College hoop madness

Feb 23, 2005 at 12:00 am

A perennial among console games, EA Sports’ NCAA March Madness is blessed with the irrepressible, over-excited ramblings of former Detroit Mercy and Pistons coach and color commentator Dick Vitale. Though his schtick soon becomes wearying, it does help the game’s aura; Dicky V. is, after all, synonymous with college basketball broadcasts.

The gameplay here is nearly identical to EA’s NBA Live; a right joystick flick affords “freestyle” moves and crossover dribbles, plus an easy-to-pull-up, on-the-fly play menu. This is important because while it’s still relatively easy to get dunks and layups on fastbreaks, the ability to break down your man with a dribble move in the half-court offense is compensated for by the defense’s quick help, making unmolested drives to the basket far rarer than in NBA Live. Consequently, you’ll find yourself seeking specific offensive sets — such as the motion, baseline or high post — to attack particular zone defenses, and vice-versa.

Player recruiting in Madness’ “Dynasty Mode” is odd, with in-season pursuit of incoming freshmen, and then a separate postseason session where you can exceed your scholarship allotment. This is both unrealistic and an incredible crutch makes assembling a championship squad too easy.

A more realistic and demanding recruiting simulation is just one of the things recommending ESPN’s College Hoops 2K5 over its EA Sports competitor. It begins with the front-end. It’s extremely difficult to find a camera angle in Madness that doesn’t leave the players Smurf-size, making your player’s moves or a loose ball on the floor hard to see.

With basically the same array of game moves or jukes, College Hoops not only boasts larger players and better camera views, but a more authentic feel than Madness, which requires a lot of fiddling with the gameplay sliders to even out play — and you still end up with an extraordinary number of blocked shots and uncontested dunks.

Rebounding, too, is much more live and athletic in the ESPN game, as opposed to EA Sports’ scripted feel, created by the defenders’ near flawless box-outs that make offensive rebounds more a matter of luck than skill. College Hoops also features a new and surprisingly cool “lead” passing button that allows you to set up a man cutting to the basket, rather than throw it to where he’s standing, allowing the defense to recover.

Given EA Sports’ long tradition, it’s surprising how much better the College Hoops 2K5 plays. From easy, intuitive and exceedingly lifelike gameplay to the more effectively executed recruiting and dynasty play, there’s hardly a comparison between the two.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].