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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

EA Tiburon

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2005

 

 

- Perfectly captures the exciting atmosphere of college basketball
- Requires more strategic on-the-court decisions than NBA Live 06
- Can unlock classic teams by completing 20 of college basketball’s great moments

 

 

- Graphics engine completely outdated
- Not many players online to compete against
- Xbox Live play can get too laggy at times
- Dynasty Mode not as good as other EA Sports titles

 

 

Review: NBA Live 06 (XB)

Review: NCAA Football 2003 (XB)

Review: NBA Street V3 (XB)

 

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NCAA March Madness 06

Score: 8.2 / 10

 

Click here to see image gallery for this game (Opens in new window)

 

March Madness is one of the most electrifying times of the sports year, when 65 NCAA basketball teams each set out on an exciting journey towards a national championship. Each year, there are plenty of Cinderella stories of teams with seemingly no chance at the title pulling major upsets and yet other tournament games where teams secure victory in memorable, last-second fashion. There’s simply no other championship tournament in sports quite as captivating.

With the great, authentically detailed arenas and loud, highly charged crowd, Electronic Arts has captured the true exhilaration of winning and the anguish of losing that is the NCAA basketball tourney in NCAA March Madness 06.

What NCAA March Madness 06 does exceptionally well is bring the strategic element of college basketball to the virtual court. The game features on-the-fly

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Floor General Playcalling, which allows you to devise defensive tactics while your team is on the court. You can call up the playbook on-screen during a game and select a defensive play that you are counting on to stop the other team from scoring. It’s a great chess-like component of college basketball that really differentiates NCAA hoops from the pro game of the NBA.

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The most successful college basketball programs in the nation are built around a strong defensive strategy. In NCAA March Madness 06, if you’re successful at calling the right defense for the situation using the Floor General Playcalling, you can cause turnovers which can lead to easy baskets, and that can be the difference between winning and losing a close game.

In another nod to the defensive-minded NCAA basketball mindset, NCAA March Madness 06 introduces the Lockdown Stick. Using the right thumbstick while playing defense, you can have your defensive player “lock on” to an offensive hoopster and play tight, aggressive defense. If you stick on the player long enough you’re sure to create a well-deserved turnover. It’s not a simple task to lock on to a player, because they can simply pass the ball off to another teammate. It takes a lot of work to become deft at using the Lockdown Stick. But with practice, if you can tie up a player without any possibility of a bailout pass, using the Lockdown Stick and the right trigger (the steal control when in “lockdown”), that turnover’s practically yours for the taking.

And getting turnovers by using both the Floor General Playcalling and Lockdown Stick leads to a more up-tempo game offensively, giving you a much better opportunity to outscore your opponents on a regular basis. Gameplay in NCAA March Madness 06 really does emulate successfully the game of college basketball.

One major area that NCAA March Madness 06 is not head of the class is in its graphics. Its NBA counterpart had a new graphical engine upgrade this year, but NCAA March Madness 06 didn’t, and it is easily apparent from first glance. Visually, NCAA March Madness 06 is clearly not a game taking advantage of the rendering prowess of the current consoles, and definitely flunks out of the School of Good Graphics.

Players are hard to evaluate as far as their respective closeness to their real-life counterparts. Because college players don’t have a “union” (and can’t have any unionization, if they want to continue to play at school) to receive any residuals for using their likeness, players are identified by number only. So unless you’re a huge fan of the team you’re playing with, you won’t really have any idea who’s who and if they actually look close to realistic. Players too closely resemble each other visually in NCAA March Madness 06, with not a lot of tell-tale, identifiable individual characteristics.

One visual aspect that NCAA March Madness 06 swooshes from half-court is the arenas that teams play in. EA has done a wonderful job of capturing the essence of individual, hallowed meccas of college basketball, down to even the most unexpected detail. While playing against St. Joseph’s, a local school to me, the St. Joe’s Hawk mascot can be seen in NCAA March Madness 06. The Hawk is famous for flapping his “wings” without stopping the entire game, and that’s exactly what he did in NCAA March Madness 06. The crowds suffer from a case of the jaggies, but the distinct and colorful atmosphere of particular college courts is undeniably brought to NCAA March Madness 06.

Partnered with the excellent look of arenas is the aura that only comes with a frenzied crowd. The sounds of the college band playing fight songs and pop music are a treat for the auditory senses. Throughout the game, the crowd will chant for the home crowd, and if you’re playing with a school that’s renowned for its spectators, you can even fire them up with the arena pulse, similar to what’s in NCAA Football 06. If a school is ranked among the 25 toughest and fiercest places to play, the pulse meter will be able to be utilized to pump up the crowd and energize the home team while rattling the visiting squad.

NCAA March Madness 06 again has a classroom full of modes to play, including Season, Tournament and Mascot modes. Two great modes are the Rivalry mode, squaring your team off against a bitter and long-time rival school, and the College Classic mode, where you can replay 20 classic moments in college basketball history. If you complete the Classic challenge, you can unlock those classic teams to use in the game.

There is a 30-year Dynasty mode, which is overall okay, but it certainly falls a shot or two short of the usual EA Sports Dynasty mode quality. While it generally operates along the same lines as most other EA Sports Dynasty modes in other sports titles, having too much worrying about player violations (which may require suspending players) takes some of the fun out of the game.

Online play is overall acceptable in both its performance and setup, but there are similar lagging issues that appeared in NBA Live 06, bogging down play at sometimes inopportune times. It was also hard at this juncture preceding the beginning of the actual NCAA basketball season tip-off to find many players online. That should improve as the season gets underway in earnest, but right now there’s not many college basketball gym rats populating the Xbox Live servers.

While the graphics engine is ready for serious retirement, the Dynasty mode not totally up to the EA Sports standard, and some online lag issues, NCAA March Madness 06 completely engulfs players into the world of college basketball. The great defensive “chess match” of college hoops and the whole rousing spirit of major college athletics is brought to full life in NCAA March Madness 06.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(November 13, 2005)

 

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