Rabid EA basketball junkies still reeling from the rather unimpressive mess that was NBA Live 07 on Xbox 360 will find partially renewed enthusiasm when stepping onto the court in NCAA March Madness 07. More than any basketball game before it, even 2K Sports own College Hoops 2K7, EA’s latest dip into the college ranks captures the emotional ups and downs of playing before home and away crowds. Made baskets result in cheerleader cheers, thunderous applause, fight song singing and players pumping fists or sharing high-fives. On the other side of the court, the rallying opponent distractions become grating to the point where the home team develops an advantage simply because you’re sick and tired of hearing your opponent’s crowd sing their fight song.
Somewhere during development the NBA Street crew crashed the NCAA party and left a lasting impression. Expanding upon the natural stadium energy is a gimmicky Impact Bar that builds with each jumper, dunk or fancy move to the rim. A filled bar means the next stoppage in play offers an Impact Moment opportunity to either taunt the visiting crowd or pump up your teammates, cheerleaders, or home crowd.
All the Impact Bar really accomplishes is an unwanted TV time-out that breaks the frenetic rhythm of the game. Several button clicks are required to enter an Impact Moment, and once in the moment, players are subjected to a cheesy cut-scene and must watch it for the duration. Even if you really wanted an Impact Moment, the stoppages to obtain one don’t include free-throws or fouls. So unless the ball bounces out of bounds, you better not give up a basket which will subtract a notch from the Impact Bar and require one more score to reach the pinnacle again. The only saving grace is players with no interest in fussing with the arcade-ish Impact Bar can choose to ignore it entirely.
On the court, NCAA March Madness 07 is unequivocally superior to NBA Live 07, though it still suffers from a number of mind numbing faults. Computer AI is refreshingly aggressive and smart for the most part, especially on the All-American difficulty setting. Easy passes inside for dunks and lay-ups found playing on the Junior College setting won’t work on All-American as the defense is quick to both get back and cut off the long passing lanes. To make certain players don’t take advantage of the weaknesses of Junior College, most of the Xbox Achievement points can only be acquired when playing All-American.
There are way too many fouls despite which difficulty setting is selected. After playing several games as ASU, I found all my big getting into foul trouble in the first half, paving the way for ASU’s weaker bench to rack up premature and frankly unwanted minutes. Whether a freshman or an All-American senior, free throws are so robotic and easy that you’d swear Steve Nash was taking every single one of them. Giving an unrealistic treatment to these basic gameplay elements is an easy way to throw off the simulation presentation EA strives to achieve.
NCAA March Madness 07 is a deep game off the court, with the addition of the Maui Invitational and NIT Season Tip-Off tournaments to the NCAA Tournament and Dynasty mode. Dynasty has been beefed up with the ability to red shirt and cut players before the season begins, thought the menus for navigating through the pre-season process are confounding at best. The neatest addition is the ability to upgrade the school’s facilities including the band, which in turn ups the in-game energy during home games. It’s good to see the broader managerial tools work their way back into games after the great Madden downsizing of a year-and-a-half ago.
By focusing on creating more robust managerial options and immersive emotional energy, EA has upped the ante for 2K to follow suite or be left behind off-the-court by the advancements made in NCAA March Madness 07. But most players are more concerned with how the game looks and plays, and in this arena 2K is still the top dog. EA still needs to find a solution for why player and stadium models are a generation behind in visual evolution, why the pace and action still carries a hefty resemblance to playing at an arcade, and do a better job of eliminating quirky bugs like 90 percent of the audio cutting out for several seconds at a time. Till next year, 2K is the way to go for a well-rounded college basketball gaming fix.
- Overall: 7.3
- The bells, whistles and added off-court content are nice additions, but the game suffers from some nagging on-court issues that should have been addressed before the extra stuff.
— Dan Bradley