2K Games’ NBA 2K12 [$4.99 / HD] doesn’t have quite the thrill or the touch of its brethren, but it’s a competent basketball title that stresses simulation over finesse and AI over finer points of control. Super fans might want to stay on the bench, though: 2K has reigned in and streamlined the overall NBA 2K experience to such an extent that it's hardly a recognizable game in the long-running series. It’s a shell of the experience available on consoles, and it’s not much of a looker, either.
What 2K did with 2K12 is similar to how it handled Civilization Revolution [$6.99 / HD]. Civ Rev, which was already a dumbed down version of Civilization proper, is even more dumbed down on touch devices, offering up simpler menus and actions that keep the pace ramped up without throwing away what made the core game good in the first place. 2K12 is an exceedingly simplistic game in the same vein. You can’t pick plays, some control options have been removed, you won’t be going online, franchise mode is missing some parts, and some of the special Michael Jordan touches -- the retro teams in particular -- have been stripped. What’s left is a fairly linear basketball simulation experience that you never really have direct control of, but can still participate within.
Playing this is like playing a Mario game in which Mario automatically runs on a pre-defined path and the only thing you can do is choose his jumps and activate his special powers. On the surface this sounds pretty terrible, but NBA 2K has always been a strong simulation game with cultured AI and a ton of dice rolls that already pre-determined success. The lack of control and player-born dynamism in this particular one isn’t that big of a turn-off -- the simulation remains sharp and, frankly, it didn’t need a user to feel even better. If anything, we’ve been breaking the elegy 2K has been constructing over the years
The feel I’ve been describing applies to both of the game’s control modes: one-finger and a more direct option dubbed classic. In one-finger, you’ll flick and swipe the screen to pass and defend the ball, while also holding onto players to shoot and attempt steals. In classic, you’ll be allowed to actually move around players of your choice on the court and activate more awe-inspiring moves with a jiggle of the virtual stick it brings into the equation.
On-court turnouts remain about the same using the either. Quite simply, you’re not meant to be the be all and end all in 2K12. So, while your impact varies, the game part remains a hardboiled sim experience throughout.
2K12 does suffer for this approach. When the AI gets finicky or makes a bonehead play choice, you can do nothing but helplessly watch. You’ll also rarely be the hero or driver, regardless of how you choose to play. But the thing that really gets under my skin is the lack of spark -- there’s no sizzle, exhilaration, or emotion to be had. This is almost as cold as it gets in the basketball simulation world.
The absence of titillation is lightly mitigated by the stupendous presentation effort, which makes its way to this version pretty well in-tact. Accurate courts, awesome play-by-play, and great animations are all a part of this package. And while the players look OK, you’ll still be treated to a trip straight down into uncanny valley -- some dudes look downright horrifying, if not in need of immediate medical attention.
2K12 needs a bit more to hold my attention over significant stretches of time -- I’d love to see some sizzle from anywhere and especially from the action on the court. That said, I’m not sure the point here was to give me thrills; this is a simulation to the bone and all of its struts and constituent parts support its sharp, through pretty strict “action.” If anything, this is a good start for a series that'll, hopefully, find some better legs down the road.