reviews\ Dec 16, 2002 at 7:00 pm

SEGA Sports(tm) NCAA

Like most basketball fanatics, my loyalty towards this much-loved sport has led to season passes to Los Angeles Lakers games as well as an always watchful eye toward my alma mater (go Bruins!).  As a video game fanatic, though, I’m overcome with delight at the prospect of new basketball titles that--judging from this year’s excellent titles--just seem to be getting better and better.  Still, the lineup wasn’t complete without a college b-ball title worthy of a fan’s collection.  Well listen up, sports fans, Sega Sports has got a college basketball game for you--NCAA 2K3.  And to top it all off, it’s online too! 


Fresh from its NBA 2K3 title, Sega Sports has improved its formula for making a basketball game rich in arcade-styled fun with the right dose of realistic simulator. This game, though, covers the major colleges this nation has to offer such as Michigan State, Rutgers, Yale, Purdue, Virginia Tech or Syracuse.  There are even the Navy and Army teams included in the mix of campuses.   NCAA 2K3 not only stays true to the strengths and weaknesses of each team, but also accurately reproduces the college basketball experience.


There are six major playing modes: Exhibition, Legacy, Season, Tournament, Practice and Gym Rat.  The game’s Season mode allows you to take command of four teams and take them--as both manager and player--through a long season to the NCAA tournament.  You can even skip the season altogether and go directly to the tournament itself in Tournament mode.  The Gym Rat mode, which is a way to practice your game with computer-controlled players (or your friends) in a friendly game similar to the Street mode of the NBA game only the game, takes place in your college gym. 


While this has all been seen before, it is the game’s Legacy mode that really stands out.  Here you take control of a school team and choose from an Open Legacy (select a team and change teams every year). Or you can choose a Career Legacy (start off in a small school and work your way up to the national coaching rank to be selected as a coach for an elite school).  You can draft new players and graduate those that have served their purpose while taking your team through each yearly season.  You can choose your own coaching style and manage your roster and schedule to fit your own style.


The game’s controls are not as balanced as those seen in both NBA 2K3 and NBA Live 2003, but they are decent enough to make the action pleasurable.  Playing defensively or offensively is just a bit tougher since there is no NBA showboating from both sides, just straightforward plays here.  There is also more emphasis on teamwork and gamers will soon see that they can’t get away with playing without a clear-cut strategy involving everyone on your team.  And the best part is that its arcade-styled action leaves room for different slam-dunks and other neat little court tricks.


You should thank whatever God you pray to that Sega Sports has decided to include online capabilities to a game that already has great multiplayer features--like the ability to play with up to eight players (using the Multitap) or keep it simply between two players.  You will not find it hard to find a rival to play against online and the game does run rather smoothly and with hardly a problem at all.  And thanks to the new Sega Sports Challenge mode, you can post your stats online for bragging rights and for downloadable features.


While not as smooth or as beautiful as the graphics seen in NBA 2K3, this really isn’t a bad looking game at all.  The player models move realistically and look good out there in their uniforms and the soft lighting make their skin less shiny.  The only visible problem is the awful clipping that makes that ball seem as if it were fused with a player’s hand or sometimes a player’s arm goes right through the rim of a basket.  Still, the stadiums are true to the college scene and the crowd--while not the best looking bunch--wave signs and even jump out of their seat with excitement.


The sound is even more masterful, complimenting the visuals very nicely with its genuine atmospheric sounds.  If you have a great sound system hooked up, turn it up and hear the chanting cheerleaders, the crowd pump up their team and the player’s squeaking sneakers on the hardwood.  The two-man commentary team also does an amazing job of calling the game accurately without being too repetitive or annoying.


One of the best college basketballs to come out this year, NCAA 2K3 is at the head of its class and will surely be enjoyed by true basketball gamers.  As far as basketball games are concerned, this is, by far, the finest college basketball game ever to grace the console so don’t miss out on this one. 


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.1
The controls in this game are actually somewhat more improved than NBA 2K3 in that it’s a bit easier to pass the ball, fake a shot or literally dive for the ball (your player sliding on the hardwood to catch a loose ball).  The game also keeps all the things is did right for NBA 2K3 while adding interaction from the fans such as holding up “brick” signs to throw off the rival team during free throws.


And while going through Season mode is a highly involving and entertaining mode, it’s the game’s Legacy mode that is over the top.  Not only does it give you an accurate glance at what it’s like to be both a coach and a manager, but also it pushes you and your team to the limits through each yearly season.  As a coach, you can move on to reputable schools or find yourself out of a job.  This mode truly represents the world of college basketball.


Graphics: 7.9
While the “jaggies” are quite evident in this game, it still doesn’t take away from the overall beauty this game possesses.  The player models are not only decent, but detailed enough that the uniforms look realistic.  Still, there are some clipping issues that seriously needed to have been addressed before the release of the game--such as odd collision flaws and limbs going through solid objects like the basketball rim--that does take the realism out of the game.


The stadiums are nicely done and each arena has the school insignia stamped across the gloss hardwood floor that reflects the players’ shadow and the overhead lights.  And while you’re not able to pick out nutty frat boys out of the crowd of fans, the fans do jump out of their seats, wave signs or applaud enthusiastically.


Sound: 8.5
College b-ball comes to life here with a marching band striking it up before a game and a crowd of fans enthusiastically cheering for their school (“Let’s go Bruins! Let’s go!”) and excitedly applauding baskets made by their players.  Listen carefully and you’ll even hear the cheerleaders and the player’s sneakers against the shiny hardwood.


Calling the plays is a two-man commentator team that is both accurate and helpful without being obnoxious or overly annoying.  Seldom do they make comments that are idiotic; in fact, this is the closest the commentary has gotten to an actual ESPN presentation.


Difficulty: Medium
The computer-controlled team does an outstanding job of offering a real challenge in the Starter, All Conference or All American difficulty settings.  Still, you’ll notice in the course of playing the game that there is more goal tending here than in NBA 2K3.  You’ll find the opposing team put up a tight defense, keeping you from charging head on to the basket (which takes the fun out of aggressive plays).  The other team also seems to make use of their time-outs, interrupting the game every now and then . . . so a wise player could take advantage of the moment to come up with better plays.


Concept: 8.9
The college scene might not be everyone’s cup of tea but this is where the big boys come from and Sega Sports faithfully captures the raw intensity of college basketball and how the game is played.  Of course the rules are a bit different than the NBA and fouls aren’t called very often so the game is more free flowing.  Plus you have to love a game with plenty of modes and online features.


Multiplayer: 9.7
Play against a friend or play with up to eight friends using the Multitap, this is the best multiplayer option available.  There are just so many teams out there to choose from that you can get together with friends to play tournaments or pretty much any exhibition match the game has to offer as well as Tournament mode.


Still, while the offline multiplayer option is a real blast, the multiplayer main attraction is its ability to go online.  Much like NBA 2K3, you can go online using the PS2 Network Adaptor and go head to head with other gamers nationwide.  The game does run smoothly and rarely does the action slow down.  You can also incorporate created players and teams or compete against other players from rival schools.


Overall: 8.9
With NCAA 2K3, Sega Sports has yet another brilliant and enjoyable basketball game that’s truly a class of its own.  While the graphics are not as superior as it was with NBA 2K3 or the controls as super smooth as NBA Live 2003, the game is still a shining example of how a college basketball game should be made.  See you out in the courts. 


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