The NBA 2K franchise is a gaming behemoth. It’s so successful, in fact, that EA have taken NBA Live’s off the court and are letting it sulk on the sidelines until the next generation. Much of that success has been built off the huge numbers of players playing on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but there is another…
That other is Nintendo’s cute and companionable Switch, and where the hybrid console might be left with “Legacy” editions for other sports franchises, 2K have somehow taken the entire NBA 2K20 experience and squished it down to fit. Just as with the last few years, fans will be glad to know that they’ve done a pretty damn good job.
“Where are the differences then?” I hear you cry, and it’ll surprise absolutely no one to find out that they’re mostly visual. Anyone expecting the cutest console out there to match up to ones that are eight times the size are going to have a hard time in the real world. So sure, the Xbox One and PS4 version’s character models literally shine this year thanks to the worryingly realistic sweat and even more realistic facial animations, and the Switch version doesn’t quite hit those highs, but it has enough visual pizazz and puts in a pleasingly consistent 30fps. You won’t worry about the difference for very long.
What you lose visually, you make up for in portability. Every aspect, from MyCareer through to 2KTV is present here – for good and for bad – and being able to play on the move is going to be a huge boon for NBA 2K fans. It’s worth remembering about the series often-ridiculous need for an online connection though; quite why MyCareer is stuck as an online-only mode I’ll genuinely never know, and it’s more painful than ever on the Switch when you want to take it on the go. Still, you’ll find a ton of basketball action in MyLeague and MyGM, both of which you can play anywhere, anytime.
MyCareer is this year’s cinematic story mode, and it very much relies on you being familiar with how to play the game; you might want to get used to what NBA 2K20 expects of you on the court before diving in. As ever you start off building your character, and this year sees your character build become more integral than ever.
Once you’ve selected your position you’re given a choice of pie charts – it’s more fun than that sounds – that dictate your skill breakdown, allowing you to choose where your abilities lie in terms of finishing, playmaking, shooting and defence, as well as your physical profile. From there you can enhance specific areas with your character’s potential, which you’ll hopefully grow into further down the line. At the end of the process the game will spit out your player type, and with a near-endless number of potential types available to you this year’s MyCareer drives the level of personalisation further than ever before. It almost begs you to run through it multiple times. It’s good enough that you can.
Executive produced by Lebron James, and featuring a star-studded cast that includes Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson – blink and you’ll miss them – it’s a solid sports movie trip through your journey to the NBA. In the sports game pantheon of narratives it’s not quite up there with Madden’s Longshot, but it’s definitely involving enough, has excellent production values, and is perfect for really bedding into the game. It’s just a shame then that you’re stuck with it as an online-only mode.
The broadcast-aping presentation throughout NBA 2K20 remains stellar, from the crunching hip-hop to the voice-over work from Kevin Harlan and Steve Smith, and you might well get a kick out of the half time show as well. Occasionally it feels like it’s dragging its feet, drawing out cuts to free throws and the like, but nothing’s closer to making you feel like you’re a real part of the action. Overall, it’s not that nippy moving between menus and gameplay, and this is probably the biggest concession to moving to the Switch.
Crucially, NBA 2K20 on Switch plays a brilliant game of basketball. Player’s look and behave more realistically than ever before, with the roster of real-life NBA stars boasting stats and behaviour that feel authentic. It’s a game that asks a lot of you, particularly in terms of playing and thinking like an actual NBA player, but it’s amongst the most rewarding sports game experiences out there.
It’s immensely gratifying to finally see the full WNBA line-up in an NBA 2K game for the first time, and they’ve gone above and beyond to make it more than a mere re-skin of the men’s sport. With a completely different commentary team at work in the women’s league, new animations, and an emphasis on the alternate way player’s handle and the game flows, it’s a basketball game in its own right. It’s a shame that we’re not quite in a place where MyCareer can accommodate female players, but it’s hopefully coming in the future.
And then there is the returning MyTeam mode, and like EA’s Ultimate Team it’s here to try and separate you from more of your money than you’ve already spent. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop it from being fun, and the player card-collecting is as compelling as ever, with a raft of challenges and play modes to draw you in ever deeper.
That obviously leads to VC, 2K’s ubiquitous virtual currency that’s tied into both the MyTeam and MyCareer modes. With the emphasis on creating multiple character builds it feels like that’s 2K’s real play for your cash, but in the meantime they’ve upped the amount you can earn and win elsewhere. Alongside the currency you earn from playing the game, which includes daily and weekly bonuses and Endorsements which can both pay out in a big way. You can earn free VC in the MyNBA 2K20 mobile game or create a ‘farming’ character to help bring in some of those virtual bucks to spend on your main character. It’s as pervasive as ever, but the grind seems to be better balanced than it has done the last two years for those not spending real money. MyTeam is the mode that suffers most from a pay-to-win ethos, but, all things considered, it didn’t hurt my time with the game.