If you asked any basketball oriented person in this country what is the best time of year to watch basketball, there wouldn’t be many to not say the month of March. There isn’t much else that can compare to “The Big Dance.” It is the one time that the impossible is possible, the “nobody’s” become the “somebody’s,” and until that final buzzer, nothing is out of reach. Now imagine the task of recreating the feeling that all of America gets while rooting for their college team and trying to put that into a video game. It is a task that EA Canada attempted to nail in this year’s version of NCAA March Madness 08.
There is one thing that separates March Madness from the NBA Playoffs. That one thing is the atmosphere and EA Canada knew that while creating this year’s edition of March Madness. This may be the only area that March Madness tops College Hoops. Any basketball player, college or high school, realizes the importance of home court advantage. Your fans act as almost a 6th man on the court and can be extremely intimidating for the opposing team. Such fans as “The Cameron Crazies” and “Crimson Tide” are student sections that are known for their intensity on the sidelines. While playing 08 it is nothing short of awesome to watch your fans go berserk after a huge play. An addition to this year’s March Madness that helps take the atmosphere to the next level is the all-new “Impact Moment.” Near the bottom left corner of the screen is your player’s composure meter and next to that is your University’s mascot. When your fans are so hyped up that you filled the ring around your mascot, it is time for an impact moment. You can fill this up through defensive stops, making shots, and forcing turnovers. On the next dead ball, it’s time to use your impact moment and bring the house down! You can walk to the sidelines and interact with your fans, or my favorite, walk up to an opposing player and do a little smack talking. This is just one thing that helps you to get the excitement of actually being in the game.
Just as home court advantage helps you when you’re at home, it can also frustrate your players when playing on the road. When playing a prestigious school like Duke or North Carolina, you’ll notice that you’re player’s mistakes are a little more costly on their composure meter. The lower this gets the harder it is to make shots, play good defense, and keep handles on the ball.
The controls of March Madness are rather…elementary when it comes to ball handling and shooting. If this was NBA Jam on an arcade machine at the movie theaters in 1995, this would be different, but not on a next-generation console system. This is the first basketball game I have seen in a while that reverted back to one button shooting instead of pulling and pushing on the right analog stick. This leaves no room for real skill or touch on the controller. However they have replaced the use of that analog stick with the fancy dribbling option. The dribbling schematics are nothing extraordinary but do add a little zing to the game play. When on defense though, the right analog stick becomes the “Lockdown Stick.” Looking back at previous editions of basketball games, you never really see an emphasis on defense. This gives you an opportunity to take advantage of an opponent when their composure is down and to really “get in their head.” The lockdown stick is a positive on the new controls but doesn’t make up for the lack in other areas, like shooting.
The real focus of this year’s NCAA March Madness is the new dynamic post control. It is the age of the big man and EA Canada followed right along. You now have more then nine go-to options in the post. With moves like the up and under, the fade away and the hookshot, it gives you the ability to read how the defense is playing and perform the necessary move to get to the rim. Yes, the post control is a great addition to the gameplay but it seems like EA was so focused on that, that they forgot about other things. It has become almost difficult to score without going through the post. For those of you, like myself, who enjoy shooting the rock, it becomes rather monotonous going to the post every time.
Another new addition is the Floor General Play-Calling System. They have increased the depth of the play calling system but to no avail. Using the D-Pad, the player has the opportunity of calling plays and managing the team. The problem is that the plays don’t really work. Of course, the usual quick screen-and-roll and post up are great go-to plays but the developers have added complex offenses that do not serve much of a purpose in my eyes. Real offenses only work on the court because players have room for creativity. They can see how the defense is playing them and react accordingly. However in a video game, especially on the harder difficulty settings, players don’t actually set screens or see holes in the defense, and you end up just abandoning what you were trying to do. It may be a good concept for coming years but for now EA should stick to just the quick hitters.
When it comes to actual game play and getting up and down the court, we see some more problems. As you start to play and get a feel for the game, you’ll notice some tendencies that it seems like the College Hoops franchise resolved years ago. Something that really got on my nerves was the lack of off-the-ball defense. For example, when pressing, I like to get into the passing lanes to make it a difficult pass. Time and time again the in-bounder would pass right through me like I wasn’t there. You will also notice major missed calls too. I can remember a few times where I was playing pressure man-to-man defense and the ball handler stepped backcourt and there was no whistle, and then times when I wasn’t defending the ball handler and he dribbled out of bounds for no reason. These might not seem like big things but when you are playing in the NCAA March Madness Tournament mode, and the game is on the line, it might lead to some controllers being thrown across the room. Small glitches like this cause for the gameplay not to be as smooth as you would expect.
The overall feel of this year’s March Madness handles a lot like last year’s version. The same in-depth recruiting and no significant improvements on the gameplay besides the new post control, which is decent, leaves you wanting more. Maybe the only real progress that EA Canada has made this year is the college basketball atmosphere. However it doesn’t make up for the other overlooks. If you’re at the game store browsing what to buy next, you might want to rent this one first before throwing down the cash.