam-inspired 2-on-2 “Playgrounds” basketball series. Choose between your favourite NBA superstars of past and present and hit the courts. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 Details
Arcade style gameplay
The NBA Jam series was one of the hottest sports titles in the 90’s. I still remember the buzz when a group of kids would gather at the arcade or around someone’s home console for an epic tournament. Its over-the-top slam dunk animations and colourful commentary was pure wish fulfillment for basketball fans everywhere.
The series went away however, and while NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (and its predecessor) aren’t true sequels, they certainly aim to capture the spirit of those hugely popular games.
From a gameplay perspective, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 does just that. It embraces a cartoonish, charicature-like design—with large heads and exaggerated features. Player’s movements defy physics, leaping 10+ feet in the air and performing aerial acrobatics that would drop the jaw of an Olympian.
Ultimately, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 accomplishes what it sets out to do in this regard. It plays just like a love letter to the NBA Jam series. Albeit with all the improvements in graphics and controls that you might expect from a 2018 release.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 puts a greater focus on head-to-head online play than its previous iteration. Improvements have been made to the matchmaking process and online stability itself. It’s not hard to find a match-up with a stable connection.
Unfortunately, gone is the single-player touring campaign mode from the first game. I missed being able to tour the globe unlocking different courts and challenges in a single player capacity in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. While this was a core component of the first game, it seems to have been left behind in the shift to a greater online focus.
Instead the game pushes players to spend more time unlocking not only characters, but cosmetic embellishments as well. A big part of the draw to online play seems to be being able to show off your Steph Curry decked out in crazy 90’s pants or a funny hat.
Of course, as you may have guessed, both players and cosmetic items are locked behind a loot box system. But more on that, as well as the game’s economy shortly.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 replaces the touring playground campaign of the first game with an NBA Season mode. Here players can compete with their favourite team in a truncated season, ultimately leading to the NBA playoffs. Sounds pretty great right?
I eagerly jumped into this new mode, only to be disappointed and somewhat confused. The issue I had revolves around NBA 2K Playgrounds 2’s player-collecting and upgrading mentality. Since the game expects you to unlock and upgrade all your players, it gifts you a couple entry players for your team of choice to start your first season.
The problem is that your starting players are abysmal. Their stats are so poor that it’s almost impossible to win games early on. Even with perfect shots and wide-open looks my shooting percentage early on was hovering somewhere in the 20-30% range. Not nearly close enough to challenge for a win.
Grind or pay
This brings me to my first major problem with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2’s economy and micro-transaction design. Even if you are a skilled player, you can’t jump into the game’s single player content and find success early on. Instead the game necessitates that you either grind out matches to improve your players statistics through XP rewards, or else—you guessed it—pay for booster packs to earn better players.
The fact that right from the start NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 hinders you with a poor performance is really disappointing. It really seems like the intention is to compel players to spend even just a little more money right of the bat in order to get some competent roster members.
Unlike the previously mentioned single player mode of the first Playgrounds title, this one does not scale with XP skill and experience. Instead the expectation is that the player will gut out a long initial grind to scrape together enough XP or in-game currency to actually become competitive—or else jump straight in to its true micro-transaction driven economy.
Gotta buy ’em all
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 features an awesome roster of licensed NBA players and teams. However, don’t get excited to dive right in and start slamming with your childhood hero. Virtually the entire roster of the game is locked, and must be earned by opening packs purchased from the in-game store.
Currency can be earned by simply playing the game, but it’s an absolute crawl. Coupled with the fact that you aren’t likely to find much success early with the poor starting roster you are “gifted”, and it’s hard to feel like any real progress is being made. Right from the start it’s clear that NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 wants players to embrace a persistent spending model.
If NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is the only game you want to play for the foreseeable future, then you may just be able to enjoy unlocking and upgrading your rosters without the benefit of supplemental purchases. But if you are expecting to relive the feeling of jumping into a game like NBA Jam and playing with all your favourite superstars in a reasonable time frame, look elsewhere.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 has excellent gameplay, but locks up all its toys
It’s such a shame that NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is such a technically and visually fun game to play—but expects you to buy into a micro-transaction model to actually enjoy it. Its mechanics are solid and its art style gorgeous, but does any of that really matter if you start out with an absolutely bare roster of statistically competent players?
If you really love basketball and want to spends months grinding out content, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 may be for you. Personally, I’m going to be digging out my Super Nintendo copy of NBA Jam and making my outrageous dunks on more even terms.
+ Fun arcade style gamplay
+ Funky art style
– Mainly reliant on microtransactions
– Locked rosters
– Bare game modes
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF NBA 2K PLAYGROUNDS 2
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5