Will the madness never end?
If you appreciate good coaching, teamwork and fundamentals, forget the NBA and start flipping through college ball games. You'll still find plenty of insane And
mix tape highlights from time to time, but by and large, the college game is all about playing the game the way it was meant to be played.
So it's a little disconcerting that EA's March Madness series has stopped differentiating itself from EA's NBA
Live series. The latest, NCAA
March Madness 2005, features the same engine, menus and gameplay as its NBA counterpart, but wearing dorm clothing. If you've played any EA basketball game in the past two years, you've already played this one.
are a few gameplay changes since last
year, at least. Like NBA
Live 2005, March Madness 2005 has dialed back the efficacy
of the pro hop button, rendering it almost useless unless you're collecting charging
violations. Freestyle control is back again and is even more effective than before,
allowing you to shake defenders with just about anyone on the court. Freestyle
Air has also been imported from Live, which allows you to tip-in
rebounds and change shots in mid-air.
Perhaps the best new feature is the Floor General approach to playcalling.
This takes the classic D-pad control a step further by letting you choose from
any of six play sets on the fly, and possibly many more plays depending upon
how you run each set. You might call 1-4 High and pass off to the shooting
guard after he wraps through a few screens, or you might pass off earlier to
the power forward and run a pick and roll with the center down on the block.
The variety is excellent and the system brings playcalling to life.
It should come as little surprise, then, that the bulk of the gameplay is pretty solid. The combination of Freestyle control with the Floor General leads to a more active half-court game than you'll find in other basketball games and captures the spirit of college teamwork admirably.
But not all spirits are friendly, and in March Madness 2005 you'll be haunted
by players who tend to slide around with far too much momentum, fast breaks
that are halted as your teammates stop at the wings rather than cut to
the hoop, and the ridiculously common blocked shots; big men will literally
fly down from the free-throw line to block easy lay-ups.
The most aggravating flaw is the fact that your shots still seem to make or miss
at random, while the CPU has a penchant for nailing shots if they're taken
in the flow of a play, even if contested perfectly. Small, weak teams like
Dayton or Florida International will run some basic play and drain threes like
Ray Allen even if you've got five hands in the shooter's face, while your point
guard miraculously blows two open lay-ups. I'd like to see the algorithms used
to determine my fate, please.
simply porting the Live engine smacks
of general programming laziness, March
Madness 2005 does
a decent job injecting the formula with college flavor. The new Arena Pulse singles
out the 25 toughest places to play, including such nightmarish holes as Kentucky's
Rupp Arena and Indiana's Assembly Hall. If you're the away team and the crowd
gets pumped up, the screen will shake and tremble chaotically. It's
a cool idea, but should have applied in some form or another to every arena.
Just because Hass Pavilion isn't
as big as the Smith Center doesn't mean Cal fans can't be loud and crazy, too.
Only one new mode steps onto the court with last year's Season, Tournament, Rivalry
and Mascot modes. Thanks to a presumably prosperous donation from a certain car
manufacturer, the "Pontiac College Classics" let you relive memorable moments
from college-hoops history, such as Laetner's legendary last-second heave and
first documented heroics as a Tar Heel. It's not nearly as thrilling
as it sounds - replaying 45 seconds of a game isn't necessarily worth the load
times - but provides a nice trip down memory lane nonetheless.
Most of your time will be spent in Dynasty mode, which again borrows liberally
from the last March
Madness and the current Live in its design and flow.
Your little PDA rings incessantly over the course of a season to update you about
Injury Reports, Recruiting and even NCAA violations, which crop up surprisingly
often thanks to the new team discipline feature.
This appeared in NCAA Football 2005 and
meets with pretty bad results here. Your players will skip class or something
pretty frequently, so you'll have to spend discipline points to suspend them
from games and straighten them out. If you don't do this harshly enough, the
NCAA will get on your case and threaten to bump you out of your conference, which
is pretty ludicrous. Since you have to spend a diminishing number of points
disciplining guys, you can run out before the season expires and get screwed
because your star forward decided to get into a bar fight. It's just not any
fun and the whole system should be reworked, if not ditched entirely.
Recruiting is fairly deep, but the game constantly insists you're not doing enough
even if you've targeted four guys and spammed the hell out of them with packages
and invites. I also take issue with the fact that the top 25 rankings are totally
broken and sway unfairly towards the more prestigious teams regardless of records
or schedules. My Cal Bears didn't get ranked until they were 17-0, while crummier
teams like Stanford (11-5) and Gonzaga (12-6) sat happily in the top 20 for the
entire season. Go ahead and ream the football team, but please lay off my digital
basketball Bears, okay?
You can always forgo the single-player and play online in both the PS2 and
Xbox versions. March
Madness 2005 features news, leaderboards and stats, but otherwise
is pretty straightforward.
I mentioned in my Live 2005 review that the graphics were starting to look old,
and the extra month or so between that release and this one definitely wasn't
spent tweaking the visuals. The player animations are very good, but the player
models themselves lack definition and detail. The arenas are filled with pancake
people, flat, dull fan sprites that make it look like an original Playstation
game. Once again the Xbox outpaces the other versions by a hair, but if you
want good graphics, this isn't the basketball game you're looking for.
While you're busy seeing no evil, do yourself a favor and turn off the sound
so that you don't hear any, either. A handful of pop songs have been recorded
by marching bands to aid the game's atmosphere, but the constant looping during
menus will drive you to turn "em off within about an hour. You'll probably do
the same during the games, because the commentary team of Brad Nessler and Dick
Vitale is atrocious, just repeating stupid lines over and over again.
NCAA March Madness 2005 is a good example of why releasing new
versions of sports games every single year isn't such a great idea. Small tweaks
like the Floor General and Freestyle Air make it a smoother all-around product
than March Madness 2004, but the margin is so slight that owners
of last year's
game shouldn't feel compelled to buy this one, too. The bubble is starting to