NCAA March Madness 08 Review (Xbox 360)
It’s human nature to sugarcoat the negative in a situation no matter how strongly we feel about it. That bad movie that “had a good soundtrack.” That awful song that “had a nice beat.” Or, perhaps the most famous of them all, “she has a good personality.” Maybe we go through life with blinders on or perhaps we’re just nice people at heart. Most of the time people try to look at the bright side of almost any situation.
As someone who reviews any type of product, I don’t always have the same liberty to do that. Sure, I go out of my way to be fair and balanced and make sure that I point out the good, even if it’s swimming in a sea on bad. Other “game journalists” don’t necessarily take that tact, but it’s the way I’ve always felt was the fair and balanced way to do things.
I find myself in that position again today after spending time with NCAA March Madness 08 from EA Sports. I try to avoid making grandiose, quotable proclamations in my reviews, but, to cut to the chase, I hated this game.
There, I said it.
This title is the opposite of the old “good personality”, it’s the air-head blonde bombshell that gets lost in her own closet and can’t make change for a quarter. It’s pretty, in the right light, but there’s nothing else going on.
From the opening tip, I found NCAA March Madness 08 painful to play. From the snail like pace of the game and the bizarre ball physics to the robotic player animations and AI blunders, it’s been a long time since it has ever felt like such a chore to play a game for review. I actually found myself laughing out loud on more than a few occasions due to the shear absurdity of some of the things I saw on my screen. I kept scratching my head wondering how a game from a company like EA Sports could be this far behind that competition.
EA has obviously done the research and maybe what’s good in this game is enough for the bulk of their audience. The player models, when in limited motion, look very good. The arenas and uniforms are mostly spot on and the overall atmosphere is, with the exception of some glitches in the play-by-play, on point. However, gameplay itself is so poor that all of the sights and sounds go for naught.
You can also put the Dynasty Mode, at least in concept, down as a major plus in the game. I love the recruiting challenges, the alumni/booster involvement and other little details that, while mostly just a sidebar to the mode, are something that the team at NCAA Football should be looking at. I think it’s innovative, deep and among the best modes of this type that EA Sports has in it’s arsenal to date – in concept. The fringe aspects of a mode are meaningless if you can’t get any enjoyment out of playing the games.
When you hold NCAA March Madness 08 up against the competition, heck, if you compare it to games that were release two or three years ago it doesn’t hold up. Take something simple like rebounding. It’s become commonplace in games today that a game’s logic propels a player towards a rebound. Ball-tracking, for lack of a better word or phrase, is an expected part of today’s sports games. Jump shouldn’t just mean jump. A gamer should have the reasonable expectation that when they hit the jump button, the player will jump towards the ball, maybe even extend an arm to go for the glass. In March Madness, it still has a very Double Dribble feel where the players simply jump straight up and, if you’re lucky, you’ll run into the ball. That’s unacceptable in the today’s sports gaming world.
While it might sound like the ultimate contradiction, NCAA March Madness 08 would get my vote for the worst major sports title of 2007, but should also be praised for some of the innovative concepts that it includes that will likely become the building block for some of EA’s biggest titles down the road. And I’ll follow that strong statement with this one; this should be the last year that EA puts out a college basketball game. They don’t do it well and never have. Those resources could be better utilized on the NBA Live team or to enhance the modes in games like NCAA Football or Madden. Right now, EA is putting out an inferior product in both the College and Pro game. It’s time to combine those Development rosters, pick out your best starting five, and make a run at one or the other.