For those keeping score, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 recently released on digital and physical formats for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. It was announced back in July that 2k had acquired the publishing rights to the game, which many hoped would add extra prestige and shine upon release. The original NBA Playgrounds had it’s share of issues at launch, but over a series of updates managed to earn a great score from yours truly. I’ve been looking forward to what developer Saber Interactive would add to Playgrounds 2, sad to say there are more issues than improvements as the game stands now. But much like the first game, with the right tweaks, Playgrounds 2 has room to improve.
Some of the modes you would expect make their return in the sequel: exhibition, online play and those wonderful card packs that unlock players. Playgrounds 2 takes inspiration from arcade classic NBA Jam, with 2v2 pickup games full of crazy moves and powerups. Do enough good things to fill your lottery pick meter and you will earn temporary power ups (or power downs for the opposition). You might earn bonus points for three pointers or dunks, gain super speed or even curse your opponents with a spell that completely debuffs their skills. It all feels as good as it did in the original, adding genuine unpredictability to close matches.
NBA Season mode tasks you with choosing a team from either East or West and battle your way to the NBA Finals. Players will face each team from their conference, then play best-of-3 playoff series until the Finals. You can toggle the difficulty from easy all the way to NBA-like, meaning there is accessibility and challenge for practically everyone. This replaces the world tour mode in the original game that had you face specialized pairs of stars across the globe. There is also an added 3-point shooting contest, which pits players against eachother in a straightforward shootout. Overall, I was satisfied with the amount of modes and content, especially since Playgrounds 2 is a budget release priced at $29.99 USD.
Let’s talk a bit about the roster, because I can’t help but feel very disappointed. Fans should be genuinely excited for the inclusions of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, two legends absent from the first game. Aside from that, most of the rosters: are smaller than the first game, outdated, or have odd inclusions. Kawhi Leonard is rightfully on the Toronto Raptors, but Danny Green, a player included in his trade, is still on the San Antonio Spurs. Dwight Howard has two versions of himself, one on the Hornets (outdated, currently on Wizards) and a re-skin of him on the Orlando Magic. This is an easy way to fill out rosters with popular players who played on multiple teams. The problem is there are hardly any re-skins compared to the first game. Where is Wizards Michael Jordan? What about old school Wilt Chamberlain on the Warriors? I’m hopeful this will be addressed in a future update, but this seems just too obvious to not include. Speaking of the roster, like the original game, new players are unlocked via card packs. After each game, you will accumulate points that unlock packs of various prices (higher prices have more rare cards). Players who want to skip this and unlock the full roster can pay $10 and unlock all current and future players. Making things more confusing is a second currency type that takes much longer to accumulate in-game. This coin currency is used to unlock cosmetic items like shirts and pants to customize your baller. But spending real money to expedite these purchases just didn’t excite me.
Another gameplay design I find disappointing is the bronze through diamond stat tiers assigned to each player. What does that mean exactly? Imagine unlocking Michael Jordan in a card pack, pretty awesome right? You play as him for the first time, only to find that he pretty much sucks, but why? All basketball players start out with bronze tier stats, as you use them in a game they will earn XP for most every positive thing they do (dunks, rebounds, steals, blocks). After each game an XP meter will fill, when a player is upgraded from bronze to silver to gold, he will gain proficiency is certain areas like 2-point shooting, 3-point shooting, dunks, etc. This takes considerable time and kills the excitement of wanting to immediately use superstar players. Going from gold to diamond requires specific actions that can be found in the players profile, you might have to score a set number of threes in a game, or sprint for consecutive seconds. I get it that this adds replay value, but as someone who unlocked all players with a special unlock, I just want to use the players with their appropriate stats.
Now that the major gripes are out of the way, how does the game actually play? Compared to the original it feels a little slower while steals and blocks are noticeably easier. The dunks are flashier and moves such as self and double alley-oop are incredibly satisfying. One area that needs to be fixed is the 3-point shooting percent meter. I have a near diamond-level Stephen Curry who has a 99 rating for 3’s and he hardly makes any in a game. I have so many issues with this mechanic that I hardly shoot threes at all. This was highlighted even more when I went back to Playgrounds 1 and could easily connect from distance with the right timing. Yet oddly enough, I’ve noticed non-skilled big men hit multiple threes per game when controlled by the CPU. If steals were slightly nerfed and three point shooting fixed, then Playgrounds 2 would be much closer to being balanced.
Graphically Playgrounds 2 has the similar art style as the first game, which was a unique way to add personality. You have 10 new playground courts and they all look great. From initial release to the time of this review, Saber Interactive has added a free Halloween themed court, ball and additional player. This gives me a lot of faith that plenty of regular updates will be coming post release. I never had any issues with the loading times, but I feel like some menu areas are a little too well hidden. Checking out which challenges I needed to unlock required multiple menu cycles, when a simple button press on the character selection screen would have sufficed. Ian Eagle returns with his signature commentary style during games and the music sounds as good as ever.
With NBA Jam On-Fire Edition being horribly outdated and the original Playgrounds recently delisted, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is the go-to-choice for arcade NBA basketball by default. The on-court action remains fun, which is most important. There just seemed to be too many small issues that took away from the overall experience for me. Rosters should be current, superstars should have multiple versions of themselves and the 3-point meter should reflect skill accurately. Saber Interactive has proven to me they will listen to fan feedback, and I will gladly update this review as the game changes. As it stands, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is the best arcade basketball offering you can buy today, for whatever it’s worth.