Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five things that I miss when I go back and play older basketball video games.
Retro basketball gaming is awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! That isn’t to say that newer games aren’t great too, and I certainly sink hours into them as well. However, don’t let the naysayers tell you that all previous releases were inferior to their modern counterparts, and it’s only myopic nostalgia that allows you to enjoy them. Whether it’s the pervasive presence of recurrent revenue mechanics, a grind that feels more like tedious work than a fun and challenging journey, or a questionable design choice in the gameplay, newer is not always better.
By the same token however, it’s true that not everything was better in the “good old days”. Some ideas, or entire games, have aged poorly. We can also forget that even the classics have problems of their own. If nothing else, there are enhancements and additions in more recent basketball games that I miss when I go back and play old titles. Their absence doesn’t render those old games unplayable or unenjoyable, but you definitely do miss the fun and/or convenience that they added. Even if there’s an old approach that still has merit and would work fine, we’ve grown accustomed to a new way of doing things. Whatever the case, I miss these five things in old games.
1. MyCOURT in MyCAREER
Let’s tip off this list with something that I actually miss in newer games as well as old ones. I scoffed at the gimmicky nature of MyCOURT when it was announced for NBA 2K15, but let me tell you: I really came to enjoy it! Obviously it’s useful for testing out animations and practicing with your player, but in any NBA 2K game that features MyCOURT in MyCAREER, there have been times when I’ve just gone there to casually shoot around. It also provided a means of earning extra VC, but that aside, there was something relaxing about it. When you feel like a virtual hardwood fix but don’t have the time or inclination for a game, a shootaround can be quite enjoyable.
It’s also nice to have a personal hub or home base that you can interact with in video games. When cosmetic items and customisation features are free and aren’t being used as status symbols or makeshift matchmaking criteria, they’re fun personal touches, like the wallpaper on your PC or phone. As much as NBA 2K14 MyCAREER has been a blast, I miss having my own MyCOURT to mess around on. Sure, MyCOURT is still part of The Neighborhood in prior gen, but it’s been replaced by the courts at the Gatorade gym in Next Gen’s City. They’re just not the same – even though they’ve been free to use after NBA 2K21 – and that does take some of the fun out of the mode.
2. Modern Passing Controls
When expanded passing controls were announced for NBA 2K16, I was sceptical. It sounded like overkill, as NBA Live’s attempt at three separate shooting buttons didn’t pan out. It seemed to me that there was a bigger need for multiple buttons for shooting rather than passing, and so if that hadn’t worked out, separate pass buttons was a gimmick doomed to fail. To put it bluntly, I was wrong! Utilising three face buttons for deeper passing control, and the right stick and sprint as a modifier for more complex shots and moves, has worked out very well. It’s allowed us to choose the right pass for the situation, without compromising any depth in shooting controls.
That’s not to say that I can’t work with the passing controls in old games, but I miss being able to quickly select the type of pass with a single button press, or throw a more advanced pass with an easy double tap. There are also a couple of older NBA 2K titles where alley-oops are thrown by pressing shoot and pass at the same time, which feels clunky and makes it way too easy to accidentally shoot instead (or at best, throw a normal pass). Again, that change to passing controls turned out to be a bigger and better innovation than I expected, so much like right stick dribbling – and yes, that’s coming up soon – I do miss it in old games with more primitive mechanics.
3. Classic Teams & Retro Players Not Yet Added
My retro kick with the PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14 has gone beyond playing multiple seasons in MyCAREER. I love the look and feel of the game so much that I’ve had to play some historical matchups with the retro teams. NBA 2K14 has a good number of classic squads thanks to the original Jordan Challenge and NBA’s Greatest, but some really great additions to the selection of retro teams were made in future games. There’s a lack of viable matchups as far as year-specific opponents in NBA 2K14, especially with only one team after the 90s (the 2001 76ers). Well, technically the current 2014 rosters are now retro in their own right, but you know what I mean!
A couple of missing players were also conspicuous by their absence. He’s since been added to the historical rosters once again, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t licensed to appear in NBA 2K14. It does detract from the authenticity when you’re playing a 1980s Lakers vs Celtics clash, and Mychal Thompson is starting in the middle for Los Angeles instead! Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about that in the PS4/X1 version of NBA 2K14. Roster and face modding is of course possible on PC, but generally speaking, I still miss that retro content when I want to quickly throw on old games and certain historic players or entire classic teams aren’t readily available.
4. Right Stick Dribbling in Old NBA 2K Games
Even though I’ve warmed up to the NBA 2K style of gameplay and developed a great deal of affection for the series despite growing up a fan of NBA Live, I’m still not keen on the original Isomotion. All of the releases from NBA 2K13 onwards are very accessible to me, even though I enjoy some of them more than others. NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12 are the pre-right stick dribbling releases that I enjoy the most, but I still miss having that control in those old games. I can play their predecessors, and indeed it’s fun to go back and see what I was missing by sticking with NBA Live back then. You’ll never convince me that those old NBA 2K games had better dribbling, though!
Looking back, it’s still puzzling that it took the NBA 2K series so long to adopt right stick dribbling. I guess the developers were committed to the Shot Stick, and to be fair, it did enhance the shooting controls in those releases. Dribbling controls were the one thing that NBA Live always did better than NBA 2K however, even as 2K was overtaking it in basically all other areas. Perhaps they didn’t want to use an idea that was so heavily associated with a competitor, but if so, that was myopic. Fortunately they ultimately made the right decision – I think most gamers would agree on that – but I miss right stick dribbling whenever I’m revisiting those old NBA 2K games.
5. Green Releases (Sort Of)
NBA 2K’s Gameplay Director Mike Wang (aka Beluba) has spoken of a desire to wean the community off of Green Releases. At this point, I honestly don’t see it happening. The fanbase is too used to the idea of getting a guaranteed make when they hit the sweet spot for a Green Release, and honestly, I get it! It’s not that I can’t enjoy a title that doesn’t utilise the Green Release mechanic, but when I do play one – such as NBA 2K14 – I’m reminded of the frustration that occurs when a wide open perfect release ends up being a brutally bad brick. The game is telling you that you’ve done everything right with a great shooter, and yet the attempt has missed terribly.
While I don’t think NBA 2K has achieved as much of a skill gap as some people claim – in part because there are too many artificial boosts and canned sequences to really allow for one – I do believe there’s a fair point to be made about rewarding precise input. The seemingly loaded dice rolls on jumpshots in old games sometimes made them less viable than they should’ve been, contributing to the tried-and-true strategy of either going for a dunk or layup, or a three-pointer if you’re going to take the risk on a jumpshot. With that being said, while the absence of Green Releases does lead to some frustrating moments, it doesn’t actually prevent old games from being enjoyable.
What are some of the things that you miss when you go back to old games? Does it stand in the way of you going back to play them more often? 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.