This game’s championship window on Switch is closing.
The NBA 2K series is one that teeters on the balance of incredible and greedy, garnering a legacy of incredible basketball gameplay and options that is regularly marred by always-online modes and a reliance on microtransactions. The consistency of this over the iterations released on Nintendo Switch has been impressive, to say the least. The ports beginning with NBA 2K18 and continuing into this year’s NBA 2K22 - the fifth in the franchise on Switch - have been solid across the board, packing in a good-playing replica of the versions on more powerful hardware. They haven’t been without their faults, namely some visual compromises and long load times, but if you’re looking for a realistic game of basketball on your portable system that has all the modes of other consoles, NBA 2K delivers. That remains the status quo for the latest version, which is more of a full upgrade than last year’s pandemic-affected half-measure. Though at this point, the Switch version is starting to not be able to hold up as it gets older.
The actual basketball playing is the best it’s ever been on Switch, most likely because this year actually feels like a substantial upgrade. At the center of that is the refined shot meter. If you played NBA 2K21, you might remember the shot meter was reworked there and was, at launch, abysmal. It was patched into a workable state, but right out of the gate in 2K22, the shot meter feels great. You either press and hold a button down or flick the analog stick to start your shot. Then, you have to release it with timing to have a good chance of making the shot. In my experience, the updated shooting toes the line of being challenging and lenient, so you have to work to make hard shots but lay-ups and uncontested dunks require much less precision. In addition to the shooting, dribbling has also seen improvements as the right analog stick can be flicked in different directions while handling the ball to execute all sorts of crossovers and anklebreakers.
This is harder to explain, but the players around me also just seemed a little bit smarter. It’s subtle but noticeable as the computer-controlled AI is more realistic. That’s shown in your own teammates not getting faked out comically too often and also in the computer not falling for the same old tricks when you’re on offense. This game demands more strategy and focus in most of the modes (aside from some of the goofier playground exhibition ones). In addition, the difficulty levels seem more even. In years past, jumping from Pro to All-Star felt like a gigantic leap. This year, it actually feels attainable to move up a level.
The story-driven MyCareer mode returns but this might be my least favorite narrative of any 2K story mode I’ve played. Your created character is a social media star who seemingly just also happens to play basketball. Part of the goal for this story is build your Personal Brand, which leans more into the marketing dystopia that sports is on the verge of becoming. It’s definitely more light-hearted, but it just pales in comparison to some of the shockingly engrossing stories in the past. The writing is still alright, but it’s overall disappointing.
MyCareer is also tied into the Neighborhood, which takes the form of a cruise ship in this year’s game. You can wander around the boat to participate in various events and upgrade your character. Unfortunately, microtransactions are available here and you can pay to increase your created character’s prowess. For what it’s worth, I believe about $30-40 worth of currency will make your player a superstar. You can earn currency without paying, but naturally that’s easier to do when your player is better.
Even worse, MyCareer - this game’s story-driven narrative mode - is only playable online. The mere existence of microtransactions doesn’t make this game bad, but the inclusion of them in what is primarily a single-player experience is annually discomforting. This mode is also where some of the feature disparity among versions of the game comes into play. I have not played the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series version, but that touts having the City in lieu of the Neighborhood. If you have seen any of the Jake from State Farm bits online, that’s all in the City. There is a chance that Jake from State Farm is next-gen only.
This mode also highlights some of the technical issues. My created character was unable to actually generate any hair. The facial hair is there, but no matter what set his haircut to, it just loaded in flat, looking like my bald basketball player just painted his head. The fact the online modes run without much of an issue on Switch is great, but with the occasional oddity elsewhere, the game seems like it’s outpacing what the Switch can actually handle.
The rest of the suite of modes is the same as it ever was. MyTeam, 2K’s card-collecting online mode, is still there to try to whittle away more microtransactions from you by teasing new cards and packs. It’s generous enough if you want to dive in that it’s not egregious, but I can’t say these variations on Ultimate Team ever appealed to me.
What’s frustrating is that after last year’s disappointing release, MyGM, MyLeague, and the WNBA integration is just basically the same. I loved the charming jankiness of MyGM when it got a sizable refresh two years ago. It’s essentially been the same experience three games in a row. I have yet to find the same Frasier joke from NBA 2K20, but every other deliciously hacky conversation still remains. I love the personality pleasing and goal management in MyGM. I wish it got the same love the microtransaction-heavy modes got too. As for the WNBA content, I’m still so happy the teams are in the NBA 2K games and it’s great the Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker is on a cover variant, but I wish it was more than an afterthought. Maybe it’s something about the marketability of the WNBA vs. the NBA, but if the story mode this year can be about a social media star working on his Personal Brand, maybe that social media star could be a male or a female.
If you’re coming to NBA 2K22 to play some basketball, it’s a tremendous game on Switch. The shooting and dribbling are both reworked in positive ways and games are more realistic and approachable than ever. Outside of regular seasons, though, the modes you play that basketball in are trending downward in quality. Unless you’re ready to live your life one pack of virtual cards at a time, there isn’t much of value in MyCareer, MyGM, or MyLeague. Here’s hoping NBA 2K23 takes the refined gameplay and brings about more exciting variation in the modes.