TUCSON, Ariz. — It may be the start of football season, but Visual Concepts is tipping off the NBA season early with the latest edition of its sim series, "NBA 2K23."
The game features Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker on its cover.
Booker shares center stage with NBA legend Michael Jordan, who features heavily in the Jordan Challenges Mode.
A refresh of the NBA 2K11 feature, Jordan Challenge lets you relive some of the magic of the docuseries "The Last Dance" by taking you through some of His Airness's greatest career moments.
Phil Villarreal: Like cover star Booker, this game is all about flash and productivity-minded performance. This is the Madden and FIFA of basketball sims, piling on features and modes for players of all stripes.
While I spend most of my time in one-off games online and off, it's comforting to have an in-depth franchise mode at the ready, and it's always intriguing to dabble in MyTeam and Career Theater. Building up a player of your own and taking him through the trials of making his way in the league is always satisfying.
It was pleasant to see Jordan Challenge come back. I am a big fan of single-player narratives in sports games that pay tribute to the game's history by introducing you to new control aspects.
What stood out to you, Sean?
Sean Newgent: I enjoy a good character creator, and while I've never been a sports fan, I like the chance to create some alien-like creature and watch him go through an underdog journey. The Jordan Challenge was another fun mode I found myself returning to. But what ultimately kept me coming back was jumping into a quick game, getting the chance to enjoy a little NBA action whenever I wanted it.
There's a ton of content here, and I was surprised by how much is actually in this package. But before I could get into the game, I had to get over some really bad facial animations. The players look like they are wearing melting clay masks of themselves. Seeing Steph Curry walk onto the hardwood for the first time had me laughing. It's not unbearably bad, but the players look off.
Did you have similar issues with the characters Phil? And how was the gameplay for you?
Phil: I noticed it, too, starting with the stylized cover art. Instead of going with the traditional action or posed shot, Devin Booker looks like some sort of action figure that you wouldn't be surprised to see popping up alongside LeBron James in "Multiversus."
There is a bit of an exaggerated flair with visuals. I think the plan is to channel some sort of "NBA Jam" style heightened reality. I didn't get a look at the game on PS4, but it looks slick and smooth on Xbox Series X. My eyes adapted to the visuals and animations pretty quickly, but it was a little jarring to see Brittney Griner suit up for the Phoenix Mercury. Her inclusion in the game is welcome, but because she is serving a sentence in a Russian prison, it was saddening to see what she could be doing if she were free.
Overall, I agree with you, Sean, that this game has a lot to enjoy. While it's a bit early for me to get excited about NBA, it will be good to have this game around once the Arizona Cardinals bury my expectations and I start longing for Booker and the Suns to carry my hopes and dreams on his shoulders.
Final thought, Sean?
Getting to destroy my least favorite team or make my Shrek-adjacent create-a-character the top scorer in the league has a certain joy that, no matter how many times I feel like I've played this game, I can't shake off. We played 2K's WWE game earlier this year, and I can comfortably say that this feels like it had much more love and polish.
Ultimately, fans of the franchise won't be surprised by anything here, and gamers introduced to the series will find a perfectly competent entry point.
The publisher provided codes. Phil played on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS4.
Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
TMNT: Shredder's Revenge
Capcom Fighting Collection
Capcom Arcade: 2nd Stadium
Cult of the Lamb
TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection