Sports video games used to be my go-to when I felt like kicking back and relaxing with a video game controller in my hand, but that started to change about a decade ago. It was around that time that EA Sports started rolling out Ultimate Team modes across all its sports games, which let gamers create their own teams from scratch… based on a convoluted system involving player cards, loot boxes, and the allure of spending hundreds of dollars on microtransactions. The idea of building a team made up of your favorite players was great, but the execution was a clear money grab that required you to continually open up card packs to find the rare players you really wanted.
That's a hard pass from me.
Needless to say, those "surprise mechanics" turned me off of EA Sports games in particular and left me yearning for a decent sports game that would just let me jump into a game and play without the grind of the free-to-play style. And to my surprise, NBA2K20 is a refreshing return to the type of sports game I remember so fondly from the early 2000s.
Unlike NBA 2K20 for consoles, the mobile version isn't built around MyTEAM — 2K's version of Ultimate Team that has become the dominant feature in the recent editions of the NBA 2K franchise. Instead, the mobile game features a nice mix of different game modes and ways to play without arbitrary limitations or free-to-play shenanigans.
The most prominent mode is called MyCareer, which lets you take your created player through a full NBA career starting out as an unrecruited college player looking to raise your stock ahead of the draft. I found this to be a great game mode for learning the fundamentals of the game as it includes scrimmages and drills and let you focus on controlling just one player on the court. You're able to make decisions between games and scrimmage that help decide your career path, and there's a good mix of mini-games and drills to keep things fresh.
The Association is a full-featured owner's mode. Here you're able to simulate games if you'd rather stick to front-office business, or play each game of the season and lead your team on a championship run. NBA Story Mode is a surprisingly deep game mode that lets you reenact iconic moments from teams and legendary players of the 80s, 90s, and modern NBA history. Run The Streets is a street ball game mode that's essentially MyPARK mode from the console games. You must play through some main story chapters to unlock the full mode which lets you build out your team and compete in tournaments and ranked matches.
On top of all those game modes, you also have the option to jump into a bunch of quick and custom games. You can play a full NBA exhibition game against the CPU or online multiplayer through Google Play or over LAN, or take it to the blacktop for a custom street ball game with NBA players that can be played one-on-one on up to a full five-on-five scrimmage.
The game defaults to touchscreen controls that use dual digital sticks and on-screen buttons to give you pretty comprehensive controls that really take some getting used to, but what else is new?
The left stick is used for movement, while the right is used for dribbling and shooting on offense, and switching players and one-on-one defending while on D. The great news is that the game features full support for physical controllers. A controller with a built-in phone holder like the Razer Raiju Mobile (opens in new tab) is what I would recommend here since there are still some aspects of the game like menus that require you to make selections on the touchscreen.
The overall visual and audio presentation is pretty great for a mobile game despite some odd camera angles on replays and other little bugs I've noticed. The graphics look great and 2K20 plays smoothly on my Huawei P30 Pro, especially when compared to the performance of EA's free-to-play monstrosity that is NBA Live Mobile. I especially appreciate the realism of the animations and the mostly uninterrupted flow of the game.
You collect an in-game currency called VC that's awarded to you after each game you play based on your performance. VC is supposed to be spent on upgrades for your custom player, but I've yet to see where you're actually able to spend it. I actually consider this to be a positive feature considering the alternative would be the game constantly asking you to spend VC on every little character cosmetic change or unlocking teams and players.
Basketball is not typically my favorite sport to play or watch, but NBA 2K20 is easily the best sports game for Android I've played since, ironically, NBA Jam (opens in new tab) ... before EA ruined that game, too. Definitely check out NBA 2K20 if you've been itching for a new sports game to dive into. I just wish 2K Sports was still making NHL or NFL games these days so they could attempt to deliver mobile games of similar quality for those sports, too.
Game of the week
NBA 2K20 offers so many different game modes without bothering you with loot boxes and in-app purchases that you might forget what year it is. It's a great game to bust out a Bluetooth controller with, too.
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