If you’d asked me to review NBA 2K18 on release, I may have been too angry to utter a sentence. Some game-crashing bugs and save-game errors completely marred the experience. The game of NBA basketball is a long one (four twelve-minute quarters, to be precise) with 82 games in a season. Finding that your game save is corrupt after playing hours will make you want to throw your Switch against the wall.
It was a shame, because moment-to-moment, NBA 2K18 is a promising package. The fact that it’s now playable portable is something to be celebrated. Thankfully, most bugs seem to have been ironed out post-launch and the game can now be assessed as a complete product. So is it a slam dunk or does it miss the net entirely?
Much was made in how the Switch version of FIFA 18, while stellar, was lacking in many features that other current-gen versions offered. In many ways NBA 2K18 is an example of a Switch port done right. All major modes: MyGM, MyCareer, MyTeam; they’re all there just like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions. There is little to separate them apart from the obvious graphical differences. But, although not always consistent, graphically on the Switch it’s not an ugly game.
Being a big fan of basketball and a regular to the series, I was a little concerned this would be the last-gen version with an updated roster. I was pleasantly surprised to find the only difference that I really noticed were that it runs at 30 frames per second and the jerseys are a little more static than in other versions. As a player of last year’s version on PS4, I quickly got over these differences and was having a blast.
Developer Visual Concepts said that bringing the game to the console was a “gargantuan task”. Well, it certainly seems to have paid off. The game plays a smooth, fun game of basketball. It looks and feels just like the real thing, with some particularly impressive animations. Once you mastered the timing of the shot-stick and release, swishing a three-pointer feels as satisfying as hammering in a dunk over a defender.
While there is a learning curve, especially to those new to the sport, it’s easy enough to pick up. But it’s also particularly deep for veterans who are used to running plays like the pick and roll. There’s also the option to play two-player using separate Joy-Con with simplified controls which, while you could get used to it, feel a bit alien if you’ve played with standard controls. It’s always nice to have the option, though.
The presentation is excellent, with several in-game commentators taking it in turns each game, and there’s some fun pre-game chat from Shaquille O’Neal and company. It’s an extra layer to the game that makes it really feel a part of the full NBA experience. If you squint, you could even be watching the real thing. This does mean plenty of in-game advertising, however. If you’re familiar with American sports you probably won’t mind, but it can be a little jarring when they’re talking about the importance of hydrating with Gatorade.
The real strength of the Switch version over other consoles is the all-important portability. Being able to play the best basketball sim on the go has changed the way I play. Chipping away at a long season on the bus or on my lunch break has revolutionised the time I spend with NBA 2K18. You can even play while watching actual basketball on TV, if that’s your thing. If your favourite team is performing as poorly as mine in the real world, why not pretend they’re great in the virtual one?
If you want to run the team as a General Manager, then the MyGM mode is for you. Here you control a retired player who’s been given the call to run a team, a new story element which may or may not be to your taste. A lot of it is pretty corny, with plenty of weak jokes. Some of the fun of the past MyGM modes were making up the story in your head – the big trades, winning a championship, drafting a superstar – I’m not sure if having a little melodrama was really necessary. Also, a few times you’re asked to make an important decision and it’ll just ignore the choice you made anyway. Perhaps that’s more like the real world of a General Manager?
Cringey jokes and laughable story continue in the divisive MyPlayer mode. Here you control just one player rather than the whole team, the up-and-coming star DJ, who, funnily enough, is a former DJ. Your character is designed by you, but unfortunately, the face-scanning app still isn’t running on the Switch yet, which is a real shame as it’s been available on all other platforms since launch.
In a world where we’ve had two pretty impressive, mature stories in FIFA’s The Journey, the narrative is poor in comparison (although, FIFA 18 on Switch didn’t even feature The Journey, so one-nil, EA Sports). It’s often so cartoony that you don’t feel like you’re playing as a genuine NBA player, certainly not in the same way that past MyCareer modes did. There are some laughable nicknames (we’re looking at you, Hot Sizzles) and it all seems like it’s trying really hard to be cool. But it’s not just the odd characters you meet that make for a weird experience, it’s also the Disneyland-like MMO world you live in – The Neighbourhood.
The Neighbourhood is the headline feature of this year’s 2K. It’s essentially a place to spend money. Not necessarily real money, but if you’re interested, you’re welcome to do so thanks to microtransactions. Levelling up your player, buying shoes or getting a haircut all cost VC, the currency that you earn when playing games or doing challenges. You walk your customised character around the game-world with other real player’s avatars, wearing different T-shirts or… ooh, I wonder how much those shoes cost?
They call this ‘The Road to 99’ – the intention being you level-up your player from 60 to 99. It’s a time-sink that some people will love and some despise. Personally, this mode doesn’t really appeal to me, and the whole idea of walking around in a virtual shopping centre makes me feel queasy. It’s a shame, because the actual MyPlayer gameplay is just as fun as the standard game, and there’s a whole heap of content to keep you entertained.
There is a flaw with both MyCareer and the card-collecting, Ultimate Team-style MyTeam mode – you must be connected to the internet to enjoy them. In fact, I found out the hard way. I was so used to playing through a few quarters of a game, sleeping my Switch, then continuing on the go, that I was shocked to learn that, unlike MyGM, if you disconnect from the internet you get booted out of both of these modes. This robs the game of its biggest draw, the portability, and it may be a deal-breaker depending on your play-style.
At its core, NBA 2K18 is excellent and incredibly fun to play. It’s also heaped-full of features. You might not like them all, but there’s a mode here for everyone. It’s a massive achievement of a Switch port that should be lauded, however, the microtransaction-heavy game modes may leave a sour taste in your mouth.
If you love basketball, being able to play the best simulation of the sport on the go makes this an essential purchase. Being able to play NBA 2K18 on the bus, or on your lunch break is a dream. Is just a shame its not always the most coherent one.