NCAA March Madness 2001 Preview

We got our hands on a beta release of March Madness 2001 for the PlayStation, and so far we're impressed with what we've seen.

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EA Sport's college basketball franchise is back on the PlayStation in March Madness 2001. We got our hands on a beta release of March Madness 2001 for the PlayStation, and so far we're impressed with what we've seen.

You're offered a multitude of different play options, from a quick exhibition game, to a season mode, to a women's sweet sixteen, to a hard-core dynasty mode where you'll lead your school to long-term success. You can even play in Coach K's coaches mode, in case your thumbs want a rest and you'd rather sit back and call the shots.

The graphics are standard EA polygonal fare, with character faces and bodies being varied enough to set players apart and make them easily distinguishable during a frantic game. And the two-dimensional courtside players are rather humorous. A better effort to disguise their cardboard cutout appearance seems in order. The reflections are well done, and instant replays are quick to load and are taken from exciting camera angles.

The customization allowed in this game is remarkably deep. While seeing C#10 and PG#00 on the "Player of the Game" screens isn't as involving as seeing player names, the sheer number of schools, plays, and options available to you will more than make up for it. You can toggle the ease with which players can steal, block, or perform any number of other actions. Cheats can be unlocked and toggled midgame, and the computer AI can be set to your liking. Your created players, for example, can range from 5 feet 2 inches to 7 feet 2 inches and from thin to downright pot-bellied, and they can sport a variety of head and body types. You get more creation points based on your class, so freshmen get fewer abilities in comparison to seniors. Dynasty-mode players will enjoy the improvement their players will go through from year to year and the customization that all the coach's options allow.

Coach K provides advice before every game and summarizes the team matchup, while highlighting strengths and weaknesses for each team, based not only on stats, but also on current season performance. It's quite gratifying to see your created player become known as a "force in the paint" - definitely a nice touch.

The sounds of squeaking sneakers, rim-shaking dunks, and the ref's whistles seem to be coming along adequately. The commentating could use some variety, though the fanfare soundtrack definitely imparted a college sports feel, with big band music and cheerleader chants as a recurring backdrop to both the action and in-game menus. The gameplay will be familiar to those who have played EA basketball games before. Turbo dashing, icon passing, spin, and crossover moves are still in your repertoire, and you can use them to devastating effect against the AI. The computer tends to foul a lot, even on the higher difficulty settings with the fouls toggled to seldom, so learning the free-throw system by heart will lead to a lot of victories. The fans have an important effect on the game by giving your team momentum. Calling time not only acts as a breather but also serves to calm down a raucous stampede of college kids before they hype your opponent to victory. If there is a major gripe, it's that the load times for each game and the save times are rather on the long side. Hopefully this will be corrected in the final release.

So far, March Madness 2001 looks like the kind of game that casual players will enjoy and fans of college hoops will lose sleep over.

$99.99 on Walmart
Buy

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