Just as NBA Live dominated the NBA simulation genre during the PlayStation era, EA Sports' March Madness owned the college hoops genre. During that time, there was no better game at simulating the fast-paced gameplay, subtle strategy, and unbridled excitement of the college game. However, while NBA Live is quickly becoming a PlayStation 2 veteran, the March Madness series has remained in the shadows until now. EA Sports has finally unveiled NCAA March Madness 2002, the first game in the series for the PlayStation 2. After some gameplay time with March Madness 2002, it is evident that the game borrows heavily from its NBA counterpart, but there are also some subtle details, in terms of new animations, improved pacing, and overall atmosphere, that set it apart from NBA Live 2002.
Perhaps the most prominent differences between March Madness 2002 and NBA Live 2002 are the new animations and the quicker gameplay pace. EA Sports has exaggerated the rebounding and passing animations in the game. Players will fly high to grab boards, which, consequently, greatly improves on the anemic rebounding game found in the PS2 NBA Live games--offensive and defensive rebounding is a lot more balanced in March Madness. The passing game has also been juiced up, with new wraparound passes that are easier to execute out of dribble moves. Additionally, players are able to dive on the floor after loose balls. Perhaps as a result of the new animations, the game's pacing is also much quicker in March Madness. Players fly up and down the court, and it is quite rewarding to fake out a defender and take the ball to the hoop.
Aside from the new animations, it is very evident that Electronic Arts has put quite a bit of effort into simulating the college atmosphere. To that end, the game includes the actual fight songs from several of the high-profile programs, and there are also some custom fight songs in the game. It even features David Barrett's song "One Shining Moment," which should be familiar to fans who have watched the CBS Road to the Final Four broadcasts over the years.
The crowd is also more lively in March Madness 2002, when compared with its NBA counterpart. They will perform team-specific chants during the course of a game and may boo opposing teams after made baskets. The game's customary momentum meter ties in with these crowd reactions. After performing a series of stellar plays, your team's meter will max out, which in turn pumps up your players' performance levels. With the momentum meter full, you'll be draining long threes and going to the hoop for monster dunks.
However, outside of the new animations, quicker gameplay pace, and college-basketball-specific tweaks, March Madness 2002 looks and plays like its NBA counterpart. The control scheme is identical, with shooting, passing, dribble moves, stealing, and jumping mapped to the face buttons on the PlayStation 2 controller and turbo, face up, box out, and other secondary functions mapped to the shoulder buttons. The similarities aren't in gameplay terms alone, as visually, March Madness 2002 is very similar to the NBA Live games on the PlayStation 2. The player models look almost identical in terms of visual quality, and, as with the NBA game, the arenas aren't custom-designed--there are a few arena models that are recycled.
March Madness 2002 has two primary modes of play, exhibition and tournament. The game does not include a season mode, and consequently there is no dynasty mode in this year's version. The exclusion of those modes is perhaps a result of a short development schedule, as the game is on schedule to be released early next year. The tournament mode in the game is fully customizable, so you'll be able to select any of the available teams for any bracket, and the game also lets you play the 2000/2001 NCAA tournament. There are a variety of roster management and team customization options in the game. In March Madness 2002, you'll be able to edit any player in the game, much like in EA's other sports products. You will be able to change their names, appearances, and statistics. Additionally, the game gives you the option to create your own school. Here you'll be able to tweak general school information such as name, conference, school, and fight song and team information such as logos, arena type, coaches' appearance, and uniform style and color.
March Madness 2002 is currently feature-complete and should be ready in time for its early 2002 launch. The game's faster pace should appeal to fans of the college game, but the lack of a dynasty mode, or even the ability to play a single season, could hurt its overall value.