NCAA ’08 doesn’t make the big dance

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Courtesy EA Sports

New Jersey Institute of Technology ended its season at 0-29 a few days ago, registering the worst record of any team in Division I college basketball history.

And yet, I’m left wondering if its play on the court may still be better than the gameplay in NCAA March Madness 2008 for Xbox 360.

While that may be a bit of a stretch, I would advise EA Sports to enlist some help making next year’s game better because, quite simply, this year’s version isn’t very good.

The guys at N.J.I.T. may even be able to help. Considering their play on the court, I wouldn’t ask them to do motion capture, but considering they go to a technological school, they could probably make a better game than EA Sports did this time around.

The major problem here is that the casual fan will be largely upset with the gameplay and graphics, while the hardcore college hoops gamer will be frustrated with the lack of authenticity to the game (not to mention the aforementioned gameplay and graphics).

The casual fan could probably care less that some players shoot with their wrong hand, and that others have the wrong skin color in the game. But most people that will purchase this game aren’t casual fans. The hardcore college hoops fans are going to be angry when they see a player like Massachusetts left-handed point guard Chris Lowe shoot with his right hand. That shouldn’t happen.

Other things that shouldn’t happen: impossible-to-miss free throws, jump shots that many times go in no matter when – or if – you release your shot, terrible camera angles, almost automatic defensive rebounds, the fact that almost every player runs entirely too slowly and a loading screen that constantly pops up during gameplay after fouls, free throws, made baskets, etc.

I assure you that NCAA March Madness ’08 isn’t all bad; it’s just that the bad greatly overshadows the good. I like how all the teams and arenas are included, I like the commentary with Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler and I particularly enjoy the ESPN integration.

While EA Sports shot up an airball with the gameplay, the Dynasty Mode is a slam dunk. It definitely has its flaws with difficult to navigate menus and a complex recruiting system, but it just takes a little getting used to.

Plenty of interesting storylines play out while you try to guide your team to the Big Dance. Before the season begins, you can make alterations to the schedule, re-name the players on your team, and recruit the stars of the future to your program.

During the season, you have to constantly recruit players, build fan support and even suspend players who violate team rules or fall behind in academics. It’s also fun to check out the Top 25 polls, or ESPN’s “Bracketology,” to see if your team looks NCAA Tournament-bound and have potentials in the Player of the Year race.

The game even has an NCAA Selection Show hosted by Vitale and Nessler, which builds the excitement on whether or not your team made it into the Big Dance. But the NCAA Tournament is a bit disappointing. The excitement in the arena isn’t nearly what it should be and the games are played on generic courts and not in real venues.

The offseason is busy, too, as players graduate and declare for the NBA Draft early. Players can also transfer out of your school. It’s a difficult process to maintain your talent level, particularly if you don’t run a powerhouse program like Duke or North Carolina. But when you bring in that five-star recruit to a school like UMass, it’s that much more rewarding.

Going back to the gameplay itself, one thing I really like is the new and improved low-post play. In previous versions of the game, that was one of the major problems, but not here. The big men can really dominate a game now in the blocks, using a host of moves to control the interior.

In-game features like “team intensity control,” and “impact moment control” are nice ideas to get the crowd and your star players more involved, but in the end it really has little effect on the game and can be tedious. However, with the team intensity meter and “player composure,” your star players are more apt to take over games and hit that clutch shot for you as the clock winds down.

The graphics aren’t terrible, but they are disappointing. The camera angles have the players so far away, and in many ways it looks like a regular Xbox game. The crowd looks awful, but the venues look pretty nice.

I have to give some credit to the online play. You can play a ranked or unranked match against anyone with the headset to talk some trash, or you can even join a league if you want to play in an organized setting over a longer period of time.

I guess the thing that just bothers me the most is that EA Sports did such a good job with NBA Live 2008, but dropped the ball on NCAA March Madness. At times when I was playing NCAA, I would just ask myself out loud, “How did the same company make this game and NBA Live?”

I would suggest that you buy this game if the only thing you care about is Dynasty Mode. If you’re looking for a basketball game with good gameplay, look elsewhere.

And if you’re a star high school basketball player, don’t go to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]