A few blemishes aside, NBA 2K20 is a strong sports game on Switch with lots of modes and depth.
Licensed sports games on Nintendo Switch are still, in general few and far between. Because of that, it’s a welcome sight to see 2K Sports bring NBA 2K20 to the system, making it the third consecutive year of the well-regarded basketball series on Nintendo’s console. Requisite improvements and additions help make this entry a good one, but much like last year’s edition, peripheral elements like a gross focus on microtransactions and, for the Switch’s case, online needed to access most modes make NBA 2K20 on Switch a Finals-bound squad marred by the sixth man from hell.
First off, my personal favorite addition is mostly a tacked-on one. WNBA teams and players are featured for the first time ever in the series. They can only be used in exhibition matches and a limited WNBA-specific season mode, but it’s still awesome that you can play as one of the 12 teams from the league to your heart’s content. Hopefully future games can make the WNBA component deeper.
Aside from the WNBA addition, the majority of the content is par for the course. There’s the microtransaction-heavy MyTeam mode, similar to Ultimate Team in EA Sports games. That mode is extremely not my kind of thing and I have zero desire to buy packs of cards using real money. That mode is only accessible online for obvious reasons and so is the MyCareer mode, where you can make your own player and take them on a story from the beginning of the career to the pros. The cast assembled, as per usual, is eclectic and way better than the content requires, with stars like Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, and Thomas Middleditch showing up. I find these modes compelling - perfect for the prospective player who wants a deliberate narrative alongside their sports games.
Unfortunately, the writing’s dalliances with promise wash away quickly, especially when interspersed with drawn-out gameplay segments centered on preparing your character for the NBA Draft. Making it worse is the fact that your character can only be upgraded using the in-game currency, which can be earned in the game but also can be bought using real money. While the publisher and developer swear the grind is better this year, it’s almost irrelevant by what degree it’s improved. Bottom line: the supremely novel create-a-player and take on a story mode is bogged down by microtransactions. Nothing really improves when you take your character through their NBA career. That’s where the real nonsense starts with lottery pulls and more loot box crap. It’s a damn shame because this could and should be a better mode, but it’s pay to win for the most part.
Instead, most of my time was drawn to the MyLeague and MyGM modes. MyGM honestly might share more in common with Fire Emblem: Three Houses than any other game on Switch. You control the team of your choice and try to guide them to victory by making use of allotted Action Points, which are almost literally just like the Ability Points in Three Houses. Spend time training or maybe increasing your support level with specific players. There’s even a skill tree for improving your management abilities. Playing this mode so close to Three Houses made the comparisons between the two very clear, though Fire Emblem’s turn at these characters interactions is infinitely more compelling. While the novelty of seeing my created GM talking with Eric Bledsoe about starting a Fraser fandom podcast is delightful, I saw a lot of those conversations repeat over my few hours with the mode. It’s still charming and the interaction with players and staff is something distinct from every other mode in the game, but it just might not have as much depth as other modes.
MyLeague is a little more traditional, letting you take a team or two through multiple seasons, managing the roster and playing the games throughout. It’s a sports video game staple, but NBA 2K20 does a stellar job of making it engaging, fun, and relatively simple to work through. The flexibility is what makes me enjoy MyLeague so much. I can just take the Milwaukee Bucks as is and try to win a title before Giannis inevitably leaves in free agency, or I can add some expansion teams, including historical players, and do a league-wide draft to make a team with Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Mugsy Bogues. If you were dedicated, you could probably make a Space Jam team. MyLeague lets you be as serious as you want, play as much or as little basketball as you want. The SimCast options provide a nice hands-off view as you can simulate stretches of the game. What’s most impressive is how quickly you can jump right back into the game from watching a top-down player icon sim of the proceedings.
In general, the Switch version of the game runs wonderfully. The relative necessity for an online connection for about half the modes is a bummer, but aside from a few lengthy but not obscene loads, the whole thing runs smoothly with minimal issues. NBA 2K20 plays great both on and off the TV. It continues to be a stellar port in year three.
The quality of the port to Switch and the variety and depth of modes and options on offer in NBA 2K20 is incredible. That makes it such a shame that microtransactions infect the story-driven MyCareer, dragging that down to mediocrity or worse. Fortunately, the intriguing though repetitive MyGM mode and the flexible and engrossing MyLeague mode make up for the online-only options. Throw in the WNBA teams and NBA 2K20 is likely the best iteration of the series on Switch even with its caveats.``