The roar of the crowd shakes the foundation as the fans start chanting, “Defense! Defense!” The coach issues his last instructions, then sends his athletes back into play as the clock starts ticking the last five seconds down to zero. Only one point separates the teams, making the next play the most critical one of the game. If you haven’t experienced the emotion and the tension of a college basketball game, don’t worry; EA’s going to do its best to encapsulate the passion of an NCAA season for you with their college basketball sim. Lace up your sneakers, because we’re making a push for the Final Four with NCAA 06 March Madness.
More than 300 squads are included in this year’s version, so you really should be hard pressed to not find a team that you’d want to play as. Much of this year’s play will feel familiar to veterans of last year’s game, which is good for those gamers that want to jump in and start scoring points with their alma mater or favorite team. In fact, there are essentially two main changes that have been made to this year’s formula: The Lockdown stick and the floor general feature for defensive plays. It doesn’t seem like a massive change at first, but the implications of these two features are significant to the feel of the college game itself.
If you’ve ever watched a college basketball game, you’ve seen where a player basically takes over with hard, physical defense on an opponent, potentially forcing a mental mistake or a turnover that leads to a fast break. Now gamers can actively trigger these hard stances in NCAA 06 by using the Lockdown stick. You maneuver a player in front of an opposing player and trigger the stick. This makes your athlete “body up” the other man, bumping into him and slowing the advance up the court. If done correctly, you can literally funnel this man towards the sidelines or a trap with another player on your team, increasing your chances of a turnover. You can also use the Lockdown stick to try to steal the ball or take an offensive charge if you get your feet planted in time. However, if you aren’t careful in how you try to direct your opponent, they’ll be able to drive around you and get free.
This actually leads me to the other feature, which is the defensive floor general. Point guards, especially those in college, act as surrogate coaches, directing their teammates with specific plays for certain situations. Last year’s game provided you with this ability for offense; this year’s hands the option over to the defense as well. Combined with the Lockdown stick, this ability can completely frustrate an opponent’s offense as you isolate players, execute half-court presses or traps and force the other team out of rhythm. In fact, there are places on the court where certain defensive plays work much better than others, resulting in a higher percentage of turnovers.
Many of the previous features from last year’s game return, including Mascot and Rivalry games, NCAA tournament matchups and College Classics, which put you in the midst of some of the best games ever seen. The Dynasty mode returns as well, with a larger emphasis placed on scouting this time around. Now, you’re no longer focusing on upcoming games; you’re also focusing on your incoming freshman class or junior college transfer situation thanks to your recruiting levels. You have the option to even play through a high school all-star game to see what the great prospects are for the next year. Some of the same problems that came with the Dynasty mode from previous games still affect this year’s game, which can be somewhat annoying to deal with. You’ll run into way too many disciplinary infractions for any single team to potentially field a squad on a consistent basis. You’re also not able to continually bolster some of your players through out the year, such as running the squad through specific drills or training schemes to adequately prep for an upcoming game. I really want to know if the star player on the opposing team likes taking shots from downtown or if he like driving the lane before dishing the ball out to a teammate – you know, things that actually matter in a game. Instead, you’re subjected to very little, if any, relevant information for your squad.
Visually, NCAA 06 really comes to play with a much larger number of character animations to embody the fast action that the college game is known for. From the emotion of scoring on a fast break and getting the crowd on their feet to the battling and banging that you’ll experience from heavy defense thanks to the Lockdown stick, the number of animations in this game feel much more defined and cleaner than even its NBA Live counterpart. All you have to do is watch how much more energized a dunk is in this game versus the pro version to tell the difference. These players also don’t seem to skate along the floor as much as the NBA Live players do, although there is a somewhat plastic look that their character models exhibit that can be somewhat distracting. The other thing is that the number of basketball arenas start to bleed together instead of looking as unique as each school’s court. Not every arena seats the crowd in the same way or places things in the same place as these courts present; ah well, maybe in the 360 version for next year…
Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler step into the commentary booth this go around, and their commentary is pretty solid, if a bit repetitive. This can be particularly found with Vitale’s hyper delivery, but since a number of his actual comments come across like this, it’s not much of a radical departure for him. Apart from the sounds of the court, you’ve got the stadium rocking sound of the crowd, this can really wreak havoc on another team with the Arena Pulse feature. Plus, it sounds incredible pouring out of any TV speakers to hear a crowd really going wild. Supported by a solid college band performance of all the game music, NCAA 06 really gives you the college feel when you’re playing the game.
It’s not often that you can say it, but this year the college game actually comes off better than the professional title. NCAA March Madness 06 features a more complete presentation of the emotional and tactical facets of the game. The Lockdown stick and the defensive general playcalling also add an additional layer of realism to the game that has been missing from previous versions. Now if the problems within the Dynasty mode can be fixed, March Madness could easily overshadow the NBA franchise for EA.