First look: NBA 2K16 for Apple TV

Just as sports have been one of the major roadblocks for would-be cord cutters getting rid of their cable, annual editions of sports games are a major force for the console gaming industry. Each year, the new NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL games keep people tied to their consoles, but NBA 2K16 offers a fun alternative for those basketball fans willing to accept some of the limitations.

NBA 2K16 offers multiple modes: quick games where you just select your team and opponent and hop right in, a career mode, a story mode, and a blacktop mode. For this first look, I’ve focused on just the quick games to get an overview of the gameplay, controls, and graphics.

When you choose to hop right into a game, you are able to pick your team and the opponent’s. One of the fun additions is that you can pick not just from the NBA, but other leagues. Want to play as your favorite Euroleague team? Knock yourself out! You can even pit teams from different leagues against each other to see which is better.

Unfortunately, whether it’s a friendly game or an international grudge match, the opponent seems to only be the CPU. Unless it’s hiding somewhere, there’s no multiplayer option in NBA 2K16, something that I’m sure will immediately disqualify it from consideration for many gamers.

I played games with both the Siri Remote and a SteelSeries Nimbus to compare the controls and found it an interesting experience. Playing my very first game of NBA 2K16, I used the Siri Remote and found it surprisingly playable. For the very casual player, it could actually be sufficient.

When I compared the controls guide for the Siri Remote versus a full controller, though, I saw that there were many options that simply seem not to exist on the remote. Want to pass and shoot with the remote? Sure. Want to set a pick or hoist an alley oop? Better have an MFi controller.

Graphically, the game has to be considered one of the best currently available for the Apple TV. While it’s not at the level of its console counterparts, the player models look quite good. Want to see Manu Ginobili’s bald spot? You can!  The game even captures some player’s quirks, such as Tim Duncan hugging the basketball before a game.

Manu Ginobili’s bald spot.

Audio is an area where the game seems to still have some bugs. Even when setting it to have a TV-style presentation, there is virtually no commentary. Occasionally a commentator starts to speak, then it stops after only a few words. As far along as commentary has come in sports games, this seems like a glaring issue and the games feel oddly quiet.

Another area that could use refinement is the menu system throughout the game. This might sound minor, but whether it’s picking your team, choosing players to sub in, or going through the settings menus, the whole process feels kludgy and inconsistent. It shouldn’t be harder to select a menu than it is to win a game.

The final questions is simply whether the game is fun and worth dropping $10 on. If you already own a modern console, the lack of multiplayer alone probably makes the Apple TV version a non-starter. If you’re like me, though, and are happy to just play a quick game once in a while and see how many ridiculous shots Steph Curry can sink or if you can actually land an alley oop, the game is sure to provide several hours of fun.