For yeas now, EA Sports' line-up has consisted of both professional and college sports, specifically for basketball and football. The NCAA Football is one of EA's strongest franchises, and commonly it plays very much like the upcoming Madden game, which tends to debut about a month later. For the most part, their basketball NCAA franchise seems to work the same way, largely playing and looking like NBA Live. But something odd has happened this year, as March Madness 2008 isn't quite NBA Live with a different skin – it features noticeably less attention to detail, but more options to tinker with.
For starters, like I do with every game, the first thing I did was enter the options menu and check out what configurations exist. I immediately noticed that March Madness 08 offers a plethora of sliders to toy around with, and that's a huge plus, as it was something missing from NBA Live 08. The addition of sliders means that if you find yourself particularly frustrated with a trait within the game, you can either increase its tendency to occur, or decrease it – essentially you have full control over the A.I.'s behavioral characteristics.
There's a ton of gameplay features to be found here, which is typical of EA Sports. The Dynasty Mode returns with improvements made to player recruiting. This is the core of the game, and likely the mode most people will spend their time with. Here you will build and control the operations of your team, and chances are if you're reading this, then you've probably played a Dynasty Mode before and need no explanation of what it's about.
Some refinements and additions have been made to MM08, such as the ability to dynamically control your finesse maneuvers, and interrupt them mid-way to transit into another one in order adjust to a defensive condition. Little things like this are nice for added depth and freedom of control, but it's probably not something most will find themselves using often.
March Madness 2008 features a line-up of game modes, such as Play Now, NCAA Tournament, Maui Invitational Tournament, NIT Season Tip-Off, Dynasty Mode, and Online. Online only lets you play against one other, but offline allows you to tap four controllers. There are online leagues too, so online tournament players will like this. And when you're not playing, you can head into the My NCAA option and configure various aspects of the game, such as Team Management, and access all of the gameplay sliders, nearly 50 in total!
Now, as far as how the game actually plays, it feels more like NBA Live 07 rather than Live 08. The controls aren't nearly as fluid as they should be, and it becomes fairly obvious the more you play the game. Where as NBA Live 08 was extremely responsive and fluid, March Madness feels a lot clunkier, harder to work with, and worst of all…dated. If you can get around the dated control scheme, March Madness 08 has a lot to offer. But if you're looking for proper next-generation gameplay, you may find yourself disappointed here.
Additionally, you may find yourself disappointed with the visuals, as well. Again, unlike NBA Live 08, March Madness looks dated. It doesn't boast that silky smooth texture detail on its players – quite the opposite, actually. Athletes in March Madness 08 look washed out, with textures that could be deemed below average; due to this, the players also look pale. Furthermore, viewing replays also demonstrates heavy aliasing, so the game isn't particularly smooth and has its share of jaggies. Above all else, there are two visual aspects that are far more important than any other in a sports game: player likeness and animation. Neither of which March Madness nails.
I immediately noticed that the animation strands were choppy, again unlike NBA Live 08, and it looked even more obvious when viewing the replays. Transitions lack fluidity and so the moves are often jarring in presentation. Worst of all, athletes barely resemble their real-life counterparts. I flew around the entire St. John's Red Storm team and looked at each player and none of them looked anything like they should. Now, I know that companies aren't allowed to profit off of the players, which is why they can't print their names on their jerseys, but does the same hold for using a virtual likeness of them? I don't think it does, but maybe I'm wrong. Lastly, top things off, even the framerate has its faults. I was told that the Xbox 360 version animates and renders a lot closer to NBA Live 08, and that the PS3 port is just poorly done. So opt for that one if you have an X360.
The audio is pretty decent, with commentary from Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale. I've encountered frequent quiet moments during the game, but for the most part, the duo does a solid job of filling in with accurate, well-timed play-by-play commentary. Dick Vitale is arguably the driving force behind the commentary, as he's always the one who's got something insightful to say. The crowd also gets pretty rowdy, and so EA has captured that aspect of the NCAA quite well.
All in all, NCAA March Madness 08 is not a bad game, it's just yet another bad PS3 port. If you have an Xbox 360 and do enjoy EA's NCAA offerings, I do recommend checking this one out – it's got a tremendous amount of depth. Unfortunately, the PlayStation 3 version suffers from clunkier controls, thanks to problematic animation issues and framerate hiccups, as well as below average visuals. If the PlayStation 3 is your only console then I suggest picking up 2K Sports' solid College Hoops 2K8.