A Fresh Coat of Paint
In the world of sports games, few titles stand as reviled and simultaneously respected as 2K sports annual basketball sim. The series, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has long been the poster child for aggressive microtransactions in AAA gaming. Since 2K11, the console titles have been beloved by players for their tight controls and rewarding gameplay loop. This year, the console version of NBA 2K20 has gotten itself into hot water again with casino-like gambling mechanics and loot boxes. But how does the Android title stack up?
To those who have played a basketball game in the past decade, NBA 2K20 on Android will feel extremely familiar. The core pillars of the simulation-style release all remain intact. Scoring comes down to placement on the floor, timing and player’s stats. Defense is partially automated with the assistance of the “Intense-D” button. As in all NBA 2K titles, the key to easy offense is grabbing rebounds on defense and then heaving a pass to a player 70 feet away, sprinting up the court for an easy dunk, and it feels great here.
The Old Playbook
Every year, players complain of 2K’s unwillingness to update their annual money-maker in any meaningful way outside of team’s rosters. The attitude of the company extends to the Android version, with a notable number of bench players and recent draftees represented here with generic models.
The most egregious lack of update, however, comes in the form of the live commentary. Many non-superstar NBA players aren’t referred to by name and instead by number. Even more damning, the announcers call the Charlotte Hornets the ‘Bobcats,’ a name that changed five years ago.
Several systems and features from previous years make their way into this year’s mobile title. Postgame conferences are multiple choice and affect team chemistry, local fans and national fans, similar to 2K14. Players use a double-sided shot meter, a feature that appeared briefly in 2K16. MyCareer created players form relationships with NBA superstars, another feature that disappeared after 2K16.
Putting On an Exhibition
The gameplay and depth that players have come to expect is preserved here. Teams emulate the defensive and offensive tactics of their real world equivalents. Players like LeBron James and Zion Williamson execute vicious dunks, while Steph Curry and Kevin Durant sink deep shots with stunning regularity.
MyCareer, the game mode that lets players live out their fantasy of being drafted into the NBA, offers an experience that can easily vacuum up a few afternoons thanks to its bevvy of activities and games to play. There are few experiences more rewarding in gaming than taking a late second-round draft pick and turning them into an NBA Finals MVP in one season.
To be expected with any 2K title published in the past half-decade, this basketball sim wants players to spend real money for in-game stats. While certainly annoying, 2K20’s spending options aren’t nearly as predatory as its console counterpart. Defensive AI lacks the fine tuning present on other systems, allowing players to score more easily making VC, the game’s virtual currency, easier to obtain.
Outside of MyCareer, there are other modes for fans of bygone eras of the NBA or street basketball. NBA Story Mode allows players to experience the pivotal games and moments of Hall Of Famers’ careers as they unlock the greats for use in other modes. Run The Streets bears similarities to Fifa Street and others of the same ilk as players ascend through the ranks of an AND1 style tournament, recruiting the players that they beat. The Association hands the reigns of an NBA team to players and asks them to manage as much or as little as they want on their quest to creating a profitable, perennial title contender.
The Look of a Winner
Even at the lowest graphical settings, NBA 2K20 on Android is a good looking game. At max settings, presentation is downright gorgeous. Players faces emerge onto the court beautifully modeled, and in most cases, bear a strong resemblance to their real world counterparts. The courts contain textures that glint under stadium or street lights.
Some player’s models are in desperate need of updating. Joel Embiid’s haircut is short, like in his rookie year. Alex Caruso still has most of his hair. Robin Lopez bears no beard. Willie Cauley-Stein braids mysteriously reverted back to short hair.
2K20’s audio presentation flexes on its competition. The soundtrack features an eclectic mix of last year’s best songs including artists like Meek Mill, KRS-One and Katy Perry. Sound effects are pitch-perfect — sneakers squeak, rims bend and crowds react to every basket.
Dunking In a Silver Sneakers Game
Both on console and on the Play Store, the 2K series has gone several years without any significant competition. The combination of easy to learn, but hard to master gameplay combined with RPG elements and strong attention to detail earned the series its throne all those years ago.
2K20 rests on its laurels in an almost insulting fashion. The title is able to do so because it built arguably the best sports title available.
For basketball fans, longtime players of the series and casual fans of sports, NBA 2K20 remains the best option for getting their fix on mobile. Does this year’s version offer any significant changes to the formula? No. Does it need to? Also no.
NBA 2K20 relies on the strengths it has long enjoyed as a series to bring yet another year of basketball to mobile. Gameplay remains the same, but has anything changed?