The fever of March Madness is everywhere. Fans of college hoops look forward to this magical time each year, and even common people such as myself find the 64-team bracket addicting. EA Sports has decided to capitalize on this with their first Xbox Live Arcade effort, which takes their staple franchise and strips it down to its most basic premise. NCAA Basketball 09: March Madness Edition is exactly what it sounds like; it takes the retail game and delivers the 64 teams that have made it into the tournament and lets you play out who will take home the crown. This is a perfect way for gamers who are only mildly interested in the phenomenon to participate without dropping sixty bucks on a game that may only place twice.
You may remember last year when EA released their Live Score Tracker for the NFL and people were in a frenzy about paying for something, which in essence was not a game. Well with March Madness this is certainly not the case. Think of it more as a visually intense version of the brackets, complete with the ability to partake in the action. You are basically getting one mode from the full game, and for fifteen bucks it truly is a steal. All of the proper mechanics and functionality are intact, and the game plays just as good as its full-priced cousin.
One of the biggest draws to this title, and the reason I personally wanted to review it, is that it can appeal to just about anyone. Not being a huge fan of college basketball, and not having played copious amounts of the recent console outing, it was nice to get a smaller taste of the action without having to fuss with all of the extra effort that comes with the retail release. March Madness allowed me to jump into the game, choose a team or two to control, and get straight into the action. This makes it an ideal downloadable title, that looks and feels like a full-priced game.
Much of the same qualms users had with its big brother will crop up in this download-only title. For instance the shooting mechanic still feels sporadic at best. The timing of release rarely makes a difference, and nailing a three from outside the key is mostly a game of chance. The other major gripe is that March Madness contains absolutely no online play at all. The idea of hopping online with a group of players and holding your own tournament is very exciting, but unfortunately that is not possible with EA’s downloadable experience.
Visually the game is just as sharp as the retail release, which is more impressive considering it is a fifteen dollar title. Player models look decent enough, but the overall presentation is where the game shines. Animations are solid, but some of their transitions can leave a bit to be desired. Dunks still feel separated from everything else and a lot of the moves feel motorized at times. Thankfully these are minor issues and everything else looks fantastic. I even manage to get the clichéd response from my wife while I was playing; she wanted to know why I was watching basketball on TV, yes the power of next-generation graphics.
The audio on the other hand is quite impressive. Sporting the likes of Dick Vitale, Brad Nessler and Erin Andrews March Madness delivers some of the best audio commentary you can imagine. The commentators do the best they can without being able to name individual players, and the on-court action is generally spot-on. The crowd noise is also worth mentioning as it fluctuates with the pace of the game. Nothing brings a sports game to life like solid audio, and for fifteen bucks March Madness delivers it in spades.
There is no doubt that NCAA Basketball 09 March Madness Edition was designed with casual players in mind. The limited options and focus will not entice gamers who already own the full version, but at fifteen bucks this is extremely hard not to recommend to casual fans of the sport. If you enjoy basketball at all and simply cannot justify dropping sixty bucks for the full game this is a fantastic idea that I hope EA continues to pursue. Let’s see an NFL Playoffs edition this year and we are in business.