EA Sports is the decisive leader in sports videogames, but the
new installment in its NCAA basketball franchise has the polish and
precision missing. As many improvements as “March Madness
2004” has over its predecessors, it still is not up to par
with the other games in the EA Sports family.

Mira Levitan
Can I get a lay-up? (Courtesy of EA Sports)

The presentation of the game is standard EA fare with the menus
and intros immediately recognizable by fans of any sports game.
Yet, “March Madness” comes up short even when the game
first loads because the standard school intros, like the ones in
“NCAA Football 2004,” are noticeably lacking most big
time programs. This grievance could be overlooked if the gameplay
and the rest of the features were comparable to EA’s
phenomenal football series, but it’s not.

Gameplay has been tweaked and is much stronger in this
year’s outing, but it’s still neither equivalent to
EA’s own “NBA Live” series, nor as refined as the
football series. New control options enable players to choose
between shooting and doing lay-ups/dunks by assigning a different
button for each. This addition is one of the major successes in the
action but is hampered by slow gameplay and glitch-filled
graphics.

Graphically, “March Madness 2004” looks extremely
cartoonish when compared to the more realistic basketball games on
the market. Further complicating the gameplay is constant slowdown,
which occurs on almost every change in possession. While college
games cannot feature the real likenesses of players or real names,
“March Madness” fails to even come close to capturing
the real players’ looks. The Michigan team looks almost
nothing like the real Wolverines, and nearly the entire freshman
class is omitted from the roster.

The roster problems of Michigan are shared across the board in
one of the biggest problems with “March Madness,” the
absence of many of this year’s “diaper dandies.”
At least Dick Vitale’s commentary helps recreate some of the
realism missing with the teams and gameplay, but having polish in
one area and not in another is unacceptable for an EA Sports title.
There are also no rewards like classic teams or attributes that are
found in EA’s other offerings, showing how little the design
team cared for this game.

“March Madness 2004” is by no means a bad game, but
compared to the rest of the EA roster, it just doesn’t stack
up. It is the best college hoops game out there; it’s just
not nearly as good as it could have been. Just like those bubble
teams that miss out on the Big Dance, “March Madness
2004” can come back stronger next year.

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