NCAA March Madness 07 REVIEW

NCAA March Madness 07 Review (Xbox 360)

This is one of the more interesting reviews I’ve ever had to write. When writing a review, I try to not to compare two games featuring the same sport, but sometimes it’s necessary. This is March Madness’ first year on the next-generation consoles and the competition’s second. Second, it’s based off of the new Live 2007 engine, which was one of the most unpopular and disliked gameplay engines in recent history. That said, March Madness 2007 would be an average basketball game even if there wasn’t any competition. The presence of the competition just makes the game look worse in comparison.

EA decided to keep the same commentary team it has used for the past few years, Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale. What is strange is how bad Nessler sounds in comparison to his performance in the NCAA Football series. It is clear from the commentary of both Nessler and Vitale that they did not spend much time in the recording booth. At times, they are both repetitive and it is a shame that after almost five years of commentary, this series has not compiled a big enough commentary database to minimize repetition. The majority of player names are not in the commentary voice database. I can understand not including lesser-known players, but how can you justify not having Kevin Durant or Greg Oden’s name? On the plus side, March Madness 2007 features some of the best crowd sounds I’ve heard in a basketball game. The crowd really feels like a part of the game, and it’s exciting when the crowd roars after a big three-pointer.

While every arena is not represented in this year’s game, the ones that are featured are the best I’ve ever seen in a college basketball game. I’m glad to see that EA used the same attention to detail when it comes to arenas that they used in NCAA Football 2007. I just watched a Duke home game and it’s clear that the March Madness 2007 version of Cameron Indoor Stadium is much closer to the real thing than the 2K version. I am disappointed that some of the high profile arenas like Maryland’s Comcast Center and BC’s Conte Center were not included, but hopefully next year’s game will have every major school represented.

There is good news and bad news regarding the gameplay in March Madness 2007. The bad news is that the game is based off of the same engine used in NBA Live 2007. This means that the game runs at 30 frames per second and is very choppy by default. This also means that the dribbling animations still look horrible and the jump-shots are still stiff and awkward at times. The good news is that the game isn’t as choppy or stiff as NBA Live 2007. At times, March Madness 2007 can feel like real-life college basketball. For example, on small plays like the pick-and-roll, the game looks very life-like. The problem is that the game lacks clean transition and running animations, and it makes the game look awkward. The ball physics, while not as bad as NBA Live 2007's, are still out of whack. This is extremely apparent when you press the jump-shot button while under or around the basket. Under the basket, the player will shoot the ball straight up in the air. It still amazes me that this mistake passed by EA’s game testers or the developers.

The biggest new feature in NCAA March Madness 2007 is Team Intensity Control. Team Intensity Control is a Sims-like feature where a player’s ratings and composure can fluctuate from play to play. For example, if your point guard hits a three pointer or steals the ball, you will notice that a plus sign appears above his head. A minus will appear if your player goes on a cold streak or turns the ball over. The second part of the Team Intensity Control feature is the composure meter. Every player has a composure rating, and it affects the way he performs on the court. Players with higher composure are more likely to hit shots in big moments. There is also a team intensity meter that displays your team’s success. The team intensity meter affects the game in two ways; through team intensity moments and impact moments. At any time during the game, you can trigger a team intensity moment by pressing the LB button and moving the right stick. You can choose between interacting with teammates, interacting with the crowd, interacting with the bench and pumping yourself up. Impact moments are triggered the same way, but they are more powerful and can only occur when the team intensity meter is full. While this is a feature that has never been implemented in another basketball game, I’m not a big fan of it. My biggest problem with Team Intensity Control is that it seems to affect every player the same way and isn’t situation specific. For example, if my team is losing by 30 and my point guard hits four straight shots, pumping up the crowd or my bench should not have any major effect on my team or the game. Also in a real game, I don’t believe that every shot, block or steal has an effect on the attitude or composure of a player. Most players are able to adjust and move on if they miss a shot. In March Madness 2007, every shot, made or missed, affects composure.

I will admit that I am really impressed with the dynasty mode found in March Madness 2007. The mode features the ability to expand your on campus facilities. For example, if you win a big game on TV, the team’s public support will grow and you are given the opportunity to upgrade the team’s weight room, practice gym, medical clinic and/or study hall. Upgrading facilities will give your team a permanent performance boost. Recruiting is well organized and easy to navigate. The game provides you with all of the relevant stats and news to make a decision about a recruit. This year’s game features the McDonald’s High School All American Game, and it is playable. It’s a shame that such a well put-together franchise mode is attached to such below average gameplay.

The online play in March Madness 2007 is disappointing, as well. The first three games I attempted to play all froze before the tip-off and with the screen frozen on center court. When I was finally able to play a game, the games were extremely laggy, which made the game unplayable. When the animations in your game are choppy off-line, you can’t afford to have lag when playing online. Sadly, the game is almost unplayable online. On a positive note, ESPN integration is included in the game, so if you enjoyed this feature in other EA games, it’s accessible in March Madness 2007.

The EA locker is a great addition to their sports lineup and it saves gamers money. Instead of spending twenty dollars on a Datel Xplorer and forty dollars on a memory card in order to download and install roster updates, you can download rosters from a friend’s locker on XBOX Live. The EA locker concept is something that other game companies should consider adding to their games.

It’s easy to see that March Madness 2007 is not the best college basketball game on the market. It’s not even close. Still, if you are just looking for a new college basketball game to play, or if you are able to ignore the awkward animations, I wouldn’t discourage you giving the game a rental. If you are looking for a "sim" basketball game, I can’t suggest that you buy this game unless you are prepared to make massive slider changes and possible ratings changes. Even with those changes, the game doesn’t come close to the competition. Here is hoping that next fall, EA will present us with a better representation of college basketball.

NCAA March Madness 07 Score
out of 10