Reviewed: February 18, 2007
Released: January 17, 2007
I have lived in various Big Ten school markets most of my life. So I always enjoy NCAA videogames. Being a photographer, I get the chance to meet many of the athletes in the games so it’s fun to see how they stack up in a videogame.
Now I’ll be honest here, I currently live in Indiana, but I’m not a huge basketball fan. The NBA pretty much spoiled any hope of me liking the sport. Overpaid street punks shooting hoops just doesn’t capture my attention. But the college game is a different animal. It’s not as ‘corporate’. The players are approachable and the fans are passionate about their team. Living near a Big Ten school means I get to see some of the best teams in the nation.
I have been a fan of EA’s March Madness franchise for years. Back when I had a Nintendo, the March Madness and Madden release dates were a big deal. So now I get to review the games I enjoy playing. Life is good.
NCAA March Madness 2007 is EA’s first March Madness on the 360. 2K Sports had the 360 all to themselves last year, but now EA is on the scene. Since they basically had an extra year to prepare, expectations for March Madness were pretty high.
I’ll start off by saying that March Madness is a nice looking game. EA really knows how to make a game look and sound amazing. But looks are only on the surface.
When starting up the game you’ll find yourself on a street court shooting hoops for the fun of it. Its nice practice and something to play while the game loads. Once you pick your teams, you can choose to enter into a little shooting contest for some extra mojo going into the game.
In March Madness 2007, EA is bringing a little bit of The Sims to the college game. Each player has a composure/intensity rating which goes up and down depending on how they do on the court. Get a slam-dunk, and that player will have a little green plus sign above his head giving him better composure/intensity. In theory this will help him play better.
Get a shot blocked and a little minus sign goes above his head. Eventually if you get enough pluses you can activate an “impact moment” where you can pump up a teammate, the fans, or taunt the opposing team. All of which will increase your team composure/intensity and decrease the opposing teams. It’s an interesting system, but seems a bit too sensitive – a player who gets a fairly standard basket isn’t going to impact the entire team as much as this system seems to think.
The game itself looks very impressive. Unfortunately EA chose to use the much-maligned NBA 07 engine, which looks nice but suffers some of the same annoying glitches. The main problem is player animations. When a player does something like a slam-dunk, which pumps up the crowd, he usually will also do some thuggy trot up the court. Unfortunately the other team tends to take advantage of this and chucks the ball past him into prime scoring position. The animations are many, but you can’t interrupt them. The animation transition isn’t clean and it looks awkward. Once they start on that predetermined path you’ll be lucky if the other team doesn’t promptly arrive in prime scoring position or you cough up the ball.
March Madness 2007 includes the expected 314 NCAA division I teams from 31 conferences. If you play in dynasty mode, you can even play the McDonald’s High School classic. There’s not a single historical team to be found. You would think EA would try and compete with 2K7 in this area, but this is one of many areas where they fall short.
Given EA’s recent press release about sponsoring and hosting the Women in Games International Conference, I expected to see women’s teams return to March Madness. Just a few years ago EA was on the forefront by having the top women’s teams included. Despite a huge increase in popularity of women’s basketball, EA has once again chosen to ignore them.
According to the press release, the Entertainment Software Association says 38% of gamers are women. The press release said EA wants to “encourage women to pursue their passion for gaming” and used the usual marketing spin words like “empowered, insightful women”… all the usual ‘look at how pro-women we are’ statements.
If 38% of gamers are women, over 20% of EA employees are women, and EA wants to “encourage women to pursue their passion for gaming”, why doesn’t EA back up their statement by actually having women in their sports games? Beach volleyball jigglefest games don’t count. Actions speak louder than words, and EA’s actions have drowned out anything their marketing department can spin. ‘Nuff said.
Editing player names is a bit of a chore. EA doesn’t go to much trouble to help people put the correct player names in. The first name must be manually spelled out letter by letter. The on-screen keyboard is almost laid out like the standard computer keyboard, but not quite. The last name can be done manually or if you are lucky the name will appear on a list of audible names. The list is a lot shorter than 2K7’s and quite a few big name players are not included. Nice try.
It is tedious and I can’t imagine actually sitting down to input all the names. But people have, and then posted the files on the Internet for download for use via Datek’s Xchange360 memory card utility. EA still doesn’t seem to quite have the hang of making this easier for the fans, but it is improving.
They did include something special on Xbox Live. Users can upload rosters to the EA Sports Locker so people on your friends list can also have correctly named players. The locker is basically an 8mb storage space for you on EA’s server. This is a great feature that I hope stays around.
Editing players is fairly straightforward. You can edit most attributes, however you can’t create your own school, which is very unfortunate. It would have been nice to at least be able to create my old Division III conference and upload that to the EA Sports Locker for all my college buddies to play on Xbox Live.
Also on Xbox Live are the usual ranked and unranked games. You can create a custom game or challenge someone in the lobbies. You can also view your career online stats and leaderboards. Career stats are kept and EA will email your game results to your SMS enabled phone or email address. They still only email results, not stats.
ESPN integration continues to get better with each game from EA. The sports ticker includes all the major sports with over 40 selectable options including news and scores. They have even added on demand content from ESPNEWS including video highlights. This is one area where EA really is putting everyone else to shame.
There are 4 different game modes available. Dynasty is the management mode where you have to take care of recruiting, discipline issues, alumni interactions, and you can even upgrade your school facilities by completing various alumni challenges. March Madness gives a fairly standard management system, but it’s starting to get old and worn. It’s missing some items like negotiating apparel contracts and other big money aspects of the game that perhaps the NCAA doesn’t want in the public eye so much.
Other game modes include the NCAA Tournament, the Maui Invitational Tournament, and the NIT Season Tip-Off. If you play in the Dynasty Mode you can also play the McDonald’s high school classic.
EA has really learned how to set the standard for graphics on the 360. The player models are the best I’ve seen in college games. March Madness includes 6 camera angles with pitch and focal length settings. The stadiums on the whole look stunning. The floor wood grain texture and reflections are amazing. Even the hanging scoreboards are reflected on the floor.
Not everything is what it should be in the graphics area. I’m not sure if the developers didn’t do their homework or they just couldn’t afford the disc space, but many of the stadiums are not even close to being correct. Purdue’s Mackey Arena looks like a billion dollar corporate playground in March Madness. In reality, Mackey is a hole in the ground covered by a lot of cement. It doesn’t have executive suites or even chairs with backs – just 14,000 bench seats.
Also missing is Purdue Pete and many other mascots we all see on TV every week. I can understand having to limit the number of mascots, I’m sure the animations eat up space on the disc, but the Big Ten and other major conferences should be a little better represented.
EA also includes video calibration screens so March Madness looks as stunning as it should.
Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler are the announcers once again. People either love or hate Dicky V. I actually enjoy him once in awhile; he adds a little entertainment to the game. But after playing March Madness a few times, I had enough.
His endless list of acronyms and repetitive banter gets to be like fingernails on a chalkboard. Sometimes Vitale and Nessler respond to a blocked shot as if it had gone in the hoop. But you always have the option of turning the commentary off.
The crowd noise is amazing in surround sound. It really feels like you are in the stadium. Even the PA announcers are handled well. The fans react with cheers or jeers to on court action. Many of the big teams have special fan cheers, but some of them are incorrect. Once again the Purdue fans are cheering “let’s go Boilermakers” when they actually should be saying “let’s go Boilers”. The little details make a big difference.
If you input the names manually, they are sometimes spoken by Vitale, Nessler, and the stadium PA announcers. More often than not you will get a number instead. At least they did make an effort, but they are still way behind 2K7.
EA Sport Trax includes only 6 songs – all college bands. If you play this game a few times you’ll be turning the music off real quick.
For their first outing the 360, the March Madness development team had a decent showing. They still have a ways to go, and certainly could learn a lot from 2K7, but overall they delivered a fun game with the best college basketball graphics. It’s just not the best college basketball game.
There are too many features missing. The lack of historical teams is a big mistake. You can’t even make your own school. The list of disappointments far outweighs the eye candy and ESPN integration that EA offers.
There are 25 achievements for 1,000 points on Xbox Live. Achievements range from updating the rosters to getting 51 rebounds with one player. Most of them are easy to get just playing a full-length game.
Xbox Live Marketplace includes a few downloadable school themes for 150 Microsoft Points each. It’s too bad they haven’t tried something slightly innovative like downloadable historical teams, stadiums, or women’s teams.
It’s not too difficult to choose between EA’s NCAA March Madness 2007 and 2K Sports’ NCAA College Hoops 2K7. Both are good games, but the features are what really set them apart. Fortunately the features of these two games are very different so it makes the choice easier.
If you want a straightforward simple game of college basketball with nice graphics, March Madness is the one for you. But overall, 2K7 is the more complete college game. It may be a bit behind in the graphics and sports ticker end of things, but they really pack in the features. EA has the ESPN license, and is just a step ahead on the graphics level, but that isn’t enough to sway me from 2K7’s College Hoops.