The NBA 2K series has taken a well-deserved spot at the top of the sports game genre lately, thanks to breakthrough game modes and stunning realism. Along the way, the series has gotten stuffed with content, so the task of establishing it on a new platform in time for the launch of Nintendo’s new Wii U was surely a daunting one. The 2K Sports team made the gutsy decision to include virtually all of the modes and features on the PS3 and 360 versions; while that is a laudable notion, the result is a combination of delight and frustration.
If, on one hand, you’re looking to play a full-fledged NBA game shrunken down onto the small screen of the GamePad controller, NBA 2K13 is amazing. You never have to turn on your TV, yet everything you want to do is right in your hands. The gameplay is smooth, the controls are solid (if complex), and whether you’re playing an Association offline, battling a friend online, or cruising through your My Player career, it’s all in front of you with no compromises.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to get the full HD experience on your TV screen, there’s trouble afoot. Whatever the cause, action on the court during standard games is choppy and uneven. The screen hiccups a bit as the players push the ball from one end of the court to the other, then bogs down in the half-court too. Player animations are a bit rough around the edges, and if you’re used to the silky-smooth Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, it will be especially jarring. Even if you’re a newcomer to the series, it’s clear that the overall performance is sluggish compared to first-party titles on the Wii U. While it’s not unplayable, and can be gotten used to, the big-screen experience is disappointing.
The only saving grace for that expensive TV in your house is My Player, NBA 2K’s terrific single-player career mode. It suffers few of the visual issues that are so prevalent in the other modes. In fact, not only is My Player smooth and accessible, the GamePad-specific features showing your individual player’s hot and cold zones and in-game stats are a great reference point. It’s worth noting, too, that My Player is the deepest and best of all the career modes available in today’s sports sims.
The legendary depth and complexity of the NBA 2K franchise remains a hallmark of NBA 2K13. To many, the sheer amount of options you have at the individual and team levels are overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of moves you can execute with a single player, coupled with dozens of in-game set plays and on-the-fly coaching choices. The basics are relatively straightforward: You can pass or shoot with a single button, and moving the right stick makes your player do all sorts of nifty crossovers, spins, and behind-the-back moves. But once you want to advance beyond that, things get extremely complex.
It is much easier to make shots on the Wii U than it is on PS3 and 360; perhaps that’s an olive branch to newcomers that would be otherwise overwhelmed or just a necessity based on the less-than-optimal framerate. While that may be welcome to many, it also could prevent players from diving into the nuances of screens, pick and rolls, and the myriad other gameplay options that separate the NBA 2K series from so many other sports games.
The biggest disappointment in this year’s NBA 2K franchise was the lack of any of the historical modes that made 2K11 and 2K12 so special–and that’s no different on the Wii U. The Jordan Challenge and Greatest Mode are absent, and while the 2012 and 1992 Dream Teams make an appearance, the fact that they’re only available to play in exhibitions is a missed opportunity. The online play works fairly well, although as you may expect from a new console, the number of people with the game in hand is limited.
Ultimately, NBA 2K13 on the Wii U is a blast, if not for all the reasons you’d expect. Using the GamePad screen to play gives the best experience and also frees up the TV for other use, which has proven to be an unexpected bonus of the Wii U overall. If it weren’t for the choppy framerate of the standard game modes, NBA 2K13 would be a contender for the best sports game on the platform. While it offers a unique experience that can’t be had elsewhere, it also falls a bit short of the high bar the franchise has set for itself.