NCAA March Madness 2002 Review
Basketball sims have become quite popular as of late, unfortunately, with the exception of one (NBA 2K2) pretty much every ball sim on the market is an overall flop. NBA Live 2001 was a good first attempt, but not different than its PSX counterpart, gameplay wise. It was even worse for Live 2002 as it was nearly identical to 2001. Sony's Shootout games were a travesty better left un-spoken of. Then we have our college hoops titles, Sony's Final Four 2001 didn't do the job, and neither did 2002. Where is EA when you need them, right? There was no March Madness 2001, so unfortunately PS2 owners were out of luck. Thankfully, EA has produced March Madness 2002, but unfortunately this game is so half-assed that it's a hard recommendation to casual sports gamers.
Visually, March Madness is a pretty little polygon. The game engine is the same as Live's, but the visuals have undergone some improvements. The player detail is smooth, and each and every athlete is built up of a respectable amount of polygons, for an overall polished and clean look. Aliasing issues are pretty much non-existent, as is flickering. The two most common issues have completely disappeared, making this game arguably one of the best looking b-ball sims on the market. The arenas are detailed with a good looking audience that is always active and enjoys doing the wave quite often. The sides are also complemented with a good-looking bench. This is overall a pretty looking game, with a wholesome amount of visual detail, no one should complain. Well, this is hard to judge. You see folks, March Madness plays great; better than Live, and more fluid. But, for the most part it still plays pretty much like the NBA Live series, but unfortunately this game takes a critical blow in the replay value sector, as the game has no Season and Dynasty mode of any kind. Instead all you have is Exhibition and Tournament. Replay value is a huge facet in the sports genre, and for whatever March Madness sorely (emphasis on the word) misses that mark. This makes up for an overall lackluster, cumbersome, and pedestrian effort. To put it bluntly, the game is half-assed. When looking at the game strictly through a gameplay perspective, March Madness 2002 is a good basketball sim that is a lot of fun to play. Especially if you are very casual with your sports game, and don't care too much for lengthy seasons. Gamers to bring over friends for a party will particularly find MM 2002 an excellent party game with a lot of potential. Having said that, you all know what to expect from the game's features, like 130 NCAA teams and a Create-a-school mode (which, thankfully, puts the replay score where it is now). Hardcore gamers who look for meat in their sports games will be severely disappointed with MM 2002. Casual sports gamers will enjoy the game for what it's worth, which by the way shouldn't be $50.
*Sigh* this is your standard sports commentary affair. It's not atrocious or repulsive, just...dull. The play-by-play commentary is weaker than your grandmother's knees and more fragile than your Faberge egg collection. Simply said, it's tedious and in many cases repetitive. But, all is not bad here. The arenas are always packed with fans screaming at the top of their lungs, and the feeling of an enormous roar after you make a "swoosh" 3-points is really overwhelming and exhilarating. To sum it up: great crowds, monotonous commentary.
Not surprisingly the controls are quite similar to NBA Live 2002, with the exception that the degree of sensitivity that NBA Live 2002 has, isn't as bad in March Madness. I much prefer playing with the analog, as it gives me a whole new feel for the game, and controlling the athletes is much easier and more responsive. Fortunately, MM 2002 doesn't succumb to poor analog controls and ruin the game for me. Other than the sensitivity issue, EA has added new animations for out-of-bounds save passes. When the ball is approaching the 'out' boarder, the controlled player will be allowed to dive and save it, by pressing the pass button as soon as he gets close enough to the ball. Other than all of that, the controls have remained the same, so veterans of the series have nothing to worry about.
How can I conclude? I've said what needs to be said. The visuals are a great package, and March Madness is arguably the best looking b-ball title on the PS2, yes even edging NBA 2K2. But (and this is one huge conjunction, kiddies), the replay value is absolute tripe when it comes down to it all. The Create-a-school, exhibition and tournament modes just aren't enough. If you're desperate for an NCAA title with good replay, go with Sony's Final Four 2002, despite it's lackluster 1st generation visuals and somewhat clunky gameplay. You may be better off avoiding the NCAA scene altogether this year, just pick up NBA 2K2 for your own sake.
2/8/2002 Arnold Katayev