[Review] NBA 2K21 – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • Publisher: 2K
  • Release date: 04/09/2020
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Review code provided by 2K
Note: NBA 2K21 doesn’t allow screenshots. Images below are provided by 2K

Introducing: NBA 2K21 Switch Review

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not well versed in the world of the sports balls. I’m a somewhat clumsy person and the only sport I was actually good at was competitive swimming (which I did for three years in high school before giving it up to devote more time to theater. Yeah, I was that kid.) The only pro sport I pay attention to for results is American Football. Other than that, I get my sports fix every other year with the Olympics. Even then I usually watch things like gymnastics and figure skating. So, I am acutely aware that this game is not really for me, it’s for people who are NBA fans. When I got the chance to review it, I thought it might be fun to have a complete outsider’s perspective on the game.

Square up!

The story mode is only one component of many in this game, but it’s actually the one that I had the most fun with. Perhaps this is because I am someone who values narrative quite a bit, but it could also be because there is focus on just one player rather than an entire team, which is easier for me to manage as a newcomer. However, I think the biggest reason is likely because I was able to design my own basketball player and I was able to have a little fun with that. I’d like to introduce you to him. Please forgive the poor image quality, with the game not allowing screenshots, I had to take this with my phone.

Meet Chaz Chad, my player who I created by channeling my memories of all the middle school players I knew. He’s a point-guard with minimum height, minimum weight, maximum arm length, and the voice of a 26 year old man even in high school. Compared to any of the pro players in the game, he looks like a literal child and my choice in his arm length makes him look utterly ridiculous in cutscenes. (Which I am perfectly fine with.) Thanks to me he’s not very good at basketball, but he manages well enough. His father was a pro player himself, and with everyone referring to Chaz as “Junior” there’s a lot to step up to the plate with and a big shadow to step out of. Is Chaz up for that and all the trials and tribulation that await him as he tries to go pro?

It’s not the most groundbreaking of sports stories, even I know that, but it’s still something and the characters that are involved are likable. With the way that I built my character, I was just aiming to have a good time and some laughs since I didn’t expect much out of the story, but I did end up having a good time and I was at least compelled to keep going through the slower moments. The ending shot is also genuinely poignant, if a little bit predictable. However, it is disappointing that the entire story ode takes place over your players high school and college career, with all cutscenes ending once the NBA is reached.

While there is some gameplay that opens up once they enter the NBA, the fact that the main story concludes at that point is disappointing. I don’t know if this is because that was all they wanted to do or if it is because development focus had to shift to the next-generation versions of the game, but it ends up feeling a little half baked when all the drama ends as soon as I am playing for the pro teams. Additionally, it is a shame that there is no WNBA option for the MyCareer mode. I am aware that it would take a lot of extra work, but given that they are in the game as playable teams in their own mode, it would have been nice.

Free Throw

I am not incredibly familiar with the goings on of these sorts of games and I will be the first to admit that I am likely not very god at them, but I do find it very odd that I have barely managed to make five baskets within my entire time playing the game. I’ve come to understand that shooting is one of those things that gets tweaked a lot in these games and from what I can see, I feel that these games have tweaked it for the worse since a new player like me is basically incapable of making any baskets at all. It makes playing online against other people unappealing since I think we all can understand how getting absolutely dominated in a game doesn’t always feel fun. I find that trying to juggle so many players can get a little hectic but it is skill that comes with time, I’m just more likely to play offline than on.

The gameplay itself feels good and it’s one of those things that is easy to get a handle on once you understand what you’re doing. However, figuring out what you are doing is something that can be a little troublesome. The tutorial is not something that the game asks you if you need before any of the game modes, it just allows you to jump right into a game without any knowledge. If you want to be taught how to play, you have to actively search it out. Even then, with it being titled 2KU, someone who is just looking around and not paying attention might mistake it for just another game mode. I know this is a game series that a lot of people buy yearly, but just a one time prompt asking if the person is now or if they have played before on the first boot p of the game couldn’t have hurt.

Doing the Sportsball

While there might not be a WNBA option in the MyCareer area of the game, there is one in the MyLeague section, which is the more unique area of the game. This is where you can look at things from a more macro level rather than just taking things to the court. I found this is the place to be if you’re interested more in number crunching. This is where you can simulate whole seasons and even take on the role of a general manager. If you like flipping through menu after menu, this is the place for you. There’s a lot of room to play around and the hypotheticals that can pop up are pretty interesting, but if you’re just around for the actual basketball games part of this NBA game, then I don’t see you spending a ton of time here. It’s a nice change of pace though and I found myself popping into it when I started getting frustrated about my inability to sink shots. 

Tucked within the MyCareer area of the game is also the Neighborhood section, which is what is opened up to you when you make it to the NBA. This is a big open street area where you are able to run around with your character and use the currency that you earn in the mode to get all sorts of goodies for your character. There’s also a handful of smaller gameplay modes here where you can wager currency or just get in a little game on the side. It’s a nice little shakeup and the idea that your created player can interact with the created players of others is something that’s pretty fun, but it often feels pretty empty since I don’t see many players around. I’m not sure if this is due to a lack of people who are playing, or if it is from the switch not being able to handle too many other online players, but the area is pretty big and can often feel empty. I think it might have been worth bringing things a little closer together in order to make it feel like a smaller and busier area rather than a wide and empty one.

Sports Gambling

And, we can’t move on from talking about the game part of this game before we talk about the elephant in the room. MyTeam. Everyone knows that the primary appeal of these sorts of games is the ability to bring your dream team to life with whichever players most appeal to you in the present and even throughout the past of the game. It’s really great that I can have a Shaq vs Shaq game with someone online or that I could create my hometown team with the addition of legendary players who never played for them. It’s a fun idea and concept that will definitely appeal to hardcore fans.

However, the fact that this is achieved yet again through the use of microtransactions that lead to lootboxes is one of those things that I cannot in good faith try and see the light in. It’s a casino, much like every other game that utilizes a lootbox system. There’s no guarantees and it is designed to keep your money funneling into it. Considering that this is a full priced AAA game, this is just plain scummy. There is no guarantee that you will get the player that you are looking for and you might be sinking a lot into this game that you already paid a lot of money to play in the first place.

Celebrity Endorsement

Now, when it comes to visuals, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. When playing the basketball itself, everything looks just fine. The animations are smooth and everything runs great. However, whenever there is anything other than the game happening, such as cutscenes or any of the many visual interviews on the sidelines of the game, I find myself giggling for reasons that I shouldn’t be.

The character models all have a bad case of pudding face, looking like they’re made of stretchy clay rather than looking like actual people. The facial animations don’t really help either, with nobody really moving like a real person. Worst of all, all the characters are really dead eyed whenever you get up close to them, which makes them look all the more like dolls being moved by the game rather than people. It’s supremely noticeable in little interview segments that play during game breaks where you have the actual audio of a player interview playing over their simulated face which doesn’t move like a real thing at all.

I expect in these games that the crowd will look bad, but seeing things that are meant to be close up with these same bad looks just really hurts the overall impression, especially since we know how good things can look on the switch. I certainly shouldn’t have story mode cutscenes that look exceptionally choppy while they are running.

However, I am very impressed by the sound of the game. The sound effects of the game are very accurate to  basketball game, at least my memories of them, but what really stands out to me is the commentary that overscores each of the games is really reactive to what’s going on and keeps up very well from what I can tell. It even has little comments about the play ability of certain players. It never failed to be amusing that the commentators would be just as baffled as to why I fowled as I would be.

Music is a strong suit here as well. While there is clear style that the game sticks to for music in terms of what kind of music makes it into the game, there is enough variety that I didn’t feel like I was hearing the same music over and over again whenever I was hanging out in the menus. A lot of it was nice and upbeat too, getting me pumped to play even when I was starting to grow tired of the game.

Press Conference

I will say that the game tends to look better in handheld than it does on a tv simply because it is on a smaller screen so it’s easier to overlook the weaker elements of the visuals. Everything runs about the same no matter which way you play so a little bump on how you process the visuals is about all that is going to be different depending on where you play. However, about half the game modes do require an online connection, which should be kept in mind. Additionally, the game is going to want you to make or have an account with 2K, so you should be ready to get that bombardment of emails.

What’s not going to change is the way that the game is somewhat of a buggy mess. I never suffered from any crashes but there were several cases where I had to look at what was happening on screen and go “that should not be happening”. There were several points where I would be in a screen that had the option to sort things like a spreadsheet and it would be unreadable due to the fact that the game was constantly swapping between ordering and reversing that ordering so all the text flickered and overlapped. I also had a lot of cases where the framerate would start chugging. It feels like the switch edition of this game might have been something of a rush job.

Fan Fever

Overall, it’s never been more clear to me that sports games are not something I am meant for, yet I can still very clearly see that this game has a lot of issues. I don’t know personally if these are carrying over from prior iterations, but they’re here in this one and that’s what 2K has given us for the year. While there were some moments where I had fun, they were often fun of my own making. I wanted this game to make a fan of me, but that’s pretty hard when this version of the game feels so much like it was an afterthought by the developers.

Pros

  • Story mode contains likable characters and was engaging
  • Sound effects and music are on point
  • Excellent game commentary

Cons

  • Visuals are not up to par, especially in closeups
  • Framerate issues and stuttering cutscenes
  • The shooting system leaves me unable to sink shots at all
  • Lootbox system leaves the game a virtual casino digging into you for real cash
  • Quite a few glitches
  • Half the modes require an online connection

Verdict

NBA 2K21 had a chance to create a new fan of me, but failed to do so in even the most casual way by being stuffed with technical problems and lootboxes. It doesn’t sink the basket.

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