Following a decent first season on the court, NBA Playgrounds returns with a new publisher in 2K. Those looking for a fun basketball game free of the mainline simulation’s attention to detail need look no further, but a lack of modes and options prevents Playgrounds 2 being an All-Star.
A match in Playgrounds 2 is the purest form of basketball match – matches are short, and not divided into traditional quarters, and while the rules based around two-point and three-point shots remain the same, everything moves at a pace closer to Space Jam than 2K’s mainline NBA series. That cartoonish analogy holds up with the game’s visuals too – players are surprisingly detailed caricatures of their real-life counterparts (at least for the most part), and many have unique animations. Couple this with the players’ propensity to jump fifteen feet in the air to perform an alley-oop and you’ve got quite the spectacle.
Flicking the right stick to crossover an opponent and then driving to the basket to dunk with a couple of somersaults thrown in for good measure always looks fluid, and has a gameplay advantage too. Miss too many shots and your rim will be “frozen”, a block of ice forming on it which needs to be chipped away. At the opposite end of the spectrum (and in a lovely nod to NBA Jam), a scoring streak turns the ball to fire and allows for one-hundred percent accuracy from anywhere on the court. It’s silly but adds an extra layer of spice to multiplayer games either online or playing with up to three friends on the same console.
The real stars of the game’s audiovisual presentation are the courts themselves. Each is packed with detail, from spectators to passers-by. There’s an airbase, surrounded by fighter jets, while the Pier features surfers and fishermen. A lot of care has been taken to make each court as unique as possible, while never feeling like a distraction. Commentary is wry and self-aware, although lines often repeat from match to match.
Such visual variety is most welcome given the lack of modes within Playground 2. While there is a truncated NBA Season to play through (featuring a similarly contracted playoff stage), and a three-point contest, you’ll spend most of your time within Exhibition Mode.
2K’s influence may have lead to more players, teams and licences, but unfortunately, it has also led to an influx of loot boxes. When starting Playgrounds 2, your squad is formed of the players you find in a starter pack. While currency is earned at a fairly rapid pace to unlock new packs, you aren’t able to jump straight in to play as the Lakers or the Bulls, unless their players are found in a pack. This means it can take some time to fill out your roster and feels like padding on the bones of a game that could use a career mode or tournament functionality.
The positive of this system is that you’ll level up your players on a game by game basis, improving their stats and allowing for more gameplay opportunities. For example, one player may level up and show a newfound aptitude for long shots, giving you a boost in three-point contests.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is some of the most immediate fun I’ve had this year. Be it throwing elbows, somersaulting into a dunk, or using a cartwheel to get past a defender, it’s a pure arcade experience. Unlike its forebears such as NBA Jam or NBA Street, however, it lacks enough substance to keep you on the court for more than a few matches at a time. Style though? Style it has in spades.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*