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July 2019

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'NBA 2K Playgrounds 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 28, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is an arcade-sports game that raises the intensity of the series’ over-the-top, two-on-two street action with a new line-up of online and local multiplayer game modes, as well as new courts from playgrounds across the world.

Buy NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

The depiction of sports in video games has been a one-way street toward realistic simulations. Long gone are the times of FIFA Street or NBA Jam, when technical limitations created some of most fun sport-themed arcade experiences. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is the first licensed arcade basketball game in a while that provides the sorely missed nostalgic arcade action as well as gaming's worst new invention: microtransactions.

Developer Saber Interactive is no stranger to the genre. The first NBA 2K Playgrounds was released about two years ago. The formula hasn't changed, and Playgrounds 2 still offers the same frantic 2v2 basketball matches that its predecessor did, but everything is more polished this time around, since the publisher stepped in to ensure licensing and probably increased the budget a bit. The result is fun, even though it doesn't hit all marks equally.

The general gameplay in Playgrounds 2 is simple, and if you've played any NBA game, you'll feel right at home with the general controls. We control a team of two comically overdrawn licensed players and face off against another duo. Passing, shooting and stealing the ball works as you'd expect, but the on-screen actions are more explosive and over-the-top every second of every match.

Rules are neglected, and there's nothing but a shot clock and a game timer. The game usually awards you for chaotic gameplay with extravagant moves. We can steal balls from an attacker without the fear of a whistle, and we can even push others or throw an elbow to protect or steal the ball. On the other hand, scoring is equally fun, with a variety of insane dunks that incorporate low-gravity acrobatics that are satisfying to watch. Jumping sky-high, bouncing off the rim of the basket, rotating around several axes, and then smashing the ball home is always going to be exciting. The game also incorporates some basic trick moves and shots, like alley-oops and fake shot passes. You won't want to score a three-pointer here because the dunks make Playgrounds 2 the fun NBA arcade experience it is, and it nails that beautifully.

The game is not running on its own, though. Blocks and steals still need to be timed in order to be successful, and the player stats influence your abilities on the field quite a bit. This is especially noticeable with the color-coded shot meter indicates when we need to release the shoot button in order to score from our current position. Percentages around the sweet spots make judging your ability to secure a shot easy and intuitive, so the actual act of scoring is harder than just pressing a button.

Jumping, rotating and sprinting up and down a field may already be enough to keep you on your toes and make the gameplay enjoyable, but NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 has more up its sleeve with lottery picks. As we pull off different moves, we charge the lottery pick meter that eventually grants us a special ability for a limited timeframe. Those abilities range from special buffs to point multipliers, based on how we score hoops and can turn the tide of a game.

Ultimately, the fun and simple gameplay loop is the Playgrounds 2's redeeming feature. It offers short, adrenaline-fueled bursts of fun that can be played online, against friends, or with friends, and the title incorporates everything that arcade sports games always excelled at. However, the number of modes at our disposal feels a bit limited. There are the classic exhibition matches for 1-4 players or bots, online championship modes (ranked, unranked, co-op or 3-point challenges), offline 3-point challenges, and a new season mode. The game has greatly expanded on the offering of its predecessor, but it's still a little thin, especially since it's difficult to find more than a handful of online matches just a few months after the title's original release.

The reasonably fun experience has one big caveat: the return of a card-based system. At the beginning of the game, we start with a couple of card packs that provide us with a small batch of players that we can use to play and earn more in-game currencies. The currencies are split into balls and golden VC coins. The former grants us access to new player packs (bronze, silver or gold), while the latter is used to purchase packs that contain cosmetic items and the option to unlock the entire roster at once (currently requires the purchase of a VC coin pack for roughly $10). All of these currency and card systems is intimidating when you're starting out. The game still tries to sweeten players on spending additional money to unlock the entire roster, since progression and unlocking new players can be ridiculously slow.

As we play the offline modes in Playgrounds 2, we earn ball points — usually about 300 — 800, based on our performance, and the mode we're playing. In fact, 1,500 of these points grant us a bronze pack with silver and gold, which requires higher amounts up to $5,000. As these points cannot be purchased, it feels like you're progressing at a reasonable pace without the option to buy the actual packs.

Unfortunately, progression does not move quickly, as the game includes an extensive roster of players that has expanded greatly with free player updates. The card pack system means we receive them in random chunks with (regular) duplicates. As a consequence, when you want to play with a certain player on your favorite team, it can take a serious amount of time and sanity to wade through packs and receive the player by chance. It fully incentivizes going for the paid unlock, which is unfortunate and more like a hidden fee unless you're willing to grind it out. You can unlock individual players at any time, but instead of the affordable pack prices of 1,500-5,000, it costs tens of thousands of points to unlock them for a game that is primarily an offline experience — for which we've already paid.

For better or worse, the entire game is tied to the card system. Individual cards have special stats and levels that improve as you use the players in matches, and special challenges offer ways to improve them over time, which means that even bad player cards may eventually become usable. What's especially frustrating at the beginning is getting a bad hand of cards that renders certain game modes null and void. If you don't have a halfway decent 3-point player, you should avoid the 3-Point Challenge mode.

The game is not completely broken because of the progression, but it quickly discourages you by noticeably slowing down your progress with a corresponding in-game purchase looming in the background. It doesn't go as far as breaking the game. The new season mode provides players with free player cards if they don't have two players for the team. In the end, that isn't quite enough to make up for the rest of the card collecting process, and frustration is sure to set in when the cards seem stacked against you.

The choice of players is extensive and well done, with both current rosters and legends being included. There won't be anyone missing here. On the technical side, Playgrounds 2 is equally solid, with good comic visuals and playgrounds that go well with the style and pace of the game. It runs and looks smooth without any major upsets or flaws, and that would also be true for the title if the in-game purchase weren't so intertwined with the rest of the gameplay.

In the end, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a fun game that may not excel from a gameplay standpoint, but its fun arcade action that has become rare in the genre. Basketball and sports fans would enjoy Playgrounds 2 if it weren't for the grindy implementation of card packs and in-game purchases.

Score: 6.8/10

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