Now under the 2K flag, Saber has followed up on their popular 2017 arcade basketballer with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2.
When I was playing and reviewing NBA 2K19 and NBA Live 19, 2K’s acquisition of the Playgrounds franchise suddenly made perfect sense. Where 2K19 leaned to the sim end of the spectrum more than ever (rather than compete with NBA Live’s more fun-oriented approach), Playgrounds is 2K’s perfect answer for those who think that the core franchise is too intricate a simulation for their tastes. Playgrounds goes all-arcade, leaving NBA Live 19 as sort of a middle ground between the two.
An obvious homage to the likes of NBA Jam and NBA Street when it came out last year, Saber Interactive’s NBA Playgrounds was a good first attempt, though a little rough around the edges. It got better with each (DLC) update though, and this year’s sequel starts out at the high level where the first game left off (meaning there’s excellent online multiplayer right from the start).
There are obvious improvements in other areas as well though, which includes the game’s visual polish. This applies to the in-game graphics, but can also be seen in the menu system, which looks a ton better than last year’s bare bones approach. This goes hand in hand with several new gameplay options as well, such as increased options for cooperative play and a short (and relatively bare bones) season mode that even includes a playoff system.
The audiovisual presentation is about what you’d expect if you’ve ever played any other arcade basketball games, including the first Playgrounds. The audio presentation isn’t as streamlined at what you’ll see in NBA 2K19, but Playgrounds 2 does feature a choice of several different commentators – that way you’re not getting that “boomshakalaka, again?!” effect as quickly.
There is an impressive roster of current and classic players included, though I wonder what 2K’s post-launch DLC strategy will be in terms of new players. Last year’s edition got regular updates to the roster as well as paid DLC packs, but Playgrounds 2 launches at a higher base price point which may hint at a different DLC strategy (though free updates have been announced already).
What isn’t free is the option to unlock the entire roster all at once – you can choose to either invest 10 dollars/euros to do this or go through a bit of a slow grind of a process where you gradually unlock cards that give you new players to hit the courts with. There’s another slow-ish grind in place as well, and that one can’t be escaped or bought your way out of – upgrading your players and their skills is a slow process that will likely force to you stick with a smaller group of players for a while, just so you can upgrade them to a decent level.
Luckily, despite these annoyances, the on court action is still a lot of fun. There’s room for improvement in how little the players differentiate in their moves and playing styles here (2K19 players will know what I mean) and that would give the roster a bit more personality, but the emphasis is on fun and that’s definitely there.