Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of what I would consider to be the best modes we’ve seen in basketball games so far.
With the holiday season upon us and Christmas just a few days away, I’m in good spirits, and I hope that you all are, too. Generally speaking, I like to mix up the topics and tone of The Friday Five, alternating between celebration, critique, interesting trivia, and thoughtful discussion of basketball video games. With this being the season of goodwill, I’m definitely in the mood to talk about something more positive in regards to basketball gaming. After all, I’m sure that many of us will be hitting the virtual hardwood whenever we can over the next few weeks, sinking hours into our favourite game modes.
As such, this week I’m offering up my picks for the best modes in basketball gaming to date. Not to harp too much on something I’ve said many times before, but while the gameplay experience is paramount, deep modes are what keep us hooked on a game until the next one comes out (and sometimes, even beyond that). It’s hard to pick just five, as there have been some exceptional modes in basketball games over the years, each catering to different tastes. I’ve personally had fun with a variety of modes throughout several releases, and I know that many of you can say the same. I would nominate these five modes as being the best of the bunch, in no particular order.
1. Jordan Challenge
The Jordan Challenge only appeared in one basketball video game – NBA 2K11 – but nevertheless, it is one of the best modes that we’ve seen. Celebrating the career of cover player Michael Jordan – who of course had been retired for some seven years when the game came out – the mode challenged us to replicate some of MJ’s greatest performances. There were ten games in total, starting with his 63 point game in 1986 against Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, and concluding with Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz. All of the most prominent players on the historical teams were accounted for, and MJ himself was represented perfectly.
I didn’t complete all of the Jordan Challenge games until many years later, though I had a lot of fun doing so for my Wayback Wednesday feature. Some of the challenges were quite tough, especially with eight minute quarters, but that’s a testament to how special His Airness was. Unlocking the MJ: Creating a Legend mode legitimately was definitely satisfying. The mode has had a significant impact on the NBA 2K series with more retro teams being added, starting in NBA 2K12 with NBA’s Greatest; a fine mode in its own right, but not quite as deep as the Jordan Challenge. Moving forward, I’d love to see the retro teams once again spotlighted in their own challenge mode.
2. Franchise Modes (Franchise, Dynasty, Association, MyLEAGUE)
It’s hard to name just one specific mode, so I’m collectively nominating franchise modes in general here. NBA Live deserves credit for tipping off the franchise experience in basketball gaming with the first incarnation of Franchise mode, which evolved into the deeper Dynasty mode as the years went by. The NBA 2K series, meanwhile, has gone above and beyond with its franchise modes, starting with The Association, and continuing through to today with MyLEAGUE and MyGM. If I had to pick a single one of the franchise modes, I’d likely give the nod to MyLEAGUE. I prefer the sandbox approach, and it’s far deeper than any of its predecessors.
Franchise gaming has somewhat gone out of vogue with basketball gamers gravitating towards career modes and their connected online experiences, but it still retains a respectable amount of popularity. In its heyday, of course, it was easily the definitive basketball gaming experience. As novel as it had been to play through a single NBA season and Playoffs in the early days of basketball gaming, the ability to play multiple seasons while drafting rookies, making trades and free agency signings, and dealing with the salary cap and player retirement, was something we’d wanted to have for a long time. Franchise modes are undoubtedly one of the best innovations of the genre.
There was a time when I didn’t really get the appeal of single player career modes. I was all for having them included in basketball games for the people who wanted them, but I was a franchise gamer, through and through. That’s changed a bit in recent years, and although I still retain my affection for and interest in franchise modes, I’ve also come to really appreciate the career experience. My affinity with the mode began in NBA 2K13, the year that 2K rebranded its My Player mode to MyCAREER. I was drawn in by its immersive nature, the different experience of player locked gameplay, and the challenge of carving out my own path as a virtual NBA player.
NBA Live has also introduced its own career modes: formerly Rising Star, and now, The One. EA Sports’ approach definitely has merit, from its use of separate currencies for player upgrades and cosmetic items, to its version of Pro-Am and an unintrusive story. Conversely, I’m not a huge fan of the current approach to MyCAREER, in particular the intrusive stories, cumbersome open world of The Neighborhood, and lack of goodwill with Virtual Currency. With all that being said, it is still the deeper career mode, and one that I’ve quite enjoyed, especially in NBA 2K17. Wildly popular and successful, I’d still say MyCAREER sets the standard for career modes.
4. Road Trip
One of the most disappointing aspects of Saber Interactive’s NBA Playgrounds is the lack of depth in its single player campaign. There has been some improvement in that regard in the form of new tournaments that have been added free of charge, though the most recent additions have come in the form of paid DLC. A lot of gamers have excused that lack of depth due to the price point and Saber’s unfamiliarity with making such a game, but I disagree, particularly with the first argument. After all, we saw a much deeper mode in an arcade basketball game that came out six years earlier, for around the same price; namely, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition’s Road Trip.
For years, arcade hoops titles featured a tournament mode where gamers played team after team, eventually beating the game by defeating the top ranked squad. It was a straightforward concept, but also one that was quite repetitive. EA Sports had replicated this formula with the Classic Campaign in 2010’s NBA Jam, but they had also experimented with the Remix Tour. They combined the two in OFE to create Road Trip, a mode that remained fresh with different types of games, multiplayer online and offline options, and a vast array of unlockables. It was the revolution to single player modes that arcade basketball games had sorely needed for many years.
5. Pro-Am (Both NBA Live & NBA 2K’s Modes)
If you’re a regular listener of the NLSC Podcast, you may be surprised to see me list these modes here, especially 2K Pro-Am. After all, my fellow co-hosts and I have shared more than a couple of gripes about the mode, and talked about rough sessions where we haven’t had a lot of fun. At the same time, however, we’ve also had our fair share of nights where we haven’t wanted to stop playing. For several weeks earlier this year, Arcane, Kenny, and I found ourselves playing multiple sessions of 2K Pro-Am each week. The combination of the gameplay, rewards, and social aspect of the Pro-Am concept in both games can make them quite addictive.
Honestly, I feel that both NBA Live and NBA 2K have built upon the concept of online team play quite superbly, each taking their own approach. While there are aspects that I wouldn’t mind each game borrowing from the other, I do like that they offer a different experience. 2K’s approach of creating and branding a squad to play in abbreviated games with full NBA rules holds a lot of appeal, as does Live’s streetball approach with its focus on player customisation. When it comes to online gameplay, I much prefer the team play concept to old school head-to-head matches. It’s telling that it’s the concept behind the NBA 2K League, which will be tipping off next year.
An honourable mention goes to MyTEAM and Ultimate Team, both of which I’ve enjoyed, and they’re obviously quite popular in general. It’s tough to leave them off this list, as they are definitely among the best modes in basketball games as well. In any event, that’s my list; what are your picks for the best modes in basketball gaming? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend and holiday season, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.