The virtual college basketball landscape has shifted dramatically in the past year, as 2K Sports has dropped out of the game, leaving EA alone in the NCAA hoops arena. Their March Madness brand has been abandoned, substituted with the blander (if slightly more apt) NCAA Basketball “Insert Partial Year Number Here.” Unlike some past franchise flips like Triple Play to MVP or Knockout Kings to Fight Night, though, there’s no reboot of core gameplay or visual fidelity here. For better or worse, this is pretty much the same game you’ve been playing for a few years now.
On the court, the action is exceedingly familiar. As we inch further into the new generation of consoles, it’s harder to keep getting a lot of enjoyment from a last-gen engine that’s got a couple hundred thousand miles on it. To their credit, EA doesn’t even pretend that any effort went into the core mechanics; instead, they rightly focus on the handful of new tournaments, legendary teams, scouting info and coaching options as the reason long-time fans should be interested in another go-round.
While it’s disappointing that some of the annoyances we’ve dealt with forever still remain, at least we know our way around them. Getting the ball down low to your big men remains the key to victory, since the super-tight defenses tend to prevent more than a handful of open perimeter shots no matter how well you distribute the ball. Turnovers happen with agonizing regularity, too, as you’ll throw the rock to the guys wearing the wrong jersey way too much. However, turnabout is fair play; you’ll also do plenty of picking your opponent’s pocket.
All the trappings you’d expect in a decent college sim are here, including season, dynasty, and tournament modes along with Rivalry and Mascot games (usually good for a laugh). The College Classic situational matchups also return, always an interesting step back into history. There’s still no online play, though, an unhappy trend for a console that remains a viable option for many thousands of gamers around the country. Even the option to download rosters with names would’ve been welcome – but there’s nothing like that available.
If you’ve skipped a few March Madness semesters and haven’t joined the PS3/360 generation, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into. Chances are that you don’t fall into that category, though, and justifying another trip on this campus is hard to do for all but the most hardcore hoops fanatics.
Jan 27, 2009