We're just a couple weeks away from the release of NBA 2K20, and as with the past couple years, it will be coming out on Nintendo Switch. This wouldn't be such a big deal—the Switch is quite a popular platform after all—but full-blown sports sims have been rather rare on Nintendo's little handheld.
To date, the Switch's sports lineup has mainly featured NBA 2K, WWE 2K, and Football Manager, with a few other appearances by RBI Baseball and Super Mega Baseball. EA has largely shunned the platform, the only exception being a stripped down version of FIFA. As far as full-blown sports sims go, NBA 2K20 comes about as close as possible to matching the experiences on other major consoles. In addition to looking surprisingly great on the court, it boasts every major feature, including the popular MyCaeer mode.
This approach seems to have paid dividends for Visual Concepts. While the first year was a little rough from a frame rate perspective, several patches improved matters, and the subsequent version was better. When the NBA Finals hit earlier this year, NBA 2K19 jumped to the top of the Nintendo online store bestsellers list and stayed there. (It admittedly helped that it got a massive temporary price drop to $2.99.)
EA has since pulled support for FIFA on Switch, opting to release it as a "legacy edition" with little to no support. Visual Concepts is soldiering onward though, seemingly happy to continue releasing a fully updated version in line with the other releases.
"Watching the game grow is really cool. I think there was a lot of trepidation early on," senior producer Rick Boenisch says.
As with other triple-A developers, Visual Concepts had its share of growing pains on the Switch. In the initial release, scenes in the locker room would often stutter badly, and sometimes even crash the game entirely.
"Oh yeah, that was fun," Boenisch laughs. "The locker room scenes were very intensive, because there are so many calculations going on with with the shadows, all the technology to make those scenes look as good as possible. And this year there's even more technology to make it look even better, so on Switch we had to get it back to where it was, then improve upon it. So yeah, we're always looking for ways to improve on the Switch version."
Visual Concepts will have plenty of work to do on this year's version. While the graphics aren't appreciably better, it brings with it plenty of updates to the gameplay, as well as modes like MyGM. Per usual, it also features a whole new story mode, which will include a large number of new environments. The biggest addition is the WNBA, which necessitates many changes to the gameplay and whole new skeletons for the players.
With a new generation looming, Visual Concepts may well have to reconsider its approach to the series on the Switch, as the accompanying leap in visuals may be too much for the console. But for now, NBA 2K is here to stay on the Switch.
"I think when the demand is there, you get to see the audience who enjoys it, you take advantage of it," Boenisch says. "Selfishly for me, I feel like I shouldn't be playing my game when I'm away from work. But even on the plane down here, I put my Switch in my bag with me, and it's awesome to get the chance to just focus in on the gameplay. The flexibility can't be matched with that console."
NBA 2K20 will be out on Switch with all the other versions on September 6. A Google Stadia version will be arriving in November. For more NBA 2K20 coverage, check out our conversation with the devs about how the microtransaction grind is changing, which went up earlier today.