An Up And Down Debut
Nintendo console owners who enjoy sports sims have rarely had the chance to scratch that itch on the company’s recent platforms. Outside of some first-party arcade sports games, options on the Wii and Wii U ranged between subpar to nonexistent. Prospects are looking up for the fledgling Switch judging by what Visual Concepts pulled off with NBA 2K18.
This version of the popular basketball title isn’t merely a shell of the PS4/Xbox One version. Nearly every feature that makes that game one of the best sports sims on the planet comes to the Switch port. Franchise fans who love to build up a dynasty can enjoy the MyLeague and MyGM modes, the latter of which features an interesting story approach. Prefer to focus on turning your created player into an NBA superstar? The MyCareer mode allows you to chase that dream via its improved player progression system, which lets you develop the skills and trait badges that best complement your play style. Card collectible fans can dig into the rich MyTeam mode that balances competition better thanks to a new Super Max mode that places a salary cap on your roster. The vast collection of classic teams and franchise All-Time teams gives you a rich pool of NBA clubs to choose from when playing online head-to-head matches. You can read more in depth about all these features in our PS4/Xbox One review.
The same great gameplay that has won over basketball fans comes to the Switch version as well. The Pro Controller is the best option, but the standard Switch controls work adequately as well. Just don’t expect to get much mileage out of splitting up the Joy Cons for local play. Doing so robs you of many critical control features that make the game so enjoyable, including the right analog stick dribbling/shooting, icon passing, and play calling.
One area the Switch version of NBA 2K18 takes a step backward from its sister versions is the online play. The same pay-to-win problems that plague the PS4/Xbox One versions are here for those starting out – don’t expect to be on the same competitive playing field as others online unless you spend money to upgrade your player or grind hard from the starting level 60 to the high 70s. For those who want to play the 3v3 Playground games or 5v5 Pro-Am competitions, good luck finding other pick-up players. The Playground was largely empty if I looked for a game any time other than peak evening hours, and I never could find a Pro-Am pickup game.
Other quality-of-life problems plague the Switch version of NBA 2K18 as well. Given its reliance on 2K servers for the virtual currency, you need to be connected online to get the full MyCareer experience. This is fine when your Switch is docked at home, but creates several headaches while you travel in handheld mode. Need to step away from your game a minute? Be careful. When the Switch goes into sleep mode it loses its Wi-Fi connection, shutting down whatever game you were playing and making you start over. You can create an offline MyCareer player, but it removes the tattoo/haircut/apparel customization options and even the ability to use the training facilities to grind for badges and player upgrades. The mode would greatly benefit from a more flexible check-in system that allowed to you to play or train offline for reasonable stretches, then return to the fully featured MyCareer hub.
Moving NBA 2K18 to the Switch introduced some performance hiccups. The drop from 60 to 30 frames per second is noticeable, but less so than the resolution reduction. The game still looks good on the court, but cutscenes take a hit during the MyGM and MyCareer narratives due to audio drops and ugly bloom outlines surrounding characters. The good news is the Switch version is receiving regular game updates alongside the PS4/Xbox One versions, so hopefully 2K can address some of these technical problems.
The Switch version of NBA 2K18 is rough around the edges, but the strong collection of core modes that make the game a perennial contender from sports game of the year are all here. Despite the drop in graphical fidelity, connectivity headaches when in handheld mode, and barren online modes, you’ll have a hard time finding a better basketball sim experience.