Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: October 11, 2005
In case you haven't experienced it for yourself, the adrenaline at college sporting events is insane. Fans of the NBA simply cannot compare to the intensity that thousands of college drunks – err, students – can bring. Game developers have been trying to bring this feeling into your home, and from EA Sports comes the latest offering, NCAA 06 March Madness.
If you have played the last NCAA title from EA, you pretty much have the basics down, but in this year's release, a couple of changes were made to give NCAA a different feel from NBA Live. One thing that NCAA does not have is the new mode from this year's Live, the Superstar ability. It does, however, sport a new defensive mechanism, the lockdown stick, which works wonders and gives the game a more realistic feel. By pressing the down button on the right analog stick, your player gets into the opponent's face to make it difficult to dribble past you. Predicting the player's every move (using the left analog stick), the player will shadow him and make any movement quite difficult.
With this new defense, there is now a different way to call additional plays; hitting the up will bring up a screen showing the offensive or defensive configuration to which you want your team to change. Frequently used configurations like pick, post, and isolation have already been assigned to the other direction pad buttons.
The modes of play are essentially the same and include season, dynasty, play online, tournament, college classics, rivalry, mascot and practice. As a fair warning, I suggest you stay away from season mode because EA has completely downgraded it. The mode offers practically no team management, and after you finish a season, the game is over – you can't transfer it over to dynasty mode. I wouldn't be surprised if they eliminated season mode altogether in the next installment.
I suggest starting out in dynasty mode because it gives more control over the team, with the ability to set the training regime, recruiting, scouting, and much more. The mode has improved greatly from the previous installment, but it's still not as good as some other games. The ability to control players in training in Sony's NBA 06 is quite exceptional, and it's something that should be placed in more sports games. The regime implemented in NCAA has each and every player doing the same drills, but a shooting guard should not be doing the same thing as a center; personal control would definitely enhance the feel of dynasty mode. Until they give this mode a revamp, it's still a bit weak and not as fun as some other management-based games like Madden 2006.
With the new features, NCAA's gameplay has more of a realistic feel to it, which definitely goes a long way towards making up for the poor modes. Watching players get burned, miss easy lay-ups and even when completely open, players can still brick. Of course, if it's a high-level team like Duke, these trivial mistakes won't occur as often. Even though you see fewer mistakes, what really gives a different feel is how the overall team is played. When Duke gets a fast break, it's amazing how quickly these guys burn my players. For such situations, the ability to change the formation is great, but for a better team who can manage the ball and play better defense, don't be surprised for them to have more fast breaks while fouling out your main players. Cover such as man-on-man and traps can help overcome these difficulties, making it easier to steal the ball. To really master the defense, you need to understand and start utilizing the lockdown stick. Only then can the team's defense realize its true potential.
If that isn't enough, there is always the sixth defender at home. The crowd is such a large factor in changing the feel and aggression of the players; the screams of fans, both young and old, make every free throw that much more intimidating. The audience gets even more rowdy when an insane play is pulled off, such as a back-screen dunk.
Sadly, even if the play is awesome, the replay and the video quality are quite poor. The in-game graphics never give detailed shots of your players, so they all sort of blend together, aside from the numbers on their jerseys. Another notable attribute is that not all of the gyms have been implemented into the system, so teams without a gym appear to play in a high school basketball court. For the teams that do have the gyms implemented, the feel of the stadium is realistic, lending the game that much more intensity. Also noteworthy is that this version finally has the NCAA license, which (thankfully) means no more fake team names.
Although the graphics are a little disappointing, sound is an incredible component of NCAA. The cheering, in-game music, and college bands playing their songs really accentuate the college atmosphere. The sports commentators desperately needed an overhaul, but unfortunately, this aspect was overlooked, as evidenced by uninteresting and completely unnecessary comments that hindered the game experience rather than enhancing it ("Hey, he doesn't have hair – just like you!"). Hopefully, this will be addressed in the next-gen systems so that we can enjoy the game experience instead of being distracted by off-putting observations.
Overall, NCAA 06 March Madness is pretty solid and has a few flaws, but the gameplay is really quite fun. The lockdown stick really adds an extra realistic dimension to the title, and with the addition of back/off screens, offense is a lot easier too. If you're looking for a good basketball game, NCAA one is pretty good, but the gameplay modes aren't as varied and extensive as some other titles out there. If you're looking for a good college basketball title, this might be just what you're looking for.
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