The Jordan Aesthetic
The Jordan Challenge goes beyond a series of challenges – it’s a celebration of basketball’s most accomplished legend. Moreover, it is a history lesson for those who may not have grown up watching Michael Jordan torch the Cavs or battle with the Knicks. For others, there’s an aura of nostalgia swirling around the Jordan Challenge that gives NBA 2K11 an aesthetic not normally found in sports games. Most impressively, Michael Jordan feels and plays exactly like Michael Jordan, from his tongue-lashing dunks, pull-up jumpshot, to his mannerisms on the court.
There’s literally dozens and dozens of situations and games that could’ve fit right into the Jordan Challenge. The primary constraint is of course licensing the rights to the likeness of the appropriate players, which automatically rules out Jordan’s battles with the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. (Give it up, Barkley!) Nonetheless, 2K created the most unprecedented legend mode ever seen in a sports video game – the Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, and Dominique Wilkins all take their turns at stopping the steamroller of the 90’s that was known as the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Not only is each challenge a near-faithful recreation of some of Jordan’s most memorable moments, but each offers very upfront and visible goals: shoot a certain percentage, record a certain number of points, assists, or steals. And even with each attempt, the Jordan Challenge never forces in the player into an annoying loop of retry and failure. Even if missing a goal by a few points or percentages, the sheer delight of playing as the greatest of all time outweighs any potential drudgery that could be caused by repeating challenges multiple times. There’s rarely any exasperation involved.
Clark Kellogg has been alive for a thousand years
On the court, NBA 2K11 keeps an organic, fluid feel to its audio and visual arrangement. Character models and animations are marginally improved on the surface, though a larger variety of action animations and adjusted lighting go a long way in making something old look steaming fresh. The broadcast is filled with interesting banter that breaks the monotony of the mechanical-feeling broadcasts of the past. Even the Jordan Challenge is filled with game-specific analysis and anecdotal speak, though it can be strangely off-putting to hear modern broadcasters like Clark Kellogg and Doris Burke breaking down the 1991 NBA Finals like it happened yesterday.
The My Player mode is back for a second go-around; the mysterious 2K Insider, your know-it-all advisor, still grades on a ridiculously absurd curve, setting counterintuitive goals for each game and punishing you for each and every miscue along the way. The mode has still been improved by the addition of the NBA Draft Combine and post-game press conferences, but its initial inaccessibility is almost an instant turn-off. Nonetheless, the prospect of building your own player from lowly rookie to NBA superstar is enticing, albeit frustrating at times. It’s a mode that wasn’t needed, but will go appreciated by those who are patient and willing to invest some time.
Less than iterative mechanics
Ever since the advent of motion capture, basketball simulations have struggled with creating an intelligent balance of realism and player-driven input. Instead of a half-hearted, iterative attempt at addressing this problem, 2K built upon the steps taken in the past few installments of the series. Now, the clunk-ridden days of basketball simulation are all but over – NBA 2K11 has successfully transformed the trapped-in-motion-capture laden style of control into a fluid, responsive and dynamic system of control.
NBA 2K11 keeps control in the player’s hands and creates a new, almost revolutionary feeling. IsoMotion controls have also been given a more intuitive feel this year, making crossover dribbles and spin moves a bit more accessible. Despite creating a modest amount of newfound accessibility, NBA 2K11 still keeps skills at the forefront – practice and dedication are surefire requirements to mastering the dribbling controls. There’s literally hundreds of moves available, so only those who hit the practice courts frequently will achieve the perfect state of baller-synchronization.
Even hardcore hoops aficionados are treated with respect by NBA 2K11 – the authenticity of the gameplay is, again, unprecedented. The strange quirks that reminded you that you’re playing an imperfect video game have often been overlooked in the past, but NBA 2K11 took a stand this year. Most impressively, 2K didn’t approach the task with a complete overhaul of mechanics, but rather, transformed the experience through finely-tuned tweaks and well-crafted toggles.
The most notable addition to the control scheme is the new function of left shoulder button, which now triggers a mode where position-specific plays can be called without jumping through endless menus during play. While this is active, a quick flick of the right stick will also order the selected player to cut in the specified direction, making lead passing and backdoor cuts simple and intuitive.
NBA 2K11 treats the player like he’s seen the game of basketball before. No longer will passes magically float to the target player – if the passing lanes are clogged or the recipient of the pass isn’t in position, it’s likely going to sail out of bounds or get picked off by a ball-hawking defender. With the expection of the occasional hiccup or clipping, players on both sides of the ball generally behave like they’re supposed to.