This game will in fact, make you mad.
It all starts with the twitching of an eyelid. The pulse quickens, the vision blurs. The disease spreads rapidly, often interfering with basic motor skills by forcing the patient to assume the fetal position on a sofa. Attire at this point typically changes from socially acceptable stylish garb to stained sweatshirts and sweatpants declaring allegiance to a particular school. The victim slowly loses his will, his hands metamorphosing into a remote control and a can of cheap beer. A highly contagious disorder, the ensuing mania cannot be destroyed, only contained.
March Madness (the Tourrnament) is so named because it takes over the t.v. and media for a good solid month. It also takes over the average sports fan's life, often resulting in loss of sleep and a sore thumb from too much channel clicking. I myself have never had the full-blown disease, though I once had a sneezing fit that lasted 3 hours after cleaning off my old television.
What better way to ring in the new outbreak than with the two new college basketball games for the PSX. EA Sports has routinely held the upper hand in this battle, but like all good things, the reign has come to an end. March Madness '99 is chock full of options, teams, and peppy spirit, but falls victim to the worst gameplay since Dr. James Naismith invented the damn sport. Can I get a Bronx cheer, y'all?
First off, let me stress that while March Madness '99 isn't very good, neither is it's competitor, NCAA Final Four '99. Frankly, both games are pretty dumpy and pale in comparison to this year's EA Sports grand poobah that is NBA Live '99.
March Madness '99 is a VERY complete feeling game. You'll find just about every single Division I team around (over 140), which means you stand a pretty good chance of seeing your favorite school represented. Each team is ranked by a number of criteria, from offense to defense. While it's against the law to use player names (they're amateurs and can't make money endorsing products), each team feels pretty distinct and all real-life players are accounted for. Plus, 20 of the greatest college teams of all time are included. Now you can re-live those magic UCLA Wooden years.
There are a bazillion ways to play (thats an official count). You can go for the quick Exhibition or dive right into the Tournament. You can Practice plays at the gym, or go for range in the 3 Point Shootout. EA also threw in Dynasty mode, where you take a team through an entire season, the tournament, and even go scouting and recruit new players for the next year. Again, this is a very thorough game.
As if the options weren't enough, for the first time you can play as the ladies. Sixteen women's teams are here, and can be played in both Exhibition and a Sweet 16 tourney. This is a really cool addition - kudos to EA for dishing out some respect.
Graphically, the game is pretty nice. The players are polygonal and have convincing animations. The courts look good and give you a solid gymnasium feel. Team logos at mid-court, a halfway decent crowd, and realistic scaling make for a good looking game.
And a good sounding one. You'll find team-specific fight songs, appropriate chanting, and decent sound effects. The soundtrack is pretty groovy as it features the talents of old school master Q-Bert (not the game, you geek, the DJ).
However, the crux of any decent video game lies in the gameplay, and it is here that March Madness '99 gets booted from the brackets. There are several elements that make the gameplay so sucky.
For starters, the control is horrendous. Players move sluggishly and are incredibly slow to respond. While you can utilize passing icons like most other b-ball games, this has never really worked well. The directional passing (i.e. press up to pass to the guy above you) is terrible; more often than not, you pass to the absolute wrong guy. And while the graphics seem pretty solid, the frame rate gets choppy once you start to play with 10 guys on the court.
The problem is that March Madness '99 uses a lame engine. Players have too much momentum, jump shooting seems arbitrary, and huge chunks of animation are mysteriously omitted (try an alley oop). I have no idea why the guys at EA didn't just tweak the Live engine a bit, which is by far the best one around. Must have been the Madness, because this feels like it was rushed out the door a little too early.
To top things of, the AI is pretty bad. I couldn't decipher whether or not teams were running specific plays, but it seemed to be pretty much chance that decides if a shot will go in or not. The challenge just isn't there.
March Madness '99 is just a monster of a disappointment. With so many killer options, crisp sound and good ideas, you'd think that this game would just rule. Of course, once you start to play the whole thing falls apart. The bells and whistles are certainly there, but the tedious play makes this one about as enjoyable as the marching band's cover of 'Hammer Time.' Rent, don't buy.