NCAA March Madness 08 is a frustrating game because it really should have been good. The developer got a lot right, such as a new low-post game, an improved interface, and online leagues. But for every improvement, there seems to be a problem to cancel it out. And it's not just small problems, either. The gameplay is incredibly sluggish, the ball physics are off, teams don't have their real schedules, and the frame rate is downright terrible on the PlayStation 3. March Madness 08 is still worth a look, but hardcore hoops fans probably won't be able to look past the game's many faults to enjoy what it does well.
The biggest change to the gameplay this year is that low-post play has been totally revamped. And while it's by no means flawless, it represents the best post play in any basketball game to date. By moving the right analog stick in conjunction with the left analog stick, you've now got a wide array of moves available to you, both on offense and defense when in the paint. The controls are easy to learn and, more importantly, they're useful. You'll actually want to work the ball down low to take advantage of a mismatch (which the game highlights with a huge circle around the player), rather than try to run a fast break every time you snag a rebound. The controls are just as satisfying on defense because they really make it feel like you're engaged in a one-on-one battle with the ball handler. The only problem on D is that if you're controlling a perimeter player, you're not likely to be able to switch to your center before the offensive player makes his move when the ball gets passed into the paint.
It's too bad that the rest of the gameplay didn't see the same improvement. Using the right analog stick to perform spins and crossovers still works great, but the rest of the controls often feel sluggish and unresponsive. For example, when you pump fake to get a defender in the air, you'll find yourself unable to move for a short period. Most of the sluggishness can be attributed to the overall pace of play, which has been slowed way down in an effort to encourage players to take the time to use the new post moves, but you almost feel like you're playing underwater. You can speed things up with a slider, and while that helps some, it makes the weird ball physics (a problem at any speed) even more pronounced. The issue can best be described as "sometimes the ball does whatever the heck it wants." A pass that should go to a wide-open player might suddenly decide to go to the defender, or it'll sometimes go faster than it should, appearing to almost teleport. Occasionally, it will decide that it hates gravity and will fly all the way to the ceiling of the arena.
While there are lots of options and gameplay sliders, changing the default settings doesn't seem to have much effect on a lot of the problems. Even with user blocks turned all the way up, you'll be hard-pressed to get more than a few blocks during the course of a full 40-minute game. Steals are incredibly frustrating because it seems like, at least half the time, your player simply pokes the ball out of bounds, pokes it away and doesn't try to pick it up, or picks the ball up then steps out of bounds. You can call a limited number of plays on the fly, but there aren't very many to choose from and your players don't move around a whole lot on their own.
The fact that there doesn't seem to be any way to display player names or numbers below the player is another issue. Unless you enjoy chucking up three-pointers with your brick-laying power forward or non-shooting center, you'll have to memorize every player's number and position, then check the players' jerseys to find out who you're controlling. Users playing on a non-high-definition screen really get the short end of the stick here because it's nearly impossible to read jersey numbers on a standard-definition display. While it may seem that the number of negatives outweighs the positives with regards to the gameplay, there's still fun to be had--you just have to be willing to look the other way when bad stuff happens.