The NBA 2K series has been the gold standard when it comes to simulation styled basketball, so for the debut of the franchise on the Wii, the expectations for the translation of the game to Nintendo's console were particularly high. After all, the presentation values on other systems have been excellent, and the deep set of features let the 2K series become the defining basketball experience for years. The implementation of motion controls for the Wii could immerse players like never before, making the basketball experience even more immersive for players. Finally, making a good impression with the tenth anniversary of the game would clearly be important, especially to highlight the strength of the franchise. Well, the recent release of NBA 2K10 on the Wii attempted to live up to these demands, and while it managed to bring over the depth that fans have come to expect of the franchise, the gameplay, presentation and controls left much to be desired.
Obviously, veterans of any basketball game will wonder about the on-court experience, which plays a vital role in the gameplay. First, the good news: 2K10 implements all of the new features on the Wii, and for the most part handles them fairly well. Players will be able to use the new energy system, which allows you to hold down a button to indicate how long they can continually sprint to push the fast break or get back for that last second defensive play to deny an opponent the easy shot. This bar goes in one of two stages: once you deplete your yellow bar that indicates your sprinting energy, you start to burn off a player's stamina. Depending on how much you use, you may have to rest that athlete for longer times before they get a chance to return to the court. This balancing act between running all out and saving your turbo works well, and ensures that the game won't degenerate to arcade-like speed exhibitions along the floor.
Along with the sprint adjustment come adjustments to the playcalling system, so players can call a quick play based on the situation you're currently facing. While this left players open to easy steals on other consoles as you tried to figure out what play you wanted to run, the Wii version feels as though it leaves you open to even more rampant theft as backing out of menus isn't particularly easy to do. At least the dual player control marginally better, so you can set up screens or post up rather easily. In some ways, you'll probably rely a bit more on this than the play mechanic, primarily if you're trying to position your players to take shots. Unfortunately, you never get a feeling that your players are on a hot streak or that a shot will fall if they're wide open. Part of this blame lays in a systemic 2K Sports issue, which is that uncontested layups, jumpers and put back shots will frequently fall into the hands of defenders, which is infuriating every single time you see it on the court. The other part is that the game doesn't cleanly recognize a shot attempt, resulting in accidental double or triple clutching of the ball when you want to make a basket
This factors into the bad news regarding the basketball experience of 2K10, which is that your gameplay is either crippled or decent based on the controller you play with. If you attempt to play with the Wiimote and Nunchuck, your exercise in frustration will begin as soon as the tip-off occurs. The game is over-sensitive regarding Wiimote motion controls, so double clutched shots, missed rebounds and accidentally trying to take non-existent charges are just some of the flaws that you'll have to deal with. Free throws are particularly difficult, and trying to accurately flick pass to someone is a recipe for disaster. Additionally, swinging the Wiimote from side to side to steal the ball can inadvertently result in a shot being taken as the game considers your back swing to be a shot attempt. Since you can't adjust this sensitivity, you've got quite a fight on your hands from the start.
On the other hand, there is a vast difference if you happen to use the classic controller during play. For one thing, taking shots is as easy as hitting a button, and the incidents of double clutching are practically non-existent. Free Throw shots are centered on the right analog stick, and steals that turn into half court Hail Mary heaves towards the basket aren't even an issue anymore. Clearly, the classic controller is superior in every way to the Wiimote control scheme, and if you're a basketball fan, you won't want to play with anything else. However, even with the strength of the classic controller, the game still suffers from targeting issues that result in errant passes that rocket out of bounds even if you have icon passing on. It also has AI that can frequently perform backcourt violations or simply forget to pick up a man in coverage. For example, on the defensive side of the ball, lockdown defense has been included, and you'll be able to try to gain position on a player and prevent them from sprinting around you for a score. This means that you can deflect opponents from path, leading them into a potential double team, out of bounds, or a turnover. However, it's way too easy for a ball handler to slip the lockdown defense, and while you may be able to pick up the ball handler before it's too late, your fellow defenders won't always slide over to give you a hand. That's an easy score waiting to happen.
While the control issues are disappointing and detrimental to the gameplay, the visuals don't particularly help either. The broadcast overlays and commentary is actually rather good, and the menu system and presentation of information is well done. However, the players look horrible – the faces of the athletes are decently done, but their animations are stiff and lurching, making these players seem like animatronic figures instead of dynamic stars on the court. For example, Kobe Bryant looks like a hunchback during his introductions, which just doesn't look right at all. The crowd also looks horrendous, and you're going to want to imagine that off court action doesn't exist because the stadiums don't look good at all. The fluidity of player moves also seems a bit constrained by the controls, making actions feel scripted instead of responsive. The frame rate drops that pop up here and there don't particularly help either. This is rather disappointing, given the attention that's been placed into features like the broadcast presentation and NBA Today, which is an excellent mode for the franchise.
NBA Today integrates the latest news, trade info, stats and more to provide the commentary team with new conversational topics during a game. Think of it as a blend of Dynamic DNA from the NBA Live series and the 2K Living Rosters feature which is highlighted by the announcers. However, the NBA Today feature has a larger scope than simply refreshing splash graphics during a matchup; it's effectively been implemented across most of the other game features. Similar to the NBA Replay feature found in Sony's first party game, NBA Today scans the NBA schedule of upcoming games and presents the best matchups for players to instantly leap into for a quick play match up. That means that if a team suddenly goes on a run during the regular season, you'll find their games popping up much more frequently in the quick play section than before. On top of this, the NBA Today feature provides an AI driven "insider" known as the 2K Insider (who looks like a cartoonish version of Stephen A. Smith), who provides blog info and commentary on the league. This is a key facet of the game experience this year, and fans of the sport won't be disappointed with its integration across the title.
Now, considering that this is the first year that 2K10 has been on the Wii, you'd expect that the feature set would be somewhat limited for its debut. That's definitely not the case, as virtually every single feature from the PS3 and 360 modes that have been included over the years makes its way onto the Wii disc. That means that players will be able to battle each other for playground supremacy in the Blacktop mode, including half court games, 21 and the popular dunk contest. Again, if you don't have a classic controller, trying to perform within some of these modes is an exercise in futility. Players can also command their own franchise with The Association, which this year includes the developmental league squads so you can build and develop the stars of the future. Where the D-leagues play a larger role is the new My Player Mode, which allows players to create up and coming stars. After building a player, you engage in various drills and exhibition matches in the summer league and practice squads before hopefully joining a team, with your progress graded after each game. If your skills aren't actually up to par, you'll be sent down to the developmental leagues to build up your skills so you can contribute to your team in your given role.
You can also take your created My Player athlete online, and form new "online crews" with other players, bolstering your stats by playing various pickup games that won't affect your career game schedule but will provide you with extra points. While you're not forced to use these created characters in online matches, bringing in your scrubs to the online court against other players can be extremely useful for everyone involved as they try to build up their player to make a run onto a roster. While play online is stable for the most part, there is a large downside, which is that very few people are with crews or leagues online. I spent more than ten minutes looking for a game to play one night and found no one for a match up, and the last time I checked, there were four leagues with a grand total of 24 players, which doesn't equate to a thriving online community.
As far as the My player mode is concerned, the game mode is a great addition to the 2K series, and even as a first step, you can definitely see how it could be developed into a stronger, title defining feature. However, there are some downsides to the mode. For example, the 2K Insider, who pretends to be your mentor, will frequently chastise you for insignificant items within play. After one game, I was essentially told that the guy I was defending burned me because he dropped two points on me. Seriously, a coach wouldn't care about those two points unless they were the game winning points and I completely blew my assignment. What's more, while the game frequently will stack your achievements or your penalties during breaks, there are some grades that drop for inexcusable reasons. One time, I called for the ball and was flagged by the game for excessive ball calling. Another time, I was dribbling the ball up the court and decided to reset instead of try to force a score on a defended basket, and was called for holding on to the ball to long. I can understand the reasons for grading performance, but when you're getting degraded for lame reasons, it doesn't go over well.
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