NBA Playgrounds 2
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 proves pick-up-and-play arcade basketball is still alive and well.
Apr 21, 2020 2:48 am
Oct 16, 2018 9:18 pm
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 does a solid job making 2v2 arcade basketball fun for the long haul. Expanding on its predecessor, this sequel – now under the NBA 2K umbrella – includes two new major modes that enhance both the solo and multiplayer experiences. While the core gameplay feels very similar to NBA Playgrounds, that’s mostly a good thing. Playgrounds 2 still lacks the depth of the defunct NBA Street series and the pure chaos of the also-dormant NBA Jam, but it has found its footing as a unique take on arcade basketball in its own right.
On the single-player side of the equation, Playgrounds 2 features a season mode, which replaces the six tournaments seen in the original. This isn’t a full-fledged 82-game haul, however. Instead, each season consists of 14 regular season games and a best-of-three playoff format for the top eight teams from each conference. The truncated schedule works well here. You can finish an entire season in under a couple hours with the default game length of three minutes. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the long slog of sports sim seasons. It also gives you the option to play the season cooperatively with a friend via couch co-op or online. Of note, season mode has four difficulty levels, and the AI feels smarter in the sequel, especially when ratcheting up the difficulty.
The season mode directly ties into the card collecting progression system, which makes its return from the original. Winning the championship with each team unlocks a legend. For instance, hoisting the trophy with the Lakers gives you access to Magic Johnson while prevailing with the Cavs gives you Mark Price. Legends often have unique animations that add flair to an already stylish experience.I found myself interested in the season loop even after I won the title with multiple teams. It’s also a good way to level up cards that increase player stats. Currently, I have ongoing seasons with the Celtics, Nuggets, and 76ers. Although it doesn’t really hurt the experience, it’s slightly annoying that you are limited to three save slots and have to delete previous seasons once you fill up all three.
You can spend real money to unlock the whole player collection at once, but, unlike the original, it doesn’t feel necessary.
Like the original, you have to open card packs to acquire new players. This means that many teams will be inaccessible at first simply due to the fact you won’t have any of their players. Thankfully, you earn enough in-game currency to buy new packs at a fairly fast clip. After each run through a season, I had enough to purchase several packs, each of which contains four players. It also helps that opening duplicate cards doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often in Playgrounds 2. I’ve opened about 20 packs so far, and I’ve only come across two duplicates. You can spend real money to unlock the whole collection at once, but, unlike the original, this doesn’t feel necessary.
Playgrounds 2 has a great mix of current NBA players and legends. It appears that the 2K publishing deal has helped in the legends department as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and numerous other Hall of Fame caliber players are featured in Playgrounds 2. Jordan even has his legendary from the free throw line dunk. Not all teams are evenly represented though. For example, the Lakers have 14 possible cards while the Bulls have nine, the Clippers have seven, and the Wizards have eight. There are several active players on the wrong team. DeMarcus Cousins is on the Pelicans (one of only five Pelicans players by the way), Tony Parker is on the Spurs, Nick Young is on the Warriors, and Isaiah Thomas is on the Lakers.
The beefed-up online mode could give Playgrounds 2 some competitive legs if the community is active. Dubbed Playgrounds Championship, it’s ranked play complete with multiple modes, leaderboards, and advanced stats. You can play competitive matches with either a CPU or online teammate (via friend list or matchmaking), or cooperative matches against the CPU with an online teammate. It’s a more expansive online mode than the original and the rankings system could keep you online longer. Though I was only able to find a couple online matches for this review, everything ran smoothly, and I can see myself getting hooked from the rankings system and leaderboards. You can also play the three-point contest in Playgrounds Championship. The contest still feels like a throwaway mode, but at least it does help you work on timing your shots.
It’s easy to grab a controller and score some buckets, but if you want to win on a consistent basis, you have to have skills.
On the court, Playgrounds 2 cleans up the arcade gameplay a tad, but it plays incredibly similar to the original. The shooting meter has changed from a bar to a semi-circle, though the concept of stopping the timer in the green remains the same. It’s still a challenge to make three-pointers on a consistent basis with low-level players, even for those known for their sharpshooting. If you land outside of the green, it’s an automatic miss. While somewhat unforgiving for an arcade basketball game, it’s also what makes Playgrounds 2 unique. Yes, it’s easy to grab a controller and score some buckets, but if you want to win on a consistent basis, you have to have skills.
Crossover moves are elaborate and over-the-top (cartwheels!) and vary based on player. Dunk and layup animations, the stars of the original, are still ridiculously cool. Even after the twentieth time watching Kevin Love slam home an alley-oop and proceed to do a backflip off the rim, I smiled. It doesn’t take much skill to make your players perform crazy off the glass dunks, but it still feels satisfying nonetheless.
Defense feels a bit more balanced. I had an easier time blocking shots and snagging rebounds than I did in the original. Importantly, the shove button, which still drains your power-up meter, doesn’t feel as cheap. Shoving a ball handler often pries the rock away from their hands, but unless your teammate is right by you, it’s not a sure turnover. On the other hand, swiping at the ball feels more effective, if you time it up right against crossover moves.
The Lottery Picks meter is now represented by a basketball on each of the bottom corners of the screen. Once it’s filled with glowing energy, you get a special ability for a temporary period. The nine boosts include multipliers for dunks and three-point shots, unlimited sprint, and super strength. New to Playgrounds 2 are power-ups that hurt the opposing team. You can inflict a curse on them that lowers their shooting percentage or a sheet of ice that covers the basket so they can’t score. There’s also a change to the lightning power-up. This time, in a nod to NBA Jam, the ball catches on fire, and yes, you will automatically make a full court shot with the fireball. Power-ups can change the momentum of a contest dramatically, but they very rarely feel cheap. Rather, they add an element of unpredictability that makes each trip to the blacktop exciting.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 adds depth to both the solo and multiplayer modes. Season mode improves the card collecting loop and Playgrounds Championship introduces ranked play for competitive users. The 2v2 basketball gameplay perhaps feels a bit too familiar but it’s refined in welcome ways. Pick-up-and-play arcade basketball is, thankfully, still alive and well.
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NBA 2K Playgrounds 2
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 Review
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 proves pick-up-and-play arcade basketball is still alive and well.Steven Petite