In honor of the Madness that is March, I’ll be taking a look at the two main entries into the video game world of College Basketball. EA’s March Madness series was left for dead after a sub par 2001 effort; but was regenerated last year, and things looked great for this year’s effort. ESPN College Hoops may have a new name, but does it keep the same features that made Sega’s entry a disappointment last year?
First, let’s take a look at the sound – starting with MM2004. EA’s March Madness 2004 knows what it’s doing when it comes to setting up the right atmosphere. I loved the fight songs playing in the background during the menu and various points throughout the game. When you actually get into the game, it doesn’t change. The announcing, which last year sounded stiff, is much improved and almost sounds natural. The crowd noise is what gets me going, though. I loved hearing the crowd yelling “THREE” in unison as I jack one up. I love the reactions they have when their team is winning or losing. Overall, an amazing effort with even better results by EA, which is becoming something we expect from the leader in sports video games.
Onto ESPN College Hoops. I think it was a nice touch, being an ESPN video game, to have ESPN themed music during the menu/setup screens, but, it just wasn’t the right atmosphere. Now,the in game atmosphere was a real disappointment. The commentary sounds stiff, and is done by two guys I didn’t want to listen to. Without Dick Vitale, it’s just not the same college experience. The crowd is almost silent throughout and showed little emotion, no matter which way the game was going. So in summary, EA just couldn’t do anything wrong when it came to the atmosphere.
Now, onto the graphics. Let me just warn you beforehand? Don’t play any other EA Sports game before playing MM2004. You will most likely puke over the horrible drop in quality from any other EA game to this. If you happened to walk by someone playing this, and not see the console or controller in their hand you would look around to make sure you weren’t in the arcade, because that’s what it looks like, an arcade game, and not a very good one, either. I was very disappointed in the work that went into this. MM2003 actually looked better.
After that abomination, all I could hope for from College Hoops was a game that actually looked like it was playing on the Xbox. Thankfully, there is a little company called Visual Concepts who worked on this game. Veterans of the NBA2K series, VC know what they’re doing, and they more than showed it here. The game looked very crisp and I was happy to see they put more effort into the look of the game than the sound. In fact, I was almost able to forgive them for the garbage coming out of my speakers; at least I could turn that off. The only problem I had with the graphics was the movement of the players. They had a very limited range of movement, and looked disjointed while they ran – other than that, it was a great display.
Now onto the main point of every game, how does it play? With EA, you expect greatness, so; knowing that, don’t play this game if you’re expecting to see that trend continue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that EA wasn’t trying, in fact, the final results may have come from trying too hard. See, they tried to capture the college type of play, fast paced and very exciting. EA took it too far. At some points the game is TOO fast. Case in point, while playing against a friend of mine, my point guard ran around the entire opposing team in the half court three times before I shot, and I still had 27 seconds left on the shot clock! I tried to fix this problem by going into the settings and slowing down the game speed. All that accomplished was making it too slow to even play.
Now, to get off that subject, I have a few other concerns to voice. Scoring is too easy. Ok, I know it’s exciting to play those games into the 90s and 100s, but honestly, do you want every game to be 99-96? No, it gets boring after a while. Too sum that up, basically if you’re open, no matter who you are, or where you are on the court, you’ll hit the shot.
Now, College Hoops is different. If it were a girl, it’d be the girl you take home to mother. If you were one of the very few people who read my review of NCAA College Basketball 2k3 you would have read that scoring, unlike MM, was extremely hard. My first game in that was a 29-27 win. Apposed to that, my first game in CH was in the 70s! Obviously, Visual Concepts worked very hard at improving the way the game flowed. It actually feels as if you are watching a real game. It plays very smooth and is easy to pickup and play.
So, both games have their ways to hook you in. MM2004 has Dynasty mode, which was set up terribly. If EA were smart they would have done it like NCAA Football 2004, which would have made it near flawless. But, EA decided to change it up, which really screwed the pooch. The loading times are way too long. I could go on forever. Instead, I’ll focus on the good– the good that is ESPN College Hoops. ESPN’s first foray into the video game world can be officially deemed successful. Including a Dynasty mode that is actually worth playing, not only for the moment, but for a long time. It even includes a legacy mode that can keep you going for years?.or at least until next year’s game.
ESPN College Hoops
NCAA March Madness 2004