reviews\ Dec 16, 2002 at 7:00 pm

NCAA March Madness 2003 - PS2 - Review

How about a little toast with that jam?

EASports has trotted out NCAA March Madness 2003 for the PlayStation2, but rather than concentrate on the pinpoint shooting, a flurry a three-pointers from "way downtown" and fast-paced run ‘n gun hoops, this game is more like a rim-rattling, backboard-breaking jamfest.

While the style of play is enjoyable, this game more resembles to NBA style of play rather than the collegiate game. The major difference between the two is that each team in NCAA is ranked and the teams at the bottom of the rankings are not even in the same league as the top 25.

Brown can’t run with Arizona, but that’s where the strategic aspect of the game comes into play. If your team speed is slower, then you have to milk the shot clock for every second, and play a slowdown game.

The game also has some graphical problems. There really doesn’t seem to be that many player models (or coaches models, for that matter), and if you get the right matchup, you’ll have twins on the court.  The game also doesn’t seem to have the depth that other NCAA titles have had. While some of the actual NCAA teams in this game may have the general look of their real-life counterparts, others do not.

Because of a southwest Idaho residence, local news features the Boise State University Broncos ­ not a top 25 contender in basketball (the football team made those rankings for the first time this season). The game lineup and actual Bronco lineup aren’t really that close. And while the floor is brightly emblazoned with Boise State emblems, the home court is not the BSU Pavilion. That place is cavernous. Fans do not sit that close to the court except when the first round of the NCAA tourney comes to town (which it has down numerous times).

The fan animation also leaves a lot to be desired. And while the game is going for that television feel with the instant replays, why throw in a replay in which the initial look has the play obscured by the baseline referee? (Yes, you can go for a replay and rotate the camera to give precisely the look you want.)

Ball dynamics can be off, as well. Your forward goes up and swats a jump shot attempt from 12 from the air, hammering it to the sideline and players’ bench. The ball hits the ground and stops dead. Maybe if it were extremely flat, it would do that, but at the very least it would bounce harmlessly back out onto the floor.

The lighting and shadows are excellent. The player reflections off the polished hardwood is absolutely wonderful. And player animation (regardless of the similarity in the looks) is very good. The high-flying power jams are wonderful to look at.

"He went from lay-up to throw down!"

The sound track of this game is excellent. Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale (what would a college game truly be without Vitale adding a "baby" at the end of a glowing remark about a player?) provide the commentary, and the crowd chants are incorporated into the game to heighten the excitement.

The game also has some nice additions from the 2002 incarnation. The game features the season and dynasty modes of play, with players able to create a team, edit rosters and work through a number of seasons. You can recruit players in the off-season, which is much like the NCAA football title.

Not only can you lead a team to the NCAA tourney, but in the off-season you can size up the recruiting class by playing the Roundball Classic, an annual showcase of the top 20 graduating high schoolers in the nation.

EASports also has brought the freestyle control feature over from the NBA title.  This is the right analog control and with it you can perform a variety of moves in conjunction with other buttons.

Another nice feature is the way you can set up formations and plays on the fly. The D-pad holds the plays for your offense and defense and you can tab one of the buttons and immediately call for the alignment. Is the defense sagged back in the zone, leaving some hot shooters open on the perimeter? A button will set up the three-point attempt. Then if you make it, you can immediately go into a full-court press to try to force that turnover.

NCAA March Madness 2003 is not really the college game, it plays more like the pro counterpart. And while that may turn off the hardcore college fan, when the graphical stumbles are overlooked (which are more of a perfectionist thing anyway), the game does deliver high-flying, fast-paced basketball fun. With the variety of game modes, this is a program that will have a niche with sports fans. If you are looking for a little more authenticity, you may want to pass on this title. If you are looking for a hoops game that you can dive into, create and control your own school, this is a title worth taking a look at.

This game is rated for Everyone.


Gameplay: 7.6
The game emulates the professional sport more than the collegiate one. Almost (and that is almost, as in 97-99 percent) all of the players slam the ball and the game doesn’t seem to take into account the differing abilities and playbooks of schools. The default play controls are the same for every school.

Graphics: 7.8
The cutscene animations are fun, but get repetitious. The same intro to each game is redundant and boring. The player animations are excellent but there are not enough player models and most look like the perfect physical specimen.  Lighting and shading are well done, but camera angles can suffer in the "television" replay from bodies blocking the view, and ball dynamics, during plays that halt the game flow, are really sad.

Sound: 9
The musical track features team-specific chants and fight songs, and the commentary is superb.

Difficulty: Medium
The game has four play modes, and while you can survive at the Varsity level of play (one of the intermediate settings), you had better have a firm handle on your team’s capabilities and controls before attempting the All-American setting.

Concept: 8
The addition of the season and dynasty modes of play, as well as the freestyle control is a nice addition to the series. The player interface is easy to navigate through. The program just needs to reflect the collegiate style of play more.

Multiplayer: 7.8
While the CPU is challenging, it can be predictable. The head-to-head matchup between game players offers a very entertaining, trash-talking time.

Overall: 7.6
This game does have appeal, but it isn't a strong reflection of the college game. The dynasty mode and ability to create a school and players is very enjoyable and is part of a strong options package. The game does have a few stumbles along the way, but does deliver an entertaining gaming experience.


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