NBA 2K18 in-game screen

These are my thoughts as per Ozhoops Radio this week; as I get more game time I’ll expand on them here.

I bought the Nintendo Switch version of NBA 2K18 rather than going for a version on one of the ‘bigger’ consoles. I think it’s interesting given it’s the first NBA 2K game I’ve bought in a few years, and because it’s the first that’s been released on a portable system this generation.

(I did have NBA 2K16 on the PS4, but that’s only because I got it for free with PlayStation Plus; that was the year that it had the unskippable Spike Lee career mode where you basically had to sit out most of your rookie season in order to watch a movie.)

The main criticism that has come up in a lot of reviews is the grind trying to develop your character in the MyCAREER mode. You can create your own character- determine their looks, height, position, skill set, and then you play through the character’s rookie season. The game also has little cutscenes and stories that occur between games, so you get the ‘experience’ of being an NBA rookie- dealing with your agent, having to juggle promotional opportunities and training and skill sessions, and so on.

NBA 2K18 in action on the Switch.

This mode has been in the game for a few years, but this year it has come in for particular criticism for how long it takes to develop your player. You get in-game money- called VC- for accomplishing things in-game, such as setting good screens, making plays, and just flat-out winning. You use VC to buy… well, pretty much everything. You buy upgrades for your individual attributes (strength, speed, outside shooting, finishing a the rim, lateral quickness, post play, passing skill, etc), but you also use VC to buy cosmetic upgrades and play virtual dress-ups with your character. VC buys shoes, clothes, tattoos, hairstyles, and so on.

This year’s version takes far, FAR longer to develop your character, though. You don’t get much court time as a rookie, so you don’t get a chance to actually play the game- I get maybe four minutes of time in the second quarter, and then the coach will throw you on for the last 16 seconds or so with the result already determined. So to get ahead you have to grind for VC in the practice facility doing drills, or in the gym doing fitness exercises, which is useful to learn the finer points of gameplay. This is realistic- as a pro I’m sure you do spend a lot of time in the gym and riding the bench- but this isn’t FUN and you don’t get an option to be a first-round super-rookie destined for big minutes, you have to work your way up from being 10th or 11th man.

The apparent reason for slowing down your progress is to try and get more money from you. See, the game costs $100- well, the Switch version was around for $79 at launch, to be fair- but then you can spend more REAL money to buy the game’s FAKE money in order to power your character forwards in their career. Basically, it’s virtual steroids, except with no penalty for doing so because the publisher WANTS you to spend more money on top of the amount you paid at the store. Stuff that was free last year is also now locked away unless you spend the VC- you can’t change your character’s appearance (say, the haircut) without spending money, and when you’re only earning 500 VC a game, 100VC for a haircut- even for simple things like a shaved head- seems a bit rich. The bit about making people pay REAL money to buy video game FAKE money to succeed, on top of the cost of the game, is covered by any number of YouTube video game pundits, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.

Sadly I wasn’t able to test the online multiplayer, so the R’lyeh Rumblin’ Reptiles’ debut will have to wait.

Otherwise, the game is 2K, and it feels like 2K and plays just fine. There are multiple commentary crews that work different games, so you aren’t listening to the same voices all the time; one game you get David Aldridge, the next you’ll get Doris Burke. The rosters are up to date, the game plays smoothly, and the season manager/coach mode seems to work just fine.

There are three particular points with the Nintendo Switch version that I feel really need to be addressed. Firstly, all those cutscenes and cute stories they tell you about your MyCAREER character can’t be skipped, so you have to sit through 2 minutes of attempted humour or your teammates talking about Korean BBQ every couple of games when you just want to hit the button and move on to the next game. This is annoying on the big consoles, but it is unforgivable on the Switch if you’re playing away from home; you have to waste about a quarter of your playing time- and your precious battery life- waiting for the game to show you how clever it is.

The second part is that the game is basically unplayable on a stock Switch- you need to have a MicroSD card and the additional storage that brings. The game, in addition to the data on the cartridge, has a 19Gb mandatory download before you can play the season or career modes; the Switch only has 32Gb on board, and only about 27 of that is available for the consumer. If the Switch version was $100 but the extra $20 put some of that stuff on the game card itself, I’d be way happier. The additional download after purchase was also a thing on the PS4, but that has a 500Gb hard drive onboard, minimum, so it’s a bit more tolerable.

The third problem is I’ve had multiple crashes where the game just hangs and refuses to progress- you can still hear crowd sounds and see the scoreboard, but a cutscene seems to end and then the game never resumes, requiring you to quit to the home screen and restart the match. This also means that if there were any unskippable cutscenes before the game, you also need to sit through those again.

So… I’m on the fence about this game, at least on the Switch. On the big consoles it’s probably fine, although if you’re buying this game every year there probably isn’t a whole lot that’s changed other than getting roster updates and shiny new uniforms for everyone. If you want to buy the portable version on the Switch, it’s perfectly playable, but there are some annoying issues that really dog it and make it the inferior purchase- and not due to the Switch’s limitations, but due to design decisions and bugs. This may yet get patched out but at the moment, it’s a hard sell, even at $20 cheaper than its sister versions.