Yes, we know this review is a little late, but if you're reading this it's probably because the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which kicks off today, has got you itching for some college hoops action. March Madness 06 is the latest in the long-running college basketball series from Electronic Arts. While it isn't leaps and bounds better than its predecessor, the addition of the "lockdown" stick, as well as other subtle improvements make it the college hoops game to own if you're looking to create some of your own March Madness.
March Madness 06 features all of the same gameplay modes as last year – including online play, which is solid, if unspectacular. If you're a hardcore hoops fan, most of your time will be spent in the game's dynasty mode, which allows you to head up any Division 1 team in hopes of leading them to the NCAA tourney. You have full control over recruiting – something which is much more fun if you're at a big school, than if you're at a no-name school with little chance of landing big-name talent. Unfortunately, some of the quirks from last year's game, like not being able to discipline your players if you run out of points are still present in 06. You'll also get some odd player progressions from time to time in the off season; namely players dropping in ratings for no apparent reason.
On the court, 06's gameplay is as tight as ever, and you'll have no problem at all adjusting to it if you've spent any time with the NBA Live franchise. The biggest addition is the lockdown stick, which lets you pressure an opposing player by mimicking their movements with the right analog stick. This not only makes you feel like you're more involved when on defense, but allows you to exploit players' defensive prowess by getting more aggressive. When "locking down" an opposing player, your player will get their body right on the opposing player, shadowing their every move. This allows you, if you're quick enough, to keep them in front of you at all times, plus makes stealing the ball a little easier. Be warned, however, that any lapse in concentration will leave you wide-open to get left in the dust, should you fail to react to a quick cut by the ball handler.
Using the new "floor general" feature, which allows you to call defensive plays on the fly, along with the lockdown stick is a very effective method of shutting down the opposition. If you've ever seen a great team start a full-court press against a lesser opponent, you've got a good idea of what can happen.
One of the few on-court gripes with March Madness 06 are ones that have long been a problem in the series. It's still far too easy to shoot the ball off the back of the backboard when putting up a shot in the paint. Sometimes your momentum carries you towards the baseline and there's simply nothing you can do. This happens several times a game – despite it almost never happening in real life.
March Madness' presentation is great on many fronts, though the visuals are really starting to show their age. First the good – there are tons of great animations that show off all the excitement that comes with college basketball – players getting dunked on, getting fired up over a big play and so on. The rest of the visuals aren't so hot. The player models look decent, but are lacking in variety. Can't EA just get all of its sports games to share the great create-a-player technology from Tiger Woods already? Also lacking variety are the arenas. I know you can't have every college basketball stadium in the game, but surely EA could come up with more than just the handful that the game offers, especially the smaller arenas, which have character.
Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler are once again back on the mic providing the commentary. They're generally on point with their commentary, but they get repetitive rather quickly – a big problem if you're not a big fan of Dick Vitale to begin with.
March Madness 06 is easily the best game in the franchise's history, but it's not leaps and bounds better over last year's game. The inclusion of the lockdown stick is perhaps the biggest reason to own the game, and while it does make playing defense much more engaging, it may not be enough to warrant a purchase if you're still having a good time with last year's game. If you're curious, it's certainly worth a rental.