Like clockwork, every April I begin to pay more attention to the NBA as the playoffs get underway. Now this season, I’ve been watching quite a bit more as my Phoenix Suns are finally going off for the first time in a decade, and I can’t lie, it has been fucking great to watch. What feels not so great is that after every game I’m typically left with the same recurring thought:
“Damn, that was fun. If only there was a good basketball game to play.”
I know the NBA2K series is “technically good,” but in my humble opinion it’s become a bloated, uncomfortably microtransaction heavy experience that doesn’t even have the good graces to have a genuinely fun basketball game buried underneath all its excesses.
Typically, the latest 2K game goes on sale for dirt cheap around the time of playoffs, and for the last four years I have consistently copped them on sale only to put them down because they just aren’t fun to play. Sure, the games are competently designed, but at this point they feel geared towards 2K fans and nobody else. The lack of a genuine alternative means that if you want to play a basketball video game, but don’t enjoy the 2K series, you’re shit out of luck.
This didn’t used to be a problem. The PS2 stands as my favorite console of all time simply because I feel like that era offered a level of variety within genres that hasn’t been replicated. As a basketball fan, I was spoiled with choice.
Want some solid 1-on-1 streetball? NBA Ballers had you covered.
Want to try and recreate the latest AND 1 mixtape? NBA Street Vol. 2 was where it was at.
Did you actually want to see Allen Iverson take home a ring? NBA Live or NBA 2K could let you play out all your NBA fantasies.
Personally, I’ve always been in favor of more arcade-style sports games. I loved games like NBA Street and NFL Blitz. I even enjoyed that Street Hoops game that I feel was in every Black kids’ home at a certain point. (Seriously though, even if you didn’t own that game you at least had two friends who did.) I just love recreating the feeling of what it’s like to see athletes like Devin Booker and Steph Curry operate at their highest level, as opposed to having to put in the technical know-how to do it.
I’m not trying to go pro, ya know? I’m just a nigga who wants to virtually ball out.
There seemed to be a basic understanding that different approaches to the genre would appeal to different audiences; that one size didn’t actually fit all. The fact these games weren’t all simulation-based didn’t mean there wasn’t any skill involved, either. If you said you were mean at NBA Street, you immediately had to pick up the sticks and back that shit up.
I understand that there’s an audience who enjoys the 2K games, and I have no beef with them. I tried to join their ranks, but I simply couldn’t get jiggy with that shit. I know EA has tried to revive the NBA Live brand, but it’s been in such fits and starts, with each entry feeling like they’re getting there but aren’t actually, you know, there.
All I’m asking for is for there be new alternatives in the genre. I know licensing deals usually makes this complicated, but given that NBA2K publisher Take Two’s deal with the NBA isn’t exclusive, it’s strange to me that what used to be such a fun genre of video game has become a wasteland.
I love basketball, y’all. I think it’s one of the most fun sports to watch, by far. It’s simply a damn shame that there aren’t any modern video games to reflect that.