March of Madness
EA and 2K Sports are the top competitors when it comes to sports games. Each year is a back and forth contest between the two companies to produce the best sports game. While EA always blows any contender out of the water when it comes to football and their insanely popular Madden series, for the last few years EA has been having a bit of trouble where basketball is concerned. Their Live series, known for being arcadey as opposed to 2K simulation-heavy NBA 2K series, has suffered in terms of popularity.
Last year a petition was even mounted against EA for what gamers perceived to be ineptitude in developing basketball games. Sadly, when the NBA game is off, the college game suffers as well, and that seems to be the case for March Madness 08, which winds up being vastly inferior to 2K’s College Hoops 2K8. March Madness gives a valiant attempt, but their game isn’t as cohesive as College Hoops.
Visually, March Madness is a very pretty game. The animations are all very well done, creating the illusion of actual players making actual movements. However, March Madness, even with its good animations, is still light years behind the more fluid and realistic animations of College Hoops. While March Madness’ players do animate well, they don’t seem as fluid or as flexible as the players from 2K’s game. The players feel a little sluggish, which is odd considering that EA’s basketball games are known for having a far more arcadey feel than others. If having fast-paced arcade basketball is your claim to fame, your game’s pacing should reflect that. On the other end, the sound effects are all pretty good, although the announcers can regularly find themselves out of sync with the court action, sometimes predicting or lagging behind events on the court by long seconds.
One of this year’s additions is a revamped post play. All basketball games have trouble recreating the incredible variety of options available to any baller at any particular time, and never is this more evident than in the post. A skilled player can pass, shoot, hook, dunk, dribble, lay-up, or any number of other things from a triple threat position inside. Most basketball games decide for you what move your player will perform based on his position, ability, and movements, but EA attempted to give the player more control with their new post-play moves. Conversely, the defensive player can alternate defensive stances, limiting the options available to the offensive player. The post play works like a mini-war of sorts between the opponents, a quick strategy match to gain position to either score or prevent the scoring. The addition is really good in theory and is a step in the right direction, although there is room for improvement in increasing the options available and making the system feel a little more open.
A major game flaw comes in the dribbling system. EA has implemented the ability to perform fancy dribble maneuvers for years and actually led the innovation. Before EA shifted control of the dribble to the right analog stick, most dribble moves were performed with the touch of a button. However, as intuitive as using the right stick can be, it is far too easy for the showboating dribbler to find themselves out of bounds. The ease with which you can lose control of a dribbler nearly negates the effectiveness of being able to directly control the dribble maneuvers.
March Madness also has a Lockdown mode, which is similar to 2K’s defensive locking feature, although Lockdown is much improved. Lockdown allows the defending player to lock onto a ballhandler and pressure him with a far more physical style of defense.
College Hoops introduced the sixth man element, factoring in the intensity of the crowd into player performance. March Madness attempts sometime similar with the Impact Moment, which allows you to pump up your crowd when you fill a particular meter. The crowd will get excited, accurately recreating the feel of a college basketball stadium, but the Impact Moment lacks any utility beyond that. It is supposed to boost your team’s level of play, but there isn’t any noticeable effect of the Impact Moment beyond the crowd’s momentary excitement. Some gamers may automatically step up their game when their virtual home audience is cheering for them, but others may find the Impact Moment to be a superfluous addition.
One of the game’s biggest assets is the well loved Dynasty mode. While there isn’t much new in the Dynasty mode, this part of the game doesn’t need much in the way of improvement. There are inclusions like Recruiting Challenges, which charge you with accomplishing a particular accomplishment, that add a bit of flair, but Dynasty mode is largely unchanged from last year.
The game also has various online modes to play in as well. Gamers can choose their favorite team and go online for exhibition games or to participate in online tournaments.
The PlayStation 3 version of March Madness is by far the inferior version. The framerate is far less than the Xbox 360 one, and the load times are appreciably longer. EA’s sports titles have all seemed to suffer on Sony’s platform this year, and March Madness, one of the final sports titles of 07, doesn’t break that trend in any respect.
Overall, March Madness 08 is a pretty good basketball game. The problem is that it isn’t the best basketball game available by far. It can probably easily claim second best, but College Hoops is a much better basketball experience. The animations are more fluid, the presentation is better, the pacing is more realistic…there’s a veritable laundry list of things that College Hoops does better than March Madness. March Madness is not a bad game by any means, but if anyone is looking for the definitive college basketball experience, they should look towards College Hoops. March Madness is taking strides in the right direction, but it still has quite a march before it can actually compete.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
Good visuals and animation. 3.4 Control
Good controls, although players move a little sluggishly. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great sound effects and commentary. 3.7 Play Value
Online play, Dynasty mode, and Tournaments create good replay value. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.