When it comes to the world of sports game, there are two types of titles you’ll come across more often than not. There are the serious sports simulations like the NBA 2K and Live series, and then the not so serious games such as NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. For those who grew up in the ’90s, many will probably remember the popular series of arcade games, NBA Jam. Throwing away the conventions of sports completely, NBA Jam allowed you to run faster, jump higher and dunk in such spectacular fashion that you incinerated the net. NBA 2K Playgrounds brings the old-school feel of NBA Jam to the current generation, combining the roughness of street ball with the aerobatics of slamball, and it feels like such a love letter to the days of yore.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 heavily revolves around the same concept of its predecessor, where you’re able to purchase packs of cards which will unlock players for you in the game. While the currency to acquire packs can be bought, it’s also reasonably earned through playing either online or offline game modes which is a welcome concept in a currently cut-throat market for the hard-earned dollar. The great thing is that the player rosters do harken back to the old days of basketball, with unlockable players ranging from Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain to current players such as Stephen Curry and Lebron James. It means you can select from a stacked roster of players, and have the option to combine the new school with the old or make any different sort of combination your hardwood heart desires.
The gameplay is the real centrepiece of Playgrounds 2, which is just so much damn fun. While not only being able to manhandle your opponents, you’re also able to pull off some spectacularly ridiculous dunks which involve multiple front, back and all sorts of different flips. Scoring baskets will also fill a random metre, which will apply an effect to your team for 30 seconds that either enhances you or handicaps your opponents. These can range from giving both your players “lightning” speed to making your next shot 100% accurate regardless of where you are on the court. Despite being a simple wrinkle to the gameplay, it keeps the flow of the game feeling a lot more fresh and changes things up just at the right time. Despite the fact you could, in theory, play the game more like a simulation and shoot the ball, it defeats the purpose when it’s way more satisfying to drive to the basket and drop that rock straight over your opponent.
To play through a full “season” in Playgrounds 2 will take you roughly 1-2 hours maximum, while there’s also the option to play standard exhibition games and three-point shooting competitions. It feels like the main focus of NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is to provide a short and satisfying experience, and in that regard, it succeeds with flying colours. However, once you get past the surface of the initial gameplay, it does also feel very thin on content when you drill deeper. After the initial playtime I’ve invested, it’s been challenging to go back to play by myself. In this sense, it very much seems like Playgrounds 2 is a game that lends itself far better to a quick couch session with friends which allows you to pick up and put down quickly. In a sense, this is both the game’s biggest strength and greatest weakness.
Artistically, the game adopts such a quirky aesthetic and style which perfectly matches the atmosphere and feel of the game. The voice acting also backs this all up excellently, with some great throw-away lines on commentary that provide a lot of laughs. I always love games which go against the grain and are willing to try something new and different, and I feel like NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 delivers on that as well.
I immediately wanted to invite some friends around so I had an excuse to bring out Playgrounds 2. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also difficult to sustain lengthy sessions of play by yourself when there’s not much more than three different modes to cycle through. It’s a decent game that ultimately suffers from a lack of content, and for that, the game stumbles before the finish line, unfortunately. While I’d recommend giving it a look, especially if you loved NBA Jam back in the day, it’s also something you could sleep on for a while before giving it a shot.