It's once again reached that time of year when another entry in the NBA 2K franchise slam-dunks onto our consoles. Yes, it's sometimes difficult to muster much excitement for these annual instalments, and it's easy to dismiss them as just another incremental update that looks and plays almost identically to the previous season's effort. However, NBA 2K23 is worth getting a little more jazzed about than usual, as it combines an excellent new Michael Jordan Challenge mode with, what we reckon, is the best on-court action we've seen from the series thus far, even if this Switch port has had to make some cuts here and there.
Let's kick things off with that new Michael Jordan Challenge mode, which feels like a fully fleshed-out and richly rewarding part of the game. Here you'll take part in 15 specific challenges based on events from across MJ's career, with each and every one of them presented in exacting detail, featuring era-specific stadiums, kits, commentary and screen filters that give the whole thing a delightfully aged look. This is no throwaway mode, it's a full-on history lesson to sink your teeth into that really brings MJ's early career and biggest NBA moments back to life.
Unfortunately on Switch — as well as on PS4 and Xbox One — the brand new MyNBA Eras mode hasn't made the jump from the flashy next-gen versions of the game, so we're missing out on a whole bunch of fun retro action from across the Magic, Jordan and Kobe eras. It's a real shame this headline content has had to be cut but it seems it's just a step too far for the older consoles to handle. We suppose there has to be a point when the new generation of hardware pulls away, and this certainly feels like that moment with regards to NBA 2K.
In more positive news, MyTeam — our go-to mode — sees a host of improvements in 2K23, including the removal of the game's annoying player contracts system, and the introduction of the excellent Clutch Time as one of the main ways to earn those VC points and level up your squad. Getting rid of contracts was a widely requested change over the past few years and, honestly, it feels so good not to have to go messing in menus every few games to make sure your players are ready.
The MyPlayer portion of the game has also seen big changes this year but, unfortunately, this is another area of NBA 2K23 where the Switch loses out. Where newer consoles get a vastly improved 'City' to skateboard around, we have to put up with a watered-down G.O.A.T Boat neighbourhood instead. The story here, which sees you go head to head with another rookie called Shep Owens, survives the cut, but it's yet another sign that last-generation consoles are struggling to keep up as the best parts of this year's MyPlayer experience have been discarded here.
On the court itself, NBA 2K23 has seen improvements in every department. The shot meter is easier to read — it can be tinkered with if you don't 100% gel with its default set-up — and matches have a slower pace that gives the action a more open and purposeful flow. You have more room to manoeuvre, pass the ball around and have time to build up taking a shot at the net. There are also new dunk controls that allow for more flexibility in how you show off on big shots, enhanced animations and physics, and improved AI that makes for sharper opponents in single-player modes.
Plenty of work has also been done to 'shot ratings', with stronger offensive players feeling noticeably more capable and able to pull a bit of on-court magic in tight spots, whereas weaker shooters will have a much tougher time. You can no longer just rely on getting any old player into the open and then netting some points regardless of stats; this time around you'll have to plan your attacks and get your team's biggest talents involved to see the best results.
We've also found that post moves are easier — or maybe we should say more intuitive — to pull off in NBA 2K23. We've worked them into our overall game now, and the challenges in MyTeam do a great job of teaching you the ins and outs of some fundamentals that will help you to improve how you go about your business on the court. In fact, from the moment you boot this one up, accessibility seems to be something that 2K has really focused on this year. You'll get a walkthrough of each mode and how it works, the basics are explained in detail for newbies and the general flow of MyPlayer and MyTeam encourages you to take on challenges and learn the basics more than ever before. If you're willing to put the time in, NBA 2K23 has got a whole lot to teach you about the sport it's simulating.
Of course, not everything is perfect in b-ball land and, as expected, NBA 2K23 is a game that's weighed down heavily by microtransactions. If you've been playing the franchise for a while, this won't come as any kind of surprise, but newcomers should be aware that, especially in the MyPlayer mode, folks who splash out with their real-life money are gonna have a big advantage here — especially in the early days and weeks — before those of us who grind it out have a chance to catch up.
In terms of the Switch port's technical performance, it's still impressive to see a sports game of this size running on Nintendo's handheld console. For the most part, you're looking at a solid 30fps across the board whilst on the court. However, loading times can be excruciating at points, especially in the Michael Jordan Challenge mode. The graphics have also, understandably, taken a pretty big hit in comparison to other versions of the game, and things feel quite a bit more stodgy, slow and imprecise at times in action as a result of the framerate being halved. Another thing to note here is that 2K has once again blocked screenshots in-game on Switch — we used a capture card to grab some for this review — and, honestly, we're not sure why it does this. Yes, there's been a downgrade to visuals, but it's not that bad, guys.
In the end, all of this technical stuff is understandable and expected at this point, of course, and what you're getting here is still a portable version of NBA 2K23 that runs well enough and gives you close to the full-fat experience — bar NBA Eras and the City — that you'll find on other consoles.
Overall, it's another solid year for NBA 2K. This time around the on-court action feels noticeably improved over previous outings and that new Michael Jordan Challenge mode is a really nice addition to proceedings. If you've been enjoying this series on Switch so far and can put up with the necessary cuts to content and graphical downgrades, you'll find another eminently playable port here, although it really does feel as though this could be one of the last in the series that manages to stretch itself onto our favourite portable console.
NBA 2K23 makes the inevitable downgrades and cuts that we see every year with this franchise on Nintendo's console and, just like other last-gen versions of the game, it's also missing both The City and the brand new MyNBA Eras. Loading times can be frustrating, and 30fps basketball feels noticeably stodgier than the 60fps found in other versions. However, if you can put up with these necessary downgrades and slight technical shortcomings, this is still a solid port of a superb basketball sim that's stuffed full of enough content to see fans through another season.