We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with some thoughts on The Cages – formerly branded as the Under Armour Cages – within The Neighborhood of NBA 2K’s MyCAREER.
I get the impression that The Cages in The Neighborhood are a love-them-or-hate-them aspect of MyCAREER in NBA 2K. Introduced in NBA 2K19, they provide an alternative to the streetball experience of The Playground. It’s not quite Slamball, but it’s a similar concept, being a rougher style of basketball involving trampolines. I have mixed feelings about The Cages, but as with any mode you’re not that interested in, it’s easy enough to simply ignore them and play something else. Not everything is going to appeal to everyone, after all.
Nevertheless, the concept of The Cages is an interesting one that’s worth a closer look. It stands as an example of creativity on 2K’s part, but also underscores one of the recurring problems with MyCAREER and its connected modes: too much focus on bells and whistles, or “flavour content”, over the core experience. The Cages are far from a vital part of the game, yet they’re not entirely unwelcome either. It’s a mode that could be better, but at the same time, it definitely shouldn’t be a priority. I’m not sure how popular it is, but it’s an aspect of MyCAREER that I haven’t really talked about much, so let’s delve into NBA 2K’s Slamball stand-in.
For the uninitiated, The Cages can be found between the Ante-Up building (to the left of the Daily Spin entrance) and the Boost Stand in The Neighborhood of both NBA 2K19 and NBA 2K20. They’re located over the railroad tracks, and every time that you travel to play in The Cages, you’ll see a cutscene of your player walking over the rail bridge. As the name would imply, the arena consists of street courts enclosed in cages. There are four 3-on-3 courts, with two 2-on-2 courts located at the far end. The courts have five trampoline pads situated around the perimeter and three under the hoop, allowing you to get an extra lift on jumpshots, dunks, blocks, and rebounds.
On top of this break from traditional hoops – streetball or otherwise – it’s rougher than usual, as there are no foul calls. As such, you can expect to get knocked out of the air quite a lot. Passes can be thrown off the cages, there’s no out of bounds, and there’s no goaltending calls. Apart from that, the usual rules of Playground basketball apply: baskets count for two and three as normal, the ball is checked after a made basket, and winners hold court while new challengers line up at the Got Next spots. As I noted, the mode was originally Under Armour branded in NBA 2K19, but just as the Foot Locker store became 2K Shoes in NBA 2K20, the mode is now simply The Cages.
It’s a novel idea, and based on the fact I do see people heading to The Cages, it’s safe to say that there’s an audience for it. Personally, I’ve found the gameplay to be clunky, though it’s probably because I don’t play it often and haven’t mastered the trampoline mechanics. It is fun when you can bounce off a trampoline for a big dunk and it’s an interesting change of pace, but for the most part, it’s not for me. The only time I’ve gone there is to get the Trophy in NBA 2K19, or to earn the VC when it’s the Daily Bonus. Incidentally, the bonus is meant to be for finishing five games, but in NBA 2K19 and NBA 2K20 alike, you’ll actually get it after completing only one game.
I hope they never fix that (except perhaps to amend the text that refers to five games), because one game in The Cages is about all I can stand to farm some VC. Other than that, I’m content to leave the mode for gamers who find it more appealing. With that in mind, I’m not about to advocate for The Cages to be removed, as I do think there is value in having additional modes and mini-games in The Neighborhood for as long as it remains in the game as MyCAREER’s hub. The fact that the mode is an interesting spin on basketball rather than something completely unrelated, like dodgeball or disc golf, is definitely a positive. After all, NBA 2K is a basketball video game.
Of course, it suffers from the same problems as the other connected modes. There’s no matchmaking, so if you head there solo, it can be very difficult to get a game. Like The Playground, it seems a lot of gamers would rather stand around and watch than actually play. The issues with balance are thrown even more off-kilter by the chaotic nature of the gameplay. On the bright side, I’ve never experienced much lag or any disconnection errors there. The smaller environment and lower number of users therein would obviously account for that, but regardless, it’s one of the smoother online modes in NBA 2K as far as latency is concerned.
My main complaint with The Cages is that it’s another addition intended to flesh out The Neighborhood, rather than address some of the key issues with MyCAREER and its connected modes. As I said, there is value in making The Neighborhood livelier with a handful of different things to do, but it’s very frustrating when so many legacy issues – both in the single player and multiplayer aspects of MyCAREER – have yet to be addressed. The Cages are a cool thing to show in a trailer for The Neighborhood, but it’s not as important as adding matchmaking, improving balance and gameplay, enhancing teammate AI, and finding ways to discourage toxic play and behaviour.
This focus on the mini-games and bells and whistles of MyCAREER has hurt the on-court product and overall experience. I’m not laying all the blame for that on The Cages, but they’re an example of adding something new that isn’t vital to the core experience, while neglecting to address long-standing issues. It’s not something that gamers were clamouring for, and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, it stings when pleas to add vital features or fix nagging issues are seemingly ignored, or met with derision and hostility. I realise that matchmaking and balance aren’t glamorous selling points for a trailer, but they’re far more important areas to focus upon..
As I mentioned, The Cages as a mode could also be better. Once again, it carries the same shortcomings as regular Playground games, but the execution of its concept also results in some sloppy, ugly gameplay. I know that that’s kind of the point as it’s meant to be both rough and wacky, but it’s too easily exploited. With no goaltending, bigs can camp in the lane and swat everything with the help of a trampoline. The lack of fouls means that you can just mash the steal button to force turnovers. Many of the layup attempts off the trampolines seem to go awry, and games drag out as both sides struggle to score. Despite the lack of rules, it’s actually less fun and free-flowing.
I’m not against improving the gameplay in The Cages, but the issues that should’ve been addressed before it was added definitely must take precedence now. Again, that’s my biggest problem with The Cages. It’s not specifically that the mode is in the game as it has value, is at least basketball-related, and can easily just be ignored if you’re not interested it. It’s the philosophy it represents that bothers me: ignoring the big issues and long-standing complaints and suggestions in favour of adding something that looks cool for five seconds in a trailer. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have any lasting appeal, but it doesn’t mask or distract us from lingering issues for very long.
If you enjoy The Cages, then honestly, more power to you. It is a fun idea that some people clearly do enjoy, and NBA 2K should offer a diverse range of experiences. It’s also probably the nearest thing to a Slamball video game that we’re ever going to get. For me however, it exemplifies many of the ongoing issues with NBA 2K’s online modes, as well as a problematic design philosophy. It could be better, but there are several other things that should be improved first, and should’ve been focused upon before The Cages were ever implemented. If you enjoy The Cages, I say rattle on. If you’re like me though, you’re only crossing that bridge if some VC is up for grabs.