NBA 2K19 for mobile devices is finally out — albeit only for Apple smartphones and tablets for now (or for good?). And just in time for the real NBA action to start this season.
It’s one of the handful of games on the App Store that gets a yearly release because it’s popular among basketball fans and mobile gamers. In fact, despite its relative newness, it is now the most popular paid app on Apple’s platform at the time of this posting.
It costs almost $8 for U.S. App Store accounts — or P399 (around $7) if you happen to have an account based in the Philippines — which is a fraction of the $60 (P3,257) price tag of its console and PC counterparts. Granted, the current-gen NBA 2K19 offers more ways to play and looks like a real NBA broadcast at times, as opposed to something more cartoony and less detailed like the version for smaller screens.
It’s not pricey, but it’s not all that cheap either. So, the question is whether NBA 2K19 for mobile is worth getting for newcomers to the series and those who already own NBA 2K18. (A quick word to Android users: You may have to wait a while before seeing this game on the Google Play Store, but we’re quite confident it will be released toward the end of the year.)
Let’s start with the most obvious. Thanks to a massive visual update, NBA 2K19 for mobile is easily the best-looking and most accurate representation of the sport it is emulating.
Because of a massive visual update, NBA 2K19 for mobile is easily the best-looking and most accurate representation of the sport it is emulating
Previous iterations of the series have been rightfully criticized for using the same player models over the past couple of years. And while not everyone gets a new face and body texture this year, the improved player likeness across the board is immediately apparent.
Mega superstars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry get new faces, and so do lesser-known names like Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball, who has a new sheath of forearm tattoos.
Some guys like Darren Collison look especially detailed and almost photo-realistic. The player likeness in NBA 2K19 still won’t fool anyone into thinking they’re watching the real thing, but the 3D models this year are about as good as they get in this platform. It looks pleasant even at lower detail settings where textures are of obviously poor quality.
More crucially, many non-stars, journeymen, and rookies have accurate player faces and hairstyles and bodies that add to the general realism of the game. In fact, most teams only have a handful of generic faces in their rosters. The fan-favorite Los Angeles Lakers have just one or two player models that don’t resemble their real-life counterparts.
Most players have accurate faces, hairstyles, and bodies that add to the general realism of the game
And to push that point further: We played a match between the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards and didn’t see an unrealistic player model until toward the end of the third quarter. This is the first title in the series to feature so many specific player heads and bodies. Hopefully, the developers will add more eventually.
Naturally, NBA 2K19’s devotion to realism extends to other aspects of the game. Team uniforms and logos and court designs have been refreshed for the upcoming 2018-2019 NBA season. Offseason signings, re-signings, acquisitions, and depth charts are accurate as well.
Carmelo Anthony is with the Houston Rockets after a brief stint with the Thunder. Kawhi Leonard is (begrudgingly?) a Raptor, while DeMarcus Cousins plays for the Golden State Warriors. LeBron will also log minutes as a center for the Lakers, something that will likely happen at some point this regular season.
Cosmetic and roster updates aside, NBA 2K19 introduces a couple of new ways to play — the most important of which is the option to play online with friends through Apple’s Game Center service or locally over a LAN connection.
Yup, multiplayer is now available on an NBA 2K title for smaller screens, and it will undoubtedly extend the game’s shelf life for those who have other people to play with. To be clear, you don’t need two App Store or Game Center accounts to play over LAN.
Both work well on our Apple iPad Air and iPhone X, but your experience may vary depending on your device and internet provider. Also, multiplayer only works between two devices — not three or four, or more.
The other new option, Story mode, will let you replay the most classic NBA match-ups while unlocking players and rewards for beating various in-game challenges. Challenge mode, on the other hand, lets you use the players you’ve unlocked in Story mode to form a five-man team that will compete against randomly generated squads for points totaled in the global leaderboards. Like multiplayer, these new modes will only extend our playtime and add to the game’s replayability and sticking value.
On a fundamental level, NBA 2K19 plays like last year’s edition, which is a good thing. There are new animations that slightly alter how players shoot, pass, and rebound the ball and defend. But the biggest change is that it’s much harder to blow by defenders now, so passing and running plays are more crucial than ever before.
On one hand, it makes NBA 2K19 the least approachable title in the series because it leans heavily on basketball fundamentals as opposed to mindless joystick-flicking. And on the other, it makes the game hugely rewarding to those who take the time to read and anticipate plays and make the right decisions possession after possession.
Our biggest frustration with NBA 2K19 is the onscreen controls and its lack of options. Annoyingly, you can’t enlarge the virtual joysticks and buttons this year, and there’s no option to use past control schemes like the one in NBA 2K16. Of course, if you have the hardware, you can use a physical controller, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the game’s fixed default controller layout.
You can’t enlarge the virtual joysticks and buttons this year, and there’s no option to use past control schemes like the one in NBA 2K16.
The in-game presentation of NBA 2K19 hasn’t changed a bit, meaning it’s still thin and occasionally buggy. You can’t replay portions of any game you play in — a huge omission for a sports title, if we’re being honest.
The voice acting is a copy-and-paste job from last year and can get repetitive quickly. Worse still, the audio commentary will sometimes drop out altogether during matches. Commentary featuring TV analyst Doris Burke, in particular, disappears after a few phrases.
And while it sure looks better and more accurate than its predecessor, the weird texture issues from last year that appear on players wearing compression shirts under their jerseys, frustratingly, also carry over. Coaches remain an afterthought in the graphics department, though their character models are not as awful at higher graphics settings.
Finally, there’s the MyCareer mode, which is a big deal for the console and PC releases of NBA 2K19, though it has been watered down in the mobile version.
The narrative is good at establishing a purpose for playing through the opening chapters. But without cutscenes and spoken dialogue to push the journey along, this MyCareer experience feels hollow and less than engaging. Oh well, there’s always local multiplayer and Challenge mode to sink our time into.
Without cutscenes and spoken dialogue to push the journey along, this MyCareer experience on NBA 2K19 for mobile feels hollow and less than engaging.
The bottom line
For newcomers looking for authentic NBA play on a mobile app, NBA 2K19 is a must-play. It matches the gameplay experience touted by the console and PC versions, and there’s still the option of switching to a physical controller instead of the annoying onscreen controls the game forces you play with.
As for those who picked up NBA 2K18 earlier, getting the sequel isn’t as easy a call to make. But NBA 2K19 sure does make a solid case for it, especially with improved graphics and gameplay. The addition of multiplayer and Story and Challenge modes should also stretch the game’s lifespan post-launch.
Bugs and quirks (that could be patched away) aside, no other game on the App Store provides the kind of organized basketball play this series has almost perfected over the years.
Bugs and quirks aside, NBA 2K19 for mobile provides the kind of organized basketball play this series has almost perfected over the years.
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