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 five nifty features that weren’t advertised, and we had to discover on our own.
Over the years, the preview season has grown shorter and less exciting. I’ll admit that for my part, there’s a certain amount of cynicism that’s inevitable after covering hoops games for so many years. Features and entire games that didn’t live up to the hype do leave one jaded, or at the very least, taking every preview with a grain of salt. On top of that, with only one game guaranteed to come out every year, we’ve lost that back and forth, those attempts at one-upmanship coming out of EA Sports and 2K Sports. Indeed, the preview season has been reduced to a handful of blogs close to launch.
Hopefully, the previews for the Next Gen version of NBA 2K21 will shake things up. It’s the version that’s received the most attention after all, whereas the Current Gen release was outsourced to another studio. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when a few things are left for us to discover. Indeed, even when the preview season felt longer and more exciting, developers wouldn’t go into absolutely every detail about the games. There were always a few nifty things that didn’t make the previews, or the list of features on the back of the box. It’d be nice to discover a few gems in the newly released Current Gen version of NBA 2K21, though; gems such as these nifty features in past games.
1. Alternate Player Faces
If you ask a basketball gamer who grew up in the 90s to name some nifty features in titles from that era, most of us will likely recall the way that several games had Dennis Rodman’s hair change colour. Various methods were used to achieve this, but a common one was multiple sprites or face textures for Rodman. In NBA Live 98 and NBA Live 99, The Worm had a selection of faces, of which one was randomly chosen before each game, reflecting his tendency to change colours and patterns throughout the year. This mechanic was never really advertised, so it caught us off guard when developers began using it to provide other players with alternate faces and hairstyles.
NBA Live 2000 provides us with a few examples, including Allen Iverson. AI has a couple of different face textures in the game, each sporting a different style of braids. Chris Gatling also has different textures with alternate headbands, as does newly added Legend Wilt Chamberlain. Although it’s a nifty detail, it’s not really something that makes the blurbs on the back of the box. Once we discovered it, we were able to put the mechanic to use ourselves with mods, adding extra faces to the rotation or replacing specific textures while leaving others alone. Both the functionality and its modding potential were things we were left to discover, and that was part of the fun.
2. Secondary Road Uniforms (Pre-Jersey Selection)
I’ve reflected on how sim basketball games had been around for some time before we were able to manually select jerseys in-game before tip-off. The jersey selection menu was added in NBA Live 2003, at the same time as retro jerseys. NBA Live 2003 also allowed us to select alternate jerseys for teams that had them, but those alternates had been in previous games. As those jerseys were traditionally worn on Sundays back then, they’d automatically be loaded for Sunday games in Season mode. However, they’d also randomly be used in exhibition games. It was always fun to select a team like the Utah Jazz in NBA Live 99, and see their alternate instead of their usual jersey.
It’s one of those nifty features that wasn’t advertised because although it’s kind of an important detail, it’s also not a big enough feature in and of itself to be a selling point. As far as I can recall, aside from the jerseys being used in the designated games in Season Mode, there was no way to manually trigger them in-game, except to quit out and start another exhibition game until the RNG chose them. On PC of course, we were able to rename and import textures to swap them for the primary jerseys, to use them whenever we liked. As with the aforementioned alternate faces, we were also able to make use of the mechanic to add our own alternate jerseys to those games.
3. Freestyle Taunts
When Freestyle Control and Freestyle Superstars were introduced in NBA Live, they received a lot of attention during the preview season. They were major new gameplay mechanics after all, intended to revolutionise player control. It’s only natural that the previews (and later reviews) focused on them, and that they were spotlighted as one of the key features on the back of the box. In-game tutorials also explained the basic and advanced moves to us, but something that we had to discover for ourselves in later games was the ability to perform – for lack of a better/official term – Freestyle Taunts. By flicking the right stick without the ball, a player would perform a taunt.
Now, this was a pretty useless feature in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t have any tangible benefit, such as increasing a hype or momentum meter, nor did it boost the player’s abilities in any way. It was purely for flavour, but you know what? That still made it worth including in a way that meant most of us found it by accident. Nifty features like that gave the game heart, allowing us to make a player show emotion while also saying “Hey, look at that!” upon discovering it. It became one of those small touches that we remember, like players pointing as they ran back on defense after a dunk in NBA Live 95. Its only purpose was to liven up the game, and it did.
4. New Game Plus in NBA Jam TE
As far as I was aware on my first playthrough of NBA Jam Tournament Edition on PC, my goal was just to get through the ladder and defeat all 27 teams. If I did that, I’d see my initials added to the list of champions that appeared during the attract mode scroll. I was a proud eleven year old when I finally defeated the Houston Rockets, and secured my place on that list. True, no one else but my cousin (and occasionally, my father) played the game, but I knew it was there. Back then, you didn’t finish every game you played, and for me winning the titular tournament in NBA Jam TE was right up there with apprehending Carmen Sandiego in the deluxe edition of her game.
Naturally I wanted to see what would happen if I tried playing another game entering the initials I’d just used to play through the tournament, and that’s when I discovered that NBA Jam TE offered up a New Game Plus. Not only did I have expanded rosters to play with, but now I faced random opponents featuring random secret players, from Benny the Bull to creator Mark Turmell! Back in the 90s, these were the things that you’d discover and then tell your friends about at school the next day. Since then, I’ve often wished that I could use the expanded rosters without the secret players showing up, but it’s still one of those nifty features that I was excited to discover for myself.
5. Various Nifty Features in MyCOURT
Judging by some comments I’ve seen on the official NBA 2K subreddit, MyCOURT is one of those features that fewer MyCAREER gamers are making use of these days, now that The Neighborhood has become the hub for the mode and its connected experiences. That’s unfortunate, as there are a few nifty things that aren’t usually advertised. Beyond MyCOURT’s obvious use as a place to freely shoot around with your MyPLAYER, view trophies you’ve won, and in some cases get a new story cutscene, it can be put to use for player development. While it can no longer be used to grind level caps as with NBA 2K17’s “Doin’ Work” mechanic, it can earn you VC.
By performing different tasks during a shootaround – making ten shots in a row, dunk in each basket, and so on – you can earn up to 500 VC between NBA games. It’s not much, but when you’re grinding for every little bit of VC, it does help. There are also a few things to interact with, which are mostly flavour content, but it is fun when you discover them all the same. The new locations that you could unlock in NBA 2K17 were nice surprises, even though it was obvious there was something there to unlock. I realise MyCAREER is all about The Neighborhood now, but there’s more that can be done with MyCOURT. I’d be all for discovering those features on our own, too.
Can you think of any nifty features that you discovered yourself, or after they were pointed out by someone else in the community? Do you remember stumbling across any of these over the years? Have your say in the comments 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 please join me again next Friday for another Five.