While it still lags behind its “NCAA Football” counterpart in perfecting the roaring, ground-shaking ambiance that is college sports, EA Sports’s “NCAA March Madness 2005” will win gamers over with a more in-depth dynasty mode and easier on-court control.

TV/New Media Reviews

EA Sports’s main selling pitch is its new “Floor General” play-calling mode that allows the user to call plays with just a touch of a button or two. As the ball comes out of the backcourt, a tap of a button brings up the team’s main offensive or defensive sets, and another button tap calls a play quickly and easily. The “Floor General” mode also creates an overlay of the play diagram on the floor, so even a casual basketball fan will know where to go and where their teammates are headed.

On-court controls also include an improved EA Sports’s Freestyle controls that give crossover dribbles and spin moves a more realistic look. Along with one-touch calls for alley-oop passes, new mid-air rebounding controls give the gamer an opportunity to capitalize on great offensive rebounding. “March Madness 2005” is the best yet when it comes to realistic basketball.

The main shortfall of “March Madness 2005” is EA Sports’s effort to create an Arena Pulse counterpart to “NCAA Football 2005’s” Stadium Pulse. While the Stadium Pulse feature was effective in recreating the feel of college football venues, the Arena Pulse becomes so overwhelming that gameplay can be difficult.

During a game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, the game’s toughest venue to play at, the screen appropriately shakes. But at the set frequency, it’s more likely to induce dizziness than intimidate the opponent. There are also instances where the on-screen shaking does not coincide with the controller vibrations.

Moving off the court, “March Madness 2005” continues its upward swing, featuring an impressive Dynasty Mode. This mode gives gamers a chance to act as head coach of their favorite team and now features an even more realistic simulation of the coach’s position, requiring in-season recruiting.

Recruiting works just as it does in “NCAA Football 2005.” The coach has the option of recruiting in any state if he wants to peruse the top-100 “EA Sports Blue Chip” prospects or simply talk to interested players. The process is more involved than in football. Throughout the season the coach must actively pursue players for next year. He’s given the chance to scout or watch games of prospects, send out recruiting packages, and invite prospects to games.

Dynasty Mode also includes a Coach’s personal digital assistant. School officials, NCAA officers, doctors and boosters can all call to communicate their news. After a game, the coach will receive feedback on his PDA, including coaching report cards and injury updates. Throughout the season, family and friends also weigh in on certain recruits, helping to ease the burden of bringing in next year’s class.

During Dynasty Mode the coach also earns Campus Challenge points for on-court performance, and is given the option to spend them on training or coaching sessions to prepare for menacing opponents.

Gamers also have the opportunity to try their hand at Pontiac College Classics, a collection of college basketball’s greatest games and moments. From playing the overtime period during Michigan’s 1989 upset of Seton Hall in the national championship game to recreating Chaminade’s shocking victory over No. 1 Virginia in 1982 to Duke’s two-second miracle in the 1992 Elite Eight against Kentucky, the gamer can do their best to come out on top. After winning each moment the teams from that game are unlocked for use at any time.

Overall, EA Sports “NCAA March Madness 2005” is once again much improved, and its ability to put control of the game in anyone’s hands will win more casual gamers over. In other games, play calling is difficult and was left to hardcore gamers or die-hard basketball fans. The “Floor General” play calling has bridged the gap. Mainstream gamers and casual fans can now compete realistically just as the well-practiced gamers can. The addition of more advanced controls will give serious gamers more realistic gameplay to keep them hooked.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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