Take away the microtransactions and this is a must-play for basketball fans.
NBA 2K19, the second entry in the respected basketball franchise on Switch, is huge. Booting it up for the first time as someone lapsed to the franchise was positively overwhelming. After finding my footing amongst the sea of modes and options, I found an excellent basketball game that runs very well on Nintendo’s hybrid system and is only held back by some bloat and gross microtransactions.
For starters, the basketball gameplay is versatile and deep. My background in the genre is in NBA Jam/Street and ‘90s NBA Live, so a lot of the complexities took a while for me to grasp. Thankfully, easier difficulty levels and a functional tutorial system made it simpler to learn the sport, how to execute plays, and how to make use of the variety of control options and inputs. Part of me longs for a more arcade basketball experience, but even that can be found in smaller forms in the Blacktop modes that allow for street games lesser than traditional five-on-five.
The only things that take this down a notch on Switch aren’t really even a Switch-created problem. The port here is tremendous, with graphics looking great off the TV and totally fine in HD on the TV. The load times are a little long, which leads to a little too much downtime in some modes (though other systems appear to have similarly long load times), but the Switch doesn’t feel like it made many compromises. It unfortunately shares the predilection for microtransactions with other platforms, which is a gigantic blemish on this otherwise excellent game.
The place I first went after a few exhibition matches was the MyLeague mode, which allows you to take over a team and take it through multiple seasons, including dealing with contracts, free agency, and the draft over the offseason. Aside from the fact that this mode suffers from some of the problems with the modern NBA (as in, there are a few superteams that dominate everything), it’s deep and fun. Playing through a season is enjoyable, especially because you have so many options of how to handle it. You can play every game yourself, you can be more of a hands-on coach with the Simcast option, or you can just quickly simulate most of the season. The UI is mostly snappy with my only major complaint being that it is a little too busy. The mode can get overwhelming in the offseason, if only because as someone not as familiar with the NBA, a lot of it was baffling to me. I can’t stress enough, though, how much fun it is to mess with the structure of the league, by adding or removing teams, bringing in expansion teams, or even turning a squad into a classic legendary variation. And to top it all off, you have the option of bringing in historic draft classes - essentially any draft class since the 1970s and a few others before then - with only a few licensing absences. The degree of customization is insane and even if I personally prefer other sports, this might be the best franchise mode I’ve ever seen.
The other in-depth modes go for much more of a story-driven route, which I can’t say I like as much. MyCareer lets you create a player that gets ignored in the NBA Draft and then heads overseas to start his path to NBA stardom. It has a slow pace, onset by a slew of cutscenes, inexplicably featuring Anthony Mackie and Haley Joel Osment. The performances and writing are all fine; it just felt like roadblocks to progressing through the gameplay in this novel mode. The slow pace of the early moments seem to guide you towards the insidious secret beneath the surface: you can spend actual money to make your created character better. 2K and developer Visual Concepts have reportedly improved the microtransaction balance in 2K19, and as someone who didn’t play 2K18, I can’t compare but I can say it felt sketchy in 2K19.
Compared to our review of NBA 2K18 last year, MyCareer has improved, especially with the Neighborhood hub, which lets you compete in different mini-games and challenges as well as give your player a new haircut or a scooter. I didn’t find many technical issues with this mode, though MyCareer in general essentially requires an online connection, but the implementation of online in Neighborhood makes it worthwhile.
The MyGM mode has an option that lets you continue last year’s story, which once again is filled with cutscenes (though no random celebrities feature here as far as I can tell). It also has an option where you can play through the mode without the story, which I preferred. This mode is interesting for its more hands-off approach, giving you yet another option of how to play around with the NBA and its players.
That’s the triumph of NBA 2K19. You can do pretty much whatever you want, whether it’s play every game with your favorite team, sim seasons and be a manager, invent your own team, bring in legends to the modern NBA, or play through cinematic stories. It’s a lot to take in and sift through, but if you have a passing affinity for basketball, a mode is likely here for you. NBA 2K19 is a top-tier sports game, even on the Switch. It’s just a shame the microtransactions are ever present.