Growing up with an NES, Double Dribble was my first exposure to basketball games and I realized I loved the sport. Over the years I’ve bought an absurd number of basketball games, but in the last decade or so they have been relegated to non-Nintendo platforms if I wanted a more realistic experience. It always bothered me, because I remember buying NBA games on my PS3, Xbox 360, and even PSP, but Nintendo was always the odd man out. Sure, you had some bad ports of NBA 2K and Live on the Wii, and one entry of NBA 2K on the Wii U, but they were always lazy and honestly just not good. When NBA 2K18 was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I was intrigued: not only was portable hoops back, but it was on a Nintendo platform. Would 2K take the easy way out or would NBA 2K18 live up to the reputation that it gained since becoming a dominant franchise on the Dreamcast?
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: graphics. To me, NBA 2K18 was a super important game for the Nintendo Switch because it was one of the first “realistic” style of games that was a multi-platform release that used a heavy graphics engine. It would sort of be a benchmark for what we could expect from third-party companies in terms of what the Nintendo Switch was capable of graphically when it came to multi-platform releases. 2K managed to do something I now dub “Switchcraft” with NBA 2K18, because it honestly SHOULDN’T look as good as it does, but it does.
There are several videos on the internet showcasing the Switch version vs. the PS4 Pro, and character models are so close that only a diehard hoops fan would be able to notice. The crowds might look a tad worse, and there’s some advanced lighting missing, but as a whole the game looks FANTASTIC and is arguably the best looking “realistic” game on the Nintendo Switch. Players have excellent animations, from fluid movement to detailed facial animations based on what is happening in the game. The main difference between the Switch version and the PS4 version is the framerate: action on the Switch is at a locked 30FPS whereas the PS4 is 60FPS. Is it noticeable? When putting them side by side, a bit. When actually playing? I had 0 issues. The game looks and runs fantastic and showcases that the Switch is no slouch when it comes to power.
One of the big modes is the My Player mode, which has you doing a story-based career. To be honest with you, I do not like story modes in my sports games, because it’s not needed. The story happens on the court or the field. I did try it out, and the voice acting seemed fine, but there was a few technical issues (with some reporting that their player was wiped) that did hurt the experience. 2K has said a patch is incoming, but this is worth noting.
The game comes packed with modes and features that will give the most die-hard NBA fan a ton of reasons to come back to it. Whether it’s GM mode which features light story elements (but all focused on court-related things), Online mode, Blacktop mode (which is a 3 on 3 mode), there’s tons of stuff to do and see in NBA 2K18. Of course, none of that matters if the basketball itself falls flat.
The actual basketball portion of NBA 2K18 is as good as it has ever been, however. I used the dogface standard Switch controller the entire time playing, and everything felt crisp, responsive, and great. New elements such as a tip-in feature that allows you to be more active on the rebounding side of things with floater or put back jams was a welcome addition. Defense has been refined and it seems to be a tad easier than previous entries when trying to stay in front of someone with the ball. There’s a learning curve for sure, as NBA 2K18 is a simulation basketball game, but if you have played previous entries in the series it won’t take you long to adjust to the new features.
While the game does feature all of the animations and modes that the PS4 version does, there is one annoying thing that needs to be addressed: online mode. Online mode itself works great, and I’ve played tons of matches with zero lag on a wireless connection, but there’s a few things that I don’t like and one thing missing.
The thing I don’t like is the fact that anyone can choose any team, including “All Time” teams which feature the best players from a certain team’s history. There needs to be a separate mode for this, because playing as the modern Charlotte Hornets vs. the All Bulls Team clearly isn’t a fair match-up. A semi-skilled player who picks an “All Time” team would have no trouble dismantling another team, so it needs to be addressed. The missing feature is the ability to play with just friends in an online match up. Right now, all you can do is play a quick match with a random person.
Of course, one thing worth noting is that the game NEEDS a Micro-SD card to even run on the Switch. You should have one anyways as SD memory is super cheap, but I feel like 2K could have done something similar to what DOOM is doing, by putting single player modes on the game cart and online modes via a download on the SD card. That way, single player can be enjoyed for years to come.
All in all though, NBA 2K18 is a welcome addition to the Switch library. It’s great to have realistic hoops back on a Nintendo platform, and 2K knocked it out of the park with their debut Switch title. It looks great, plays great, and if the kinks can get patched should be the start of a great franchise finally embracing a Nintendo platform.