NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is its own worst enemy. On the surface NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a tremendously fun and appealing arcade basketball game. A sequel to the 2017 original Playgrounds 2 does manage to improve on the first game in a myriad of ways. It's faster, there are way more modes at launch, and the overall presentation is more enjoyable and vibrant. NBA Playgrounds 2 manages to achieve what the first game wanted and become a true successor to the beloved NBA Jam and NBA Streets series ... for a time.
The core gameplay of NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is solid. Sadly, it's ruined by some design choices. Developer Saber Interactive and Playgrounds' new publisher 2K Sports couldn't just let the gameplay stand for itself. Instead a strong core is drowned under microtransactions, loot packs and an overly bloated roster of locked characters. They combine to turn the experience into a slog.
There are some elements that Playgrounds 2 brings quite successfully. There are deeper basketball game experiences out there but few are as fun as the basic loop of Playgrounds. Throughout the variety of modes in Playgrounds 2 matches are always played as 2v2 bouts with gamers getting a hold of cartoon basketball players of past and present (but mainly present). With everyone from Steph Curry to Julius Irving it's possible dive into high scoring games of dunks, long shots, and vicious sprinting across the court. Those looking for a bit more complexity and mechanical depth might grow bored of Playgrounds 2 but the game does scratch a long neglected itch. The world needs an over-the-top basketball title to continue the legacy started by NBA Jam.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 doesn't have quite the same level of personality as NBA Jam but it does attempt to get there. For example, if one duo is getting shut out of the game their net will freeze up with ice. That ice must be chipped away before a successful point can even be considered. It's not the most revolutionary mechanic but it does give Playgrounds 2 a sense of personality and charm. Similarly the commentary track aims to reach iconic heights of NBA Jam but its not quite there either. The commentators in Playgrounds 2 are occasionally amusing but they utter many of the same lines too repeatedly to really charm but the effort is appreciated.
There's also a nice selection of modes. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a game built for multiplayer (local and online) but it is possible to play a solo season or exhibition match. There's also the brand new Championship mode. Championship is an worldwide online league where gamers can compete for arcade basketball glory with their fantasy basketball dream team with competition around the globe. The online play is also much smoother than it was for the previous Playgrounds.
If Playgrounds 2 just focused on those fundamentals it would be a entertaining, if maybe not remarkable, game. Unfortunately that's not the case. Everything outside the basic 2v2 matches is a bit of a mess. Playgrounds 2's sin is the transgression of a lot of modern sports games; the dreaded loot box. Buying the base game of NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 doesn't unlock the entire roster of 200 current and former players. Booting up the game for the first time gives players a few loot packs which only unlock a handful of random players and that's it.
In order to play as Michael Jordan or Lebron James, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 requires the user to play the game over and over to earn in-game currency or to just spend extra real-world money. This is all to open a gold, silver, or bronze player packs and have the chance to unlock a "legendary" player like James or Jordan. As you'd expect Playgrounds 2 isn't that generous with giving out the in-game currency either. To buy a gold pack, you'll need 5,000 credits and (on average) Playgrounds 2 only gives around 100 credits per Playgrounds match, all of which last about 5 minutes. That's a lot of time spent for no guaranteed award. Playgrounds 2's expansive roster sounds great until it sinks in that huge roster is going to significantly lower the odds of getting a player who is decent and/or memorable.
There is an option of course to unlock the entire roster of players at launch including any more players that Playgrounds will add down the line. It just costs money and that's the point. By purchasing the All-Star Pack, which costs about $9.99, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 will finally allow access to the entire game. NBA 2K Playgrounds costs $29.99 at launch and that's a fair price for the gameplay and modes. A price tag of $39.99 though is perhaps too much for NBA 2K Playgrounds 2.
Microtransactions are always available to open packs of random cosmetics even after paying for the All-Star Pack. Each player must also be leveled up to improve their statistics. This can be done through standard gameplay but there's also an option to speed things along with XP packs - another thing real-money purchases can get you from packs. From top to bottom the whole system is as transparent as it's greedy.
It would be fine if Playgrounds 2 opened with a limited roster and gave the chance to unlock more players with time naturally. It would add a sense of progression and replayability to the game. However making those unlocks dolled out at random through microtransactions, boosters, and loot boxes is a bit ugly. It ruins what is an otherwise a solid arcade basketball experience.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is available now for $29.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. A Nintendo Switch version is slated for release in November 2018. Screen Rant was provided a PS4 copy for review.