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October 11, 2005



- A plethora of choices as to what team to play and how to play them

- Nice simulation of the college game's pacing and flavor

- Lockdown Stick adds defensive realism



- Lockdown stick still needs some work

- Canned animations can lead to annoying trips down the court



Review: NCAA 06 March Madness (Xbox)



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NCAA 06 March Madness

Score 8.0/10


March Madness 2006 is EA's latest attempt to capture the feel of college basketball.  I have expected for a while that college basketball would be the next sport that EA masters for two reasons:  EA's basketball engines have been improving little by little for the past half-decade, and EA has flat out nailed the feel of college football with its NCAA Football series.  Happily, NCAA 06 March Madness confirms my feelings.  It isn't yet the great representation of the sport that NCAA Football is, but it is getting very close.


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Like every current EA title (with the exception of Madden for the Xbox 360), March Madness is all about options.  Players can choose among over 300 college basketball teams and seven different modes.  Besides the ubiquitous Play Now mode, players can choose to play Season, Tournament and Dynasty modes with their favorite teams or relive classic match ups with the College Classics mode.  Also featured is the Rivalry Game mode that allows players to participate in the biggest college rivalries (UK vs. Louisville, Indiana vs. Purdue, Duke vs. the forces of Good).  Finally, last and least, players can take teams of college mascots onto the court in the Mascot Game mode.


I spent most of my time in the Dynasty Mode, which has been beefed up a little since last year's edition.  It is great fun to take control of a team and guide it higher and higher in the rankings, building each year toward an NCAA Championship.  This year, coaches have to deal not just with recruiting but also with the off-court behavior of their players.  It is necessary to review behavior and assign punishments to keep the NCAA happy, but, at the same time, the coach has to worry about player moral.


The major new game play feature is the Lockdown Stick, which allows players to play belly-to-belly on the ball defense.  The stick gives players the opportunity to create turnovers by harassing the ball handler.  It also allows players to play tough defense off the ball to prevent the point guard from getting the ball into the hands of a scorer.   When playing alone against the A.I., I really liked the stick.  It allowed for some very active and aggressive defense.  Playing against live opponents however revealed that the Lockdown Stick could use a bit of work.  With good timing, it is too easy to lock down on a player near the sidelines and force him out of bounds when he attempt to move.  Away from the line, it is possible to shed the lock downed defender, but trying to shoulder the defender away near the lines often results in an out of bounds call.  Still, in the single-player game, the A.I. doesn't force the turnovers often and it is easy enough to choose not to continually force the A.I. ball handlers out of bounds for the sake of realism.





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The other new game play features are pretty minor.  It is now possible to execute a dribble hand off while on offense, which is welcomed in the realism department but doesn't really affect game play.  The other feature is likely a bigger deal to some people than it is to me, but March Madness now features heads up defensive play calling that works basically like the offensive play calling that has been in the game for years.  The Floor General system works well, but as I nearly always focus on full court, man to man defense, I didn't find myself using the feature much.



Other than the minor problems with the Lockdown Stick, I have the same complaint about March Madness that I have had about nearly every EA basketball game in the modern era.  The canned animations are too elaborate and too drawn out.  I hate making a spin move from ten feet off the side line only to see my player spin right out of bounds.  The animations need to be tighter and faster and it should  be possible to end a move at any point.  As powerful as the new systems are, hopefully it won't be long before we get more realistic moves that are based on actual physics rather than scripted animations.


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March Madness 06 is no Madden and no NCAA Football, but EA is getting very close to making a very good college basketball game.  The pacing and overall feel of the game is right on.  Anyone who loves the sport is likely to love this virtual version of it.

Danny Webb

(December 8, 2005)

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