Despite its only competitor in the basketball sim arena being dormant for the past few years, the NBA 2K series has continued to march forward year after year enjoying fan and critical acclaim thanks to its constant improvement with each franchise iteration. The series finally makes the bounce pass to a Nintendo console, and hoops fans in the house of Mario will absolutely eat it up.
Immediately upon starting the game you’re ushered into My Player mode, which has you create your own baller with dozens upon dozens of customization options. While tweaking their appearance isn’t as robust as an experience in other games, your avatar isn’t hitting the court in order to be a model, they’re going out there to play. Instead of giving you sliders for eyebrows and cheekbones, the game allows you to choose an animation for just about everything your player is going to be doing on the court, from fadeaway jumpers to dunks to crossover dribbles.
Once your player is created you can take them into My Career mode, which is easily the highlight of the package. As a draft prospect, you take to the hardwood with other hopefuls to show off your skills and try to impress the NBA scouts in attendance. Afterwards, you’ll be interviewed by representatives from several teams with your performance in the game and how you conducted yourself determining your place in the draft and which team picks you up.
My Career does so much more than just let you play as a custom character on a team with professional basketball players. You live the NBA lifestyle, enjoying things like your team plastering your face on billboards to welcome you to town (and running commercials during games urging fans to come support their exciting new rookie) and signing shoe deals (complete with the ability to customize your own kicks). You’ll conduct post-game interviews and speak with your team’s GM – all with dialog choices that will affect your team chemistry as well as your fanbase. You can be a soft-spoken professional like Tim Duncan or an arrogant antihero like Allen Iverson; unfortunately, there aren’t any dialog choices that send you off on unintelligible metaphors like Kevin Garnett. You even have an in-game Twitter account to see what NBA fans, as well as celebrities and other players, are saying about you. In-between games the My Career mode definitely feels like an RPG – Mass-ketball Effect, we’ll call it – with the amount of control you have over your player’s career. You definitely get invested in their progress, and it’s about as close as you can get to life as an NBA player without ever having a bogus fine levied on you by David Stern.
And that joke should be considered the barrier of entry; if you aren’t a fan of the NBA and understand the game on more than a superficial level then you’re going to have a very hard time with NBA 2K13. The game controls great, giving you plenty of options on both offense and defense with lots of contextual button presses, but the game never does a very good job explaining itself. New to this year’s outing is the ability to use the right stick as a dribble modifier, letting you perform crossovers and behind-the-back dribbles with nothing more than a flick of the stick, but the most explanation you’re going to get is the game literally telling you: “We added this, go mess with it!” If you don’t know what a pick-and-roll is you’re definitely going to be in over your head once the ball is tipped.
There are practice drills and tutorials buried in the menus, but that leads us to one of our problems – navigating the menu is a frustrating chore. In a game with production values as high as this you’d think someone would have bothered to make the UI a little more intuitive, but alas, that isn't the case. The biggest issue is that as this is a port of a game originally designed for the other HD systems, which feature similar button layouts to the Wii U GamePad that function differently. For example, on the Xbox 360 controller the bottom button is “A” and the right button is “B,” which are almost universally used as “confirm” and “cancel” buttons respectively. On the Wii U GamePad, A and B are swapped and their functions usually are as well, but not in this game. You’ll often find yourself backing out of things you meant to confirm and backing out of things you wanted to select, and with menus this messily layered getting to where you want to go can be tougher than trying to stop Blake Griffin from throwing down a dunk.
Once you’re in, though, the game is excellent. With executive producer Jay-Z hand-picking all the game’s music and putting together pre-game montages splicing music videos with an in-game promo reel, you definitely get the NBA “vibe” from each game’s framing. In-game commentary is provided by Kevin Harlan, Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg, and accurately emulates the banter during a real match. They’ll talk about ongoing developments throughout the season such as how new players are adapting to teams, and impressively, they rarely repeat themselves.
The players all look about as accurate as video game representations can look, with startling attention to detail in regards to how they move on the court. If a player has a signature release when they shoot you can bet it’s replicated in-game. Not content with just offering the 30 teams with current rosters, developer Visual Concepts has also crammed in a smorgasbord of legacy teams, the most impressive of which is the 1992 Dream Team, fully represented in a video game for the very first time. Also, to send your sister into a screaming frenzy, there’s a celebrity team featuring heartthrob Justin Bieber.
While the players on each present-day roster are accurate, their roles may vary from the real world; starting lineups seem to be determined by player’s rankings rather than what positions they actually play. For example, Jeff Green is listed as the Celtics’ starting power forward in-game while his actual position is small forward, and he plays off the bench while Brandon Bass starts at the four position. You can tweak this to your liking, however.
You can use the GamePad for off-TV play, but while playing on your TV the second screen can be used for several things. Hold the GamePad vertically and the view turns to the Gatorade Biometric Scan, a feature exclusive to Wii U that gives you a quick visual representation to the energy levels and moods of your players. Tilt it back down and you have several coaching options that can be executed with a couple of quick taps.
Be warned, though, that at the time of this writing there seem to be several issues with the 2K servers. Miiverse has a few posts complaining about dropped connections during online games. When starting a save file for our My Career session, we were unable to get a copy of our save file online, which still lets you play but changes the in-game currency you earn as you progress. A quick glance on Miiverse has confirmed that this is not an isolated incident, either.
It doesn’t mean much due to it having no competition the past couple of years but NBA 2K13 continues the series’ dominance in the basketball sim genre. My Career is enough to keep you enthralled for quite some time, and with all the other features crammed on the disc you certainly won’t be left wanting. The intricacies of real basketball are all there, and pairing that with the killer work Jay-Z has put into wrapping it up in the appropriate vibe has created a killer package that hoops fans won’t want to pass up.