EA Sports March Madness 07 more dud than stud
Better late than never had to have been EA’s line of thinking when it came down to its January 17th release of March Madness 07, nearly 2 months after 2K’s release of College Hoops 2K7. For some reason, EA elected not to release a college basketball game last year on the Xbox 360. So this year, I had high hopes for the return of the king. With a full year to grasp the ins and outs of high-def gaming and next-gen controls, surely this game would be the reviving force that EA needed to regain control from the surging 2K.
Kind of picture it like the traditional college power house team reminding the Cinderella team that they mean business and, in the process, we, the hardcore sports gamers of the world, get the W.
Initially, my expectations were met, but, unfortunately, it all came crashing down too soon. While I was expecting and hoping for a champion, I ended up with an early exit in the video game equivalent of the sweet 16. Let’s start with gameplay. All in all, the way the game plays is pretty good. The goal of the game is to take your team through the season and win the holy grail of all championships, the NCAA basketball championship. This can get a little long and repetitive, but that’s why we have the option of allowing the computer to simulate the games for us. If you’re playing “No One Tech,” then let the computer whip up on them and save yourself some time. EA maintained the floor general feature, allowing you to call plays with the d-pad and execute them with a click on the analog stick. I loved this feature before and this time around it’s been sharpened to the point that it slashed through the lane like A.I. when he played for Georgetown. In addition, EA has added the lockdown stick. This allows players to freestyle on the defensive end of the floor. This is great, because you can really frustrate your opponent, and that comes in handy when it’s the guy across the hall that thinks his team can beat yours.
EA keeps the ball bouncing with additional features like school pride, which affects everything from national rankings to recruiting and real time player composure. I especially liked this because in one game your superstar might be hitting everything they toss at the basket, and the next game they’re riding the pine because they can’t get it together. Just about everything you do on the court affects each player’s composure in one way or another.
The recruiting element is entertaining. Yet, it lacks the depth that EA’s competition has added. While attempting to sign the five star kids out of high school and build your program into a national power is compelling and fun, it seems to lack the sense of urgency and competition that exists in college recruiting today. All in all, the gameplay would make the cut on just about any level. For the most part, it’s what we’ve all come to expect from EA, only now that which used to be pretty rough around the edges has been, for the most part, smoothed out on the Xbox 360.
Controlling the game is one area where I felt EA missed the basket. I might even go so far and say it’s an air ball. The controls are slow to respond, and I found myself having to look at my controller to remind myself that this button throws the alley oop, while this one is the one that actually shoots the ball. I guess you have to ask yourself this question; should there really be a learning curve for a college basketball game? NO!! It’s basketball, not Elder Scrolls. In this case, less is more, simple is better, pick a cliché and go for it. While I like the floor general feature, using the d-pad to scroll through plays and then having to click down on the left analog stick to get my team to run them got really old. In fact, there were a couple of times when I had the ball stolen from me and had to watch the computer run out a fast break because I was too busy trying to get my team to run the three point play. I think that EA would have been better off taking a page from 2K’s book and set up the controls to just play the game. As I said before, the lock down stick is a brilliant addition. Smothering your opponent can be really fun. I will warn you that it’s easy to get overzealous in the use of the lock down stick. One wrong move and your defender is going to end up getting posterized and you’ll have to watch the highlight of your rival cramming the ball into the rim.
Graphically, EA’s take on college hoops is hit and miss. The arenas are, for the most part, spot on. There’s no greater feeling in the world than to play with your team and know that your house looks the way it should. Be it in the hallowed halls of Rupp Arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Dean Dome, Allen Fieldhouse, or in one of the lesser known schools, it seems that EA’s crew paid great attention to detail. You’ll be very happy to know that you can point out to all of your friends where your season tickets are. What I want to know is: how much does a guy have to pay to get EA to put me in my seat? That would be awesome!! EA’s fine toothed comb carries over into areas like mascots and uniforms, both of which are very accurate.