March Madness '98

EA's newest hoops game feeds the purest of college fans (and only them)

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Genre: Sports
Origin: U.S.

Basketball isn't as difficult a sport to develop as, say, baseball, in which the tiniest of details and twists makes one game worlds apart from another. Still, creating an intriguing basketball game ain't no easy thing, either. That's why Electronic Arts' March Madness, which is as far away from NBA Jam as a hoops game can get, fills the pre-professional basketball void with a strict adherence to college style play as any title ever has.

March Madness is built on the premise that if you absolutely love the crazy high created in the post-season games of college basketball, and you love real team ball and all of the strategies that come with it, you should go head-over heels for this game. A full court press, hand-baskets of fast passing, recognizable offensive formations, and evenly distributed talent in each of the players are characteristics that make this game great. And yes, the little details assist as well.

Interestingly enough, March Madness is built on the NBA Live '97 engine, which presents us with both that engine's limits and some of its benefits as well. The good news is that the engine has been given a facelift, and so this game is generally enhanced over its originator. EA seems to have genericized the moves of the players a little, concentrating on keeping the gameplay team-based, rather than having focused on the individual. Thus, there are less opportunities to slam-and-jam and simply drive to the hoop by yourself, but plays like give-and-go's, and working for the open man work much better.

The bad news is that this particular engine is already old, compared to the new NBA Live '98 engine, and isn't enough of a major step over its predecessor to make it stand out. And therein lies the problem with the graphics, which are surprisingly blurry, fuzzy, and muddy as any Nintendo 64 game.

Another problem with the game is that while aspects like post-season elimination, rivalries, and the competition of the Tourney Mode are really good, some unusually little, but important, details have been lost. The most notable of them is the lack of a fade-away jumper. Damn! That's legal in college ball, ain't it? So, why isn't it here?

The game boasts a women's basketball season and tourney in addition to the standard men's divisions, an aspect EA claims is a first. Hopefully for EA, more women will play this game because of this very reason. But to be honest, the women's play is exactly like the men's, so the effect is lost. The women simply look like thinner players with longer hair. What? Are there no hoopsters built like Lara Croft? Jeeez.

For the record, I'm not the kind of gamer who goes ape sh*t for college basketball games, but I do appreciate March Madness for what it is, a respectable niche basketball title that will satisfy true college fans. Me? I'll be waiting for March Madness '99.