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NCAA 08 March Madness


College hoops have been an enjoyable pastime of mine for years, primarily due to a decent basketball program back in my college days. Iíve been let down in the past by video adaptations of my favorite sport, but EAís March Madness 08 looked like a decent effort at recapturing my attention. Typical to EAís history with the title, the presentation of March Madness is top notch and does an excellent job of capturing the enthusiastic college spirit. Everything from player entrances to the close up shots of the screaming fans during a tense free throw situation is designed to recreate authentic atmosphere.

Gameplay

There are two prevalent changes in this yearís version, low-post play and pacing. When driving to or defending the basket, the player can use the right analog stick to move around / block the opposing player. There are several moves in the repertoire of each team like hook shots or fakes, but choosing the correct move requires a bit of strategy. For instance if the center is mismatched against a shorter player, the big man can power his way to the hoop. Driving moves can also be stopped in order to fake out the opposing player. This often leads to a quick jump shot for an easy basket.

While the improvement to the low post play is phenomenal, the pacing took a beating this year. Players react slower than last year, especially point guards. Itís incredibly tough to get a fast break as the point guards bumble around with the ball while the opposing team rockets down to the opposite end of the court. Passing the rock around seems incessantly lethargic as well. Running a play to find the open man is near futile due to the slow reaction time to passing. The previous version had been labeled for being far too speedy by many critics, but adjusting the pacing to this snailís pace actually works against the enthusiastic atmosphere college basketball is supposed to convey.

I did appreciate the changes to the dynasty mode, many of which seem copied from the tweaks made to EAís college football franchise. Most importantly, recruiting now follows the same format. Branching out your recruitment search by nearby states is the most effective way to find new talent; in the game and the real world. The dynasty process feels more streamlined than last year, especially navigation.

The online mode isnít modified greatly, but EA did decide to include online leagues (only 32 teams though). Players have a wider array of options for finding compatible times to set up their matches this year and it certainly helps avoid the defaults. Of course, you still need a dedicated set of players to complete league play. The achievements are pretty much what you would expect from EA Sports. The majority are fairly simple to complete in a couple days. Achievements have never been a fantastic addition to sports titles as sliders usually negate any challenge.

Graphics & Audio

Visually, the title doesnít exceed its previous predecessor. While the character animations are smooth and the player models retained all their detail, thereís little difference between the presentation elements. The game does seem a bit more disjointed than last yearís outing, probably attributed to a lack of smooth transitions. Also, its competitor, College Hoops 2K8, still has the definite edge on player models. College Hoops also has the clear advantage on rebounding reactions

Dick Vitale is still incredibly annoying, but Brad Nessler balances out the equation. The team occasionally gets off track during play and becomes very repetitive during a blowout. A new entry to his yearís outing is sideline reporter Erin Andrews. Erin is a popular sideline reporter most often seen on ESPN / ABC covering college football & basketball games. Her comments stick to general topics, but they do provide a solid counterpart to the bickering men. The sound effects are identical to the previous year, but the crowd seems livelier. I believe I heard a couple new songs from the in-game pep band as well.

Conclusion

NCAA March Madness 08 has a fair amount of improvements over the previous year; the modifications of the dynasty mode and changes to the low post play. Unfortunately the slow pace of the game plagues the title and devalues the level of entertainment from the title. Rent both NCAA titles to see what style of play fits you best.