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NCAA March Madness 07 Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: January 17, 2007 Also On: PS2

EA Canada’s NCAA March Madness team has pulled together to make a great basketball game each passing year. In its next-generation debut, the team shows some shakiness but put up much better numbers than its pro counterpart, NBA Live. NCAA March Madness 07 is a much better game that keeps the college atmosphere intact with great visuals, sound, and a feature set that college hoops fans will really enjoy.

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There aren’t a dozen gameplay modes, but there isn’t a need. March Madness 07 features a robust Dynasty mode with all of the options that the Couch Coach really needs. It’s relatively simple to scout out the best high school talent, train your current team, and check up on all of the latest stats from around the league. There aren’t a lot of new options but March Madness 07 is set up in a way that makes everything simple, quick, and rewarding. Before each game, the player can even play a mini-game that boosts their on-court intensity, which brings up the biggest change to this year’s college basketball game: intensity.

Intensity is something college basketball is known for. Emotion–players diving for the ball, pumping their fist as they transition from a brilliant offensive play–it’s what the game is all about, and March Madness 07 utilizes a composure mechanic that directly correlates with the intensity of the situation at hand. As your players do anything: score baskets, block shots, commit turnovers, steal the ball. They’ll have an increase or decrease in their composure, and every on-court action will be affected. Watch a freshman walk into a rocking arena and commit a stupid foul, and he’ll be broken and ready to have a seat on the bench. However, spark a run with a long-distance three and your player will be pumping his fist, jumping up and down and feeling a rush as he goes into transition. As your composure builds, more shots will fall in and things will tilt in your favor. You can even build up a team intensity meter that, when full, allows you to initiate an “Impact Moment” and stir up the crowd, your teammates, or even taunt your opponents. It’s this kind of stuff that keeps the basketball genre interesting.

One of NBA Live’s biggest problems was that it just felt awkward to play. March Madness simply doesn’t. Shooting the ball, driving down the lane, and simply passing the rock–no matter what you’re doing, it feels natural and entertaining. The rebounding seems to have been improved dramatically, and free throws are actually not impossible to make. The Floor General playcalling system works wonderfully, and is actually quite rewarding. You’ll feel much better making an easy lay-up with the right playcall than you will simply running towards the basket and pressing the X button to lay it in.

Almost every gameplay problem from NBA Live has been repaired, and it shows. Unfortunately, a few problems remain. The A.I. isn’t consistently intelligent. Your opponents will, after some time, read your plays and stop you in your tracks. More frequently, though, they’ll pressure your point guard until you can find your power forward or center under the basket for an easy double. Your teammates on defense will oftentimes just stand around and watch the ball be passed around. At least they box out well, making rebounding even easier. On offense, it seems the CPU is much more interested in putting together an improvised play than an actual drawn-up, tired-and-true one. A few of the Live/March Madness engine problems still remain. For example, sometimes players will stand on the out-of-bounds line during an in-bounds pass, making for annoying turnovers. Foul calls are still a little sketchy and inconsistent, and can really rupture an intense moment and break down composure.

The game looks fantastic, running off of a similar (if not the same) engine that Live used. Players animate much better, and some of the additional animations–like players jumping around excitedly after a big shot, or contesting a penalty–make the game even more interesting. The crowd animates very well, and it’s nice to pick out the different sections in the arena. The arenas themselves are done nicely. Really, there isn’t much to complain about when discussing March Madness’s visuals. The animations still aren’t as fluid using this engine, but surely by March Madness 08 that problem will be fixed.

Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler return yet again for in-game commentary, and the results are the same as they’ve ever been. Nessler does a fine job giving you all of the play-by-play. Vitale is a loud-mouthed, annoying buffoon using more acronyms than an AIM addict. You’ll hear “BMOC” (Big Man On Campus!) and “NBN” (Nothin’ But Nylon!) more times than you’d ever wish, and in fact, most of the sound clips are re-played a lot. It’s quite annoying to hear the same thing each game.

NCAA March Madness 07 doesn’t end up finishing perfectly, but it’s definitely a promising next-gen start for EA Canada’s college hoops franchise. With such a good start, who knows what next year could bring. March Madness just might be the basketball franchise to go all the way.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 5.5
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 6.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 7.7
Written by Cliff Review Guide