NBA 2K11 was damn good, but it wasn't perfect. How do you remind yourself of that fact when you're following up your franchise's most successful entry to date?
If you're 2K, your approach is simple: instead of focusing on one super star, you cram as many as you can in there. NBA 2K12 boasts a NBA's Greatest mode, which allows players to step into the shoes of fifteen different NBA Legends such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Patrick Ewing and more. And these classic matches go beyond simply dumping you into a game and letting you go silly with a particular NBA legend. Each game has all of the presentation bells and whistles of the time, along with some insightful commentary that covers the entire career of the star in question. It's half homage, half history lesson.
Gallery: NBA 2K12 (NBA's Greatest mode) | 5 Photos
"This is just an experience we want people to enjoy -- the Jordan Challenge was just that: a challenge," says 2K Sports' Director of Marketing, Chris Snyder. "With this, it's all about classic match-ups and we really just want people to appreciate these players and what they meant in their time. We want them to just enjoy the game and love the game for what it is."
Now, aside from appealing to basketball fans outside of Chicago, NBA's Greatest outdoes the Jordan Challenge mode by being less of a challenge. Instead of having to hit performance milestones, you just need to win each game. Last year's game had players recreating several of Jordan's biggest accomplishments which, for people who aren't Michael Jordan, felt like a tall order at times -- even in a video game.
Bill Russell, five-time MVP and 11-time NBA champion, played on the Boston Celtics for 13 years, from the early '50s on through the '60s. His Greatest match-up is against the 64-65 Lakers, presented in grainy black-and-white with matching dated graphics and presentation. Each player looks the part and this effort to provide an authentic presentation and experience spans each decade in the game, including the '70s, '80s and '90s. The court also looks the part and players conduct themselves in the manner of the time. 2K Sports nails the feel of vintage basketball here.
As much as the presentation blows me away, NBA 2K12 also takes care to present an accurate recreation of the climate in that given time. Enter: Isiah Thomas and his Pistons, taking on Jordan and his 88-89 Bulls. This match-up is a perfect illustration of the care 2K Sports is putting into offering an authentic experience: it's an aggressively physical bout, full of fouls and entirely indicative of the rivalry of the time. These teams had it out for each other and that tension translates excellently into the game. Not only that, but I learn what it was like to go up against Jordan -- which wasn't possible in the last game -- and, well, he dunks on me. A lot.
NBA's Greatest is a refinement and positive step from last year's Jordan Challenge mode, which was at times just too challenging. NBA's Greatest has more of a balance and encompasses more than just His Airness. In many ways, it's a snapshot of some of the sport's greatest moments over the last few decades.