The Switch has a very simple pitch. Take your games anywhere. And for the most part, it does this very well. Unless you’re trying to play NBA 2K19, in which case that process becomes extraordinarily difficult.
Because I have an unfortunate disposition where I actually enjoy a) sports games and b) grinding out the singleplayer modes within, I bit the bullet recently and shelled out for the full version of NBA 2K19 on the Switch. I was going to pick up NBA 2K18 instead, until I saw that it was the same price as NBA 2K19.
So after shelling out for what is the most I’ve paid for the normal edition of a video game since buying CDs from Harvey Norman in the ’90s, I put the Switch to sleep and waited the weekend for all the requisite data to download. I’d been playing NBA on the phone, which is a fun enough casual experience.
The mobile experience is limited in just enough ways that made me want the fuller experience. It’s not so bad if you want to play at the 1 or 2, the smallest players on the court and the ones that shoot the most three pointers, have the most ball handling duties, and so on.
But I’ve had my fill of the smaller players on the court. I wanted to get more experience with the bigs – the taller power forwards and centres that typically protect areas around the basket, the ones that gather the most rebounds and focus on scoring through strength and post moves. And because the mobile version of 2K19 doesn’t allow for players to be as versatile as it does on consoles or PC, I bit the $99.95 bullet. I wanted a more dynamic two-way centre, and the Switch port seemed the best way to go.
When I play NBA 2K, it’s all about the MyCareer. I love the cheesy cutscenes and the dumb storylines. As the series has evolved, you’re given more dialogue options and interactives off the court, although the actual impact these have is often marginal (except for the post-game press conferences on mobile, where your replies can improve your teammates’ attitude of you, thereby reducing how much they’ll ignore you on the court).
There’s just a small problem: because the MyCareer campaign has the same online-only nature as the rest of NBA 2K19, you have to main a constant internet connection otherwise you risk losing your save.
In other words: if you put the Switch into sleep mode because you’ve just gotten to school or work and you happened to be in the middle of, say, building your character? The final minute of the fourth quarter in the MyPrelude? Seconds away from shutting out the NBA All-Star team with your crappy 60 OVR player? Moments away from your first triple-double on the court? Switch go to sleep halfway through a cutscene?
Bad luck. Do it all over. You can quit and save progress during the middle of a match, but that involves lengthy load screens. It also makes NBA 2K19 basically the only game with the Switch that doesn’t play nicely with its suspend function.
The mobile version of NBA 2K19 has worked this problem out, using a series of autosaves mid-game and recovery saves that kick in if, for instance, you accidentally restarted your phone in the middle of a match. Or you paused to swap apps and somehow shut the game down.
It’s beyond aggravating that the same functionality doesn’t extend to the Switch version. NBA 2K19 tries to offer a solution by providing an offline-only experience with no virtual currency, but that version of the campaign features no cutscenes. You can’t upgrade badges because they cost virtual currency, which you can’t access online. There’s no prologue, so you don’t get the chance to earn a few upgrades for your attributes before the NBA season begins. It’s a crippled version of MyLeague, except you’re locked to a single player whose growth is artificially restricted.
For consoles or computers that are devices operating in fixed locations, the online-only-every-section model is more understandable. But the Switch is a device that travels. It’s fine to lock some things behind an online authentication system, especially if payment processors for microtransactions are involved. (I’m talking from the security implications here, not arguing for microtransactions generally.) But is it necessary to ensure that every second of gameplay also has to be connected? Is it not possible – as other games do – to authenticate at the start and end of a game? Or to re-authenticate progress and upload to a server when connection becomes available again? To block off VC purchases until a connection is re-established, allowing gameplay to progress?
At the very minimum, a game on the Switch should by default have some method of working smoothly with Sleep Mode, the feature that helps make the Switch as portable as it is. Think about it: how good would your phone’s battery life be if the screen had to be enabled 24/7 so you didn’t have to login to your Google account, your email or Facebook? And how much more annoying would your phone be if you had to logout of all of those services so you didn’t lose a draft just because the screen turned off?
This would have been partially explainable had this been 2K’s first crack at porting the basketball franchise to the Switch. But it’s the second time around. Part of the value of NBA 2K on the Switch is being able to take it with you. I shouldn’t have to decide between accepting a crippled singleplayer experience or tethering my Switch to my phone or some dodgy free Wi-Fi just to enjoy a solo campaign. Work with the platform, or don’t launch on it at all.