It’s great to see big publishers embracing the Switch after the disastrous third party relationship the Wii U had with them. Despite not being a graphical beast or the best online platform out there, developers and publishers are finding out ways to take advantage of the Switch’s portability in order to convince us gamers to, at the very least, not overlook its versions due to limited visuals or worsened framerates. Case in point, sports games. Having sports games on the go is excellent and something I’ve missed ever since the demise of the PSP. FIFA 18 came first, and while not being as good as the console versions, it was a fully fledged FIFA in your pocket. This time around, we’re talking about the best basketball franchise out there. NBA 2K18 is finally on the Switch!
NBA 2K18 for the Switch is what you would expect from a mainline game in this franchise. The updated roster is here, the draft players are already here (Lonzo Ball’s facial acne included), there are new classic teams, you know the drill. The MyGM mode is still as fun as ever, being without a doubt the best basketball simulator out there. There are also other modes such as 2-on-2 street basketball and online play, which gets the job done, even if the amount of people playing this game online isn’t exactly as high as in other versions of the same title. Then again, if you’re getting this game for the Switch, I’m pretty sure portability is the reason you came for it, not online multiplayer. Besides some visual differences, the game is the same, be it docked or portable, and that’s a huge point in the game’s favor.
I need to praise the game where praise is due: for an early Switch title, for a console definitely not as powerful as others in this generation, NBA 2K18 looks really impressive. Animations (besides facial) are great and the level of detail is impressive. That’s on docked mode, of course, as the game takes a bit of a totally expected toll when playing on portable mode. Nothing that hinders the gameplay, of course. Even if the player animations are decent, I can’t help but feel that the facial animations are, at the very least, bizarre. See the Shaq picture in this review? Well, do I need to say more?
The sound department is also the same as always. The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a sports game, ranging from Kendrick Lamar to good old Def Leppard. The narration is basically the same as previous years, and the guests sound as uncomfortable as ever, such as (once again) Shaq and everytime a player is “interviewed” on the court. Nothing new here, move along.
Gameplay-wise, there is very little that differentiates this version from the PS4 or Xbox One versions, as well as previous iterations of NBA 2K. The gameplay and controls are still the same, following a very basic principle of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. It might take you a while to get used to the not-that-comfortable design of the joycons (use a pro controller if possible), but it’s the same gameplay as ever. The only main difference in this segment is the fact the Switch version runs at 30 frames per second instead of the typical 60, so the gameplay isn’t exactly as fast and fluid as other versions. Then again, the framerate is constant and solid, never actually being a culprit in one player’s mistake during a match.
We now reach a very controversial elephant in the room: MyCareer mode. You’ve most likely seen other reviews talking about this. You’ve most likely seen my unusually harsh tagline for this review. Yes, it is buggy, with some game-breaking glitches that are typical of rushed development cycles. Yes, the implementation of microtransactions (or “Virtual Currency” in this game’s case, hur dur) is one of the worst I’ve ever seen outside of the shady wasteland that is the mobile F2P market. Your character’s development is completely attached to the use of the game’s VC, and let me tell you, you need a lot of points to make you even barely above mediocre stats-wise. Yes, you can get currency by playing the game, but the amount you get by doing so is very small and it’ll take you ages for those points to become relevant for you. Everything is set up so then you are psychologically convinced to spend more than the already steep 60 bucks on microtransactions. I can usually overlook MTs in games when they are either cosmetic or when getting in-game money is really easy and trouble-free (see Forza Motorsport 7, for instance), but when stuff like this is put into a game, well, I can’t forgive the developer and the publisher for allowing this to happen. While other modes are incredibly fun, MyCareer is a humongous disappointment.
There are some aspects in NBA 2K18 that are absolutely impressive for an early Switch title, like its visuals, decent online gameplay, and good controls. On the other hand, it suffers from some really abhorrent glitches, as well as one of the stupidest and most irritating microtransaction implementations I’ve ever seen in a video game, a decision that brings the MyCareer mode to the boundaries of the Wild West that is the mobile F2P market. If you can ignore the problematic Career mode for now, there’s clearly no better basketball game out there than NBA 2K18, especially for the Switch, considering NBA Playgrounds is the only other game for it.
Side note: while this wasn’t a factor in the game’s scoresheet, I should mention how much of a nuisance it was to install NBA 2K18‘s physical version on a Nintendo Switch, given its gigantic install size and save data file size, which basically require an entire memory card of their own. I do understand the Switch ain’t a powerhouse but not a single game on this console so far has been such a tremendous bore to install as NBA 2K18 was.
Also available on: PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One