Will basketball games ever stop appearing on consoles? Don’t hold your breath. Every year there are more basketball games released for consoles than I can count on my fingers. The NCAA March Madness series first appeared on the original PlayStation, with NCAA March Madness ‘99. It was soon followed by March Madness 2000 and then 2001. I’m a pretty big fan of March Madness 2001. I thought the control response and game play in March Madness 2001 was very well tuned and offered a great deal to the gamer. However, bringing an established franchise to a new console system does not always guarantee success and in this case, I am sad to say March Madness 2002 for the PlayStation 2 falls a little short.
Graphically speaking, March Madness 2002 for the PS2 is in a completely different league when compared to the franchise as it appeared on the PlayStation. The players are more accurately modeled in more ways than one. To start, the player animation is much smoother in March Madness 2002 than I have seen in any other basketball game. When you juke and pull up for a three point shot, you can see the arch in the players back as he fades away from the line and curls his wrists. Or, when you dribble the ball and juke on the run, you can see the momentum shift in the player’s feet as he stutter-steps left and then right. The best player motions are captured in the dunks. While it looks impressive, the fact that you can dunk just about whenever you want to detracts from the game play realism, which I’ll get into later. These little touches add a visual realism to the game, in addition to the nicely modeled players. Despite some “jaggies” noticeable along the edges of a player’s body, the overall look is fairly impressive. You can certainly tell one player from the other based entirely on either their face, or body shape. Spotting Shane Battier, for example, is simple as his frame is much larger than his teammates. The stadium is visually appealing as well. Overhead lights reflect off of the wood floors and the crowd is active around the clock. All of these small and large details create a more visually polished game.
The sound effects are also much improved. The best part of March Madness 2002 has to be the chants and fight songs. I myself attend a large university and I am humored as I play my team and listen to my fight song and band. This sort of targets NCAA March Madness 2002 to a specific group of people. Those not attending US colleges will surely enjoy the game, but while at college, the experience is even better because you are actually a part of the game in a small way. The announcers get somewhat tiring as in most games. It could be worse though, as it is in Madden 2002, where repetitive phrases are in abundance. As for the actual sound effects, it’s the usual fare. You’ll hear the swish of the net, the squeak of your shoes, the bounce of the ball, and the players communicating, as well as the coach. I wouldn’t say NCAA March Madness 2002 is any better in the sound department than other basketball games, but it is as good.
Everyone knows a game can sport impressive graphics and sound but without solid game play, it simply will not sell. I think this is the case with NCAA March Madness 2002. After playing Sega’s NBA2K2, March Madness simply doesn’t recreate the basketball realism offered by the aforementioned title. Dunking is one of the best things basketball games offer. However, the ability to dunk just about whenever you want detracts from the realism. If I wanted to own my opponent at will, I’d be playing NBA Street. Getting open in the paint is as simple as pressing the boost button and stutter step button once. Also, throwing the famous alley-oop is way too easy in this game. Granted, it works only about fifty percent of the time, but that still seems way too high. Think about a real NCAA basketball game. How often does that happen? The games I’ve seenů not often. Being able to do the above mentioned so often ruins the entire March Madness series in my opinion.
The biggest problem though is in the control response. The entire feel of the game is “slippery”. Precision just isn’t felt while moving around the court, or guarding players on defense. This may be something a few people like, but the vast majority will be aggravated by the control response. Lastly, the game lacks a season and dynasty mode as seen in other EA Sports franchises. I can understand leaving out the dynasty mode (not really), but how can you create a college sports game and not include a regular season mode? Playing as your school’s team through an entire season is what makes the game so appealing to college hoops gamers. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing your entire record can be accounted for by your own hands. Fortunately, EA was kind enough to include an exhibition and tournament mode. Had EA just designed NCAA March Madness 2002 like the previous versions, or NCAA Football 2002, it would have made up for some of its lesser faults. As it is, the game play is extremely weak.
After playing March Madness 2001 for the PlayStation, I am amazed how I can enjoy that game much more than its graphically enhanced follower. This just proves that solid game play will always prove to be the greater component than graphics and sound. The ideal situation is to have the best of all worlds. That doesn’t happen very often. Seeing as how this definitely doesn’t happen with March Madness 2002, I would not recommend purchasing it. Don’t give up on the series just yet though. I believe EA will recognize the mistakes they made with the first PlayStation 2 incarnation and rectify them in the next installment.