Who said you can't get a good sports game on a Nintendo console? The lack of quality sports games plagued the N64, but thankfully in the life of the Gamecube so far, there's been a pretty good selection of sports titles. The latest is NBA 2K2 from Sega and Visual Concepts. Those familiar with the 2K series already know it's the best basketball franchise around. For all others, welcome to the party.
Presentation/Graphics : 80
I previously reviewed the PS2 version of 2K2. That version had me wondering what was going on with the PS2. The players looked terrible with bland colors. Fortunately developer Visual Concepts did a better job in the transition to the Cube. The game looks very good, nearly on par with the Xbox version of the game. Player models are more detailed, though faces still aren't quickly recognizable.
Player animations are diverse. Point guards can perform special moves like spins and big side steps in an attempt to blow past an opponent, and centers back down and spin around their defender. When bringing the ball up court the dribbling animation depends on how much stick you give the controller. You can waltz up the floor or really press the ball. The shot animations are equally diverse, and at times you'll wonder how the ball even gets in the basket. Most of the animations are realistic, but occasionally you'll find one that almost mimics a shotputting motion.
Presentation/Audio : 82
I hadn't played 2K2 in some time, so when I got back into it I was getting my butt kicked. Playing at home, the crowd just wasn't into it. Eventually I got my ups back and started a run. I realized just how good the crowd noise is. The crowd is aware of the play and reacts accordingly. This is balanced by a decent two-man booth. The color gets a bit repetitive early on, but the play-by-play stays fresher. Basically the sound package has been recycled from the other ports of the game. And that means the annoying music is found in the street ball portion of the game. There's no way to turn the music off in this mode.
Interface/Options : 85
NBA 2K2 ships with several modes, including single game exhibitions, season play, street ball (2-on-2 or more players), and a relatively deep franchise mode. Each of these modes can be played on one of three difficulty levels as well as in an arcade or simulation mode. The franchise mode lets you control the front office where you can suggest trades, sign free agents, cut players, and shuffle the lineup. Ever mindful of the salary cap and player attributes, the game has some smarts when trades are considered. As the coach, you can also select plays, defensive strategy, and other similar aspects. For example, you can tell your team to double team certain players depending on where they are on the court or apply loose or tight pressure. One area which needs some work is the stat tracking engine. It seems like the league plays at the 12-minute quarter length. If you select shorter periods your team's and players' stats may be anemic compared to the rest of the league.
Gameplay : 95
The NBA 2K series got its reputation from the gameplay. Compared to other basketball games on the market, it is second to none. Despite its greatness, though, there are still a couple of issues which keep it from reaching total greatness. The two biggest issues facing NBA 2K2 are goaltending problems and the lack of a midrange game by the CPU.
Mentioned earlier, goaltending occurs too often in the game. I'm called for goaltending at least 3 or 4 times a game and almost always on rebounds. The goaltending bug is a bit different than the PS2 version. There I noticed it with balls missing the rim completely. Here it's when the ball comes off the rim. Sure you can't monkey with the ball when it's in the cylinder, but the implementation in video game basketball is broken. In real life players can go up and simply not touch the ball. But as soon as you hit that B button, your player is grabbing for the ball.
When on defense, you can successfully defend the players in the paint. When a player comes over to help out on a double team, the shooter in the paint invariably passes out to a waiting shooter situated on the arc. Ultimately the CPU scores points in the paint or at the arc. There is a clear lack of midrange jumpers in the game.
Fortunately those two issues don't detract from an otherwise great game. The pace of the game is realistic, and with the foul out number set to a value proportionate to the game length player substitutions are common. Player fatigue is also modeled well. While defending in the paint can be annoying with the kick-outs to the perimeter, it does challenge you to assess your coaching strategies. Against some teams my center gets killed and I have to double team. You can do this in the coach menu or a simple button tap.
On offense, you have to move the ball around to be effective. If you dump it down low repeatedly, the double teams will arrive and the ball will often get stripped. You have to recognize the double team quickly and pass to the open man. Also, your point guard can't just blow by anyone. It takes some effort through fancy button pressing and calling for picks to create an open jumper or a penetration to the basket. The game is as close to a sim as you'll find on a console.
I have to admit that the second time around, NBA 2K2's goaltending issues irritated me more. The gameplay score should take a bigger hit because of it, but the game is essentially the same as the PS2 version. I can't in good conscience give the gameplay of the Gamecube version a lower score than the PS2 version. But if you're keeping score, reduce the gameplay score a bit for both versions. Still, you're looking at the best basketball game on the Cube (or the PS2 for that matter).
Replay Value : 95
I wouldn't say NBA 2K2 is the best in the 2K series, but it does seem to be the most balanced. I enjoy each game I play due to the many sim qualities. The offensive end is diverse – you can't simply back the ball down on each possession and get a bucket. It takes some thought. On defense you have to be aware of the open man, when to double team, and boxing out.
Overall : 92
There aren't too many basketball titles on the Cube, but of those available, this is the best overall. Whether you like the deep play of multi-season franchise play or want a quick arcade game of 3-on-3, NBA 2K2 has you covered.