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 features in the NBA 2K series that are arguably underrated.
Following on from last week’s column, which looked at five features of the NBA Live series that could be considered underrated, I’m now taking a look at NBA 2K. Visual Concepts’ series of sim-oriented basketball video games has received a lot of praise over the past decade, and for good reason. The NBA 2K series has earned a lot of critical acclaim and sold millions of copies on the strength of its gameplay, deep game modes, and overall attention to detail. Even though we have our criticisms, NBA 2K has definitely had its strong points that are well-known and enthusiastically praised.
As I said last week, however, it’s often the little things that really make the basketball gaming experience special. The big features are important and they’re obviously what sell the games, but the smaller details often provide enhancements in many areas, be it greater accessibility or fun ways to play the game. At the same time, there are features that aren’t necessarily small, but still somewhat overlooked, or just not given their due for how enjoyable, helpful, or innovative they are. With that being said, here are five of the more underrated features in the NBA 2K series. Hopefully, the ones that are absent from recent releases can be implemented again at some point.
1. Card Collection in MyTEAM
When it comes to the card collecting/team building modes in NBA Live and NBA 2K, I feel that Ultimate Team and MyTEAM both have certain features that are superior to the other mode. I prefer LUT’s approach to pack odds and content, but MyTEAM has more depth in terms of challenges and sub-modes. In NBA Live 18, LUT provides you with all the assets of your favourite team at the start, but MyTEAM allows you to unlock the ability to create custom branding. There are benefits and drawbacks to the way that both modes approach their basic concepts, but one feature in particular that I feel is underrated is the Card Collection interface in MyTEAM.
Obviously, it’s an aesthetically pleasing method of displaying all of the cards you’ve collected, organised by team and sorted into different series. I used to do the same thing with my trading cards back in the day, so for me at least, there’s some nostalgia in the approach. It’s also quite practical, providing a checklist of the cards that can be collected. By selecting the cards that you’ve collected, you can perform tasks such as applying contracts, selling them, or sending them to the Auction House. For cards you haven’t collected yet, selecting their listing will search the Auction House for them. It’s a nifty way of managing your collection, and it’s something LUT should adopt.
Calling Create-a-Team underrated may be a slight stretch, as it’s a feature that gamers have spoken of very highly in the past. However, it was left behind with the end of the previous generation, and although we have some great customisation tools in the NBA 2K series at the moment, we can’t create custom teams from scratch and add them to a roster. Presumably, telemetry data indicated that the feature wasn’t being used all that much. Visual Concepts have seen fit to bring back certain features that have fallen by the wayside over the years – albeit sometimes in a slightly different form – but as of NBA 2K18, Create-a-Team isn’t one of them.
NBA Live had its own Create-a-Team function in the late 90s, but it wasn’t quite as deep as what we saw in various NBA 2K titles. Not only did it avoid sticking users with a limited selection of generic-but-not-generic-enough logos, it offered more detailed branding options, and even the ability to save teams so that they could be imported into any roster. This functionality was actually put to use in early versions of the Ultimate Base Roster, before it became a comprehensive mod with full current and retro season rosters. I believe the future of modding lies in being able to edit as much as possible in-game, and to that end, I’d like to see Create-a-Team return.
3. NBA 2K12’s Training Camp
The last couple of games in the NBA 2K series have featured 2KU, which deserves credit for being a comprehensive in-game manual that includes clips demonstrating the controls, and a freestyle tutorial. That being said, the tutorial can be cumbersome with hints popping up somewhat randomly, and interrupting the action. If you’ve ever used 2KU in The Prelude to get a feel for the upcoming game, I’m sure you can relate. If you’re a novice learning all of the controls for the first time, you’re kind of thrown in at the deep end, too. Although there’s merit in learning on the fly, the ability to watch a demonstration and then run through some drills can be extremely helpful.
That’s where the Training Camp mode in NBA 2K12 came in handy. At the time, I was still adjusting to NBA 2K’s controls; I’d been a long-time NBA Live gamer, and NBA 2K hadn’t adopted right stick dribbling controls as yet, so I was still struggling with the advanced moves, and a few of the basic Isomotion controls as well. The drills were quite helpful, and the concept of having Legends teaching you the moves made the mode a lot less dry. Recent games in the NBA 2K series have been criticised for being less accessible to the average gamer, instead focusing on elite gamers (often YouTubers). In light of that, bringing back Training Camp would be a good idea.
4. Start Today & Start in Offseason in MyLEAGUE
It took a while for these features to be added to the franchise experience, but I’m glad that the NBA 2K team found a way to do it. Originally added in the old Association mode, the ability to start a new game on today’s date in the current season is a fantastic idea. It makes the prospect of starting a new franchise game late in a title’s life cycle much more appealing, especially if you like playing along with the real NBA season. Whether you want to take over a team that’s already Playoff-bound, challenge yourself to make a run for the Playoffs, or play out the season and get right to rebuilding in Year 2, the Start Today feature provides some ready-made scenarios.
A more recent expansion to the idea of changing the starting point was implemented in NBA 2K17, with the ability to begin a new franchise game in the offseason. It’s a feature that I’ve wanted to see in franchise modes for some time. A few NBA Live titles have provided the ability to redo the rookie Draft before starting a new game, but NBA 2K’s option also includes free agency, player retirements, trades…everything from the offseason that could be changed, can be changed. I’m sure technical issues were a factor in these features taking so long to implement, so I believe they deserve more recognition for their innovation, and what they add to the franchise experience.
5. League & Award Histories
The manual for NBA Live 95 touts that every player in the game has their complete statistics from the 1994 season, advising users to “put away that almanac”, because “it’s in the game”. Back in those days, being able to view the previous season’s stats for all players (as well as their ratings) was something special, but video games – and our expectations – have come a long way since then. These days, we’re able to view all-time statistical leaders, award winners, records, and champions in MyLEAGUE, MyGM, and MyCAREER. Single game and season record holders are also listed, for each NBA team and the league as a whole.
Not only is the history of the NBA represented, we can also add to it and re-write the record books. If someone scores 101 points, it will be noted as the new league record. If a team wins 74 games, it’ll go down in history. As players keep tallying statistics, they’ll climb the all-time leader charts. The league records and award histories not only keep tabs on your accomplishments on the virtual hardwood, but deepen the modes by representing the NBA’s past. It’s those extra details that make NBA 2K’s modes more than just season play with current rosters. Instead, they’ve become immersive and dynamic experiences in a virtual representation of the NBA.
What are some other features in the NBA 2K series that you feel are underrated? 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 please join me again next Friday for another Five.