Publisher: 2K Sports (2005)
Wow, 2K Sports has really stepped up this year, delivering perhaps the best basketball game I've ever played! 2K6 has it all - flashy graphics, tight controls, and a professional, TV-style presentation. There's really nothing to criticize about the bright, crisp visuals. The lifelike players are remarkably detailed and move with quickness and grace. Better yet, they behave as they do in real life, exhibiting the same strengths and limitations, as well as their distinctive trademark moves. The controls are streamlined and comfortable to use, with a single "shoot" button, and even one unused button (L1). The passing is very
responsive, so you can execute quick dishes under the basket with precision (although sometimes inadvertently). Playing defense is fun, because you can actually steal the ball (using the right joystick) without being called for constant reach-ins. The slam frequency is reasonable and the dunks look realistic, making it all the more dramatic when you witness a high-flying, jaw-dropping monster dunk. NBA 2K6 requires some serious skill and patience; attempting to blindly force
the ball into the middle will usually result in a steal or charge. There are even tie-ups - something I don't recall seeing previously in an NBA video game. 2K6 incorporates some original elements as well. The jump balls are won by tapping the square button, causing a meter to sway between two teams. The unconventional "one-touch" foul shooting system takes some getting used to, but it feels natural once you get the hang of it. You can even direct a second player without losing control of your current man! In addition to the rock-solid underlying gameplay, 2K Sports understands that the little details really do
matter. When the game is in the process of loading, you'll spend that time watching a flashy lineup presentation, instead of the typical static loading screen. The two-man play-by-play is informative, and they stay on top of the action remarkably well. Attractive but unobtrusive TV-style graphics enhance the presentation without getting in the way. A lengthy half time show features shapely cheerleaders, a sideline report, and a surprisingly in-depth recap of the half. The coaches on the sidelines closely resemble their real life counterparts, although I think Phil Jackson looks more like Colonel Sanders. There are even periodic shots of the crowd, which are usually very amusing. With NBA 2K6, 2K Sports clearly went well beyond the call of duty, making this the basketball game to own this season. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2000)
This game makes me think back to the very first edition, NBA Live 95' on the Genesis. That was the first great basketball game, but in the years since, the series been uneven in quality. This first edition for the PS2 is satisfying enough, although not nearly as impressive an effort as Madden 2001 or NHL 2001. The graphics are fair but not fully realized. The player models look good, as do the fans and the people sitting at the scorer's table. But where are the coaches? And where are the referees? How hard can it be to have a ref retrieve the ball after a free throw? Yes, there are players on the bench - but they don't move! Control is good, and the vibration feature is effective, especially when you dunk the ball. Blocking is fun, but rebounding is difficult, and more often than not the ball bounces right back to the guy who shot the ball! Hasn't EA learned anything about physics in 10 years of doing these games? In addition, the problem of players shooting from behind the backboard has once again reared its ugly head, causing balls to brick off the back of the glass! The sound effects may be the worst aspect of the game. The whoosh of the ball passing through the net is well done, but the crowd sounds like a water faucet on volume control. The boring commentary also leaves a lot to be desired. On the bright side, there are a ton of options to let you customize your game. You can set your own rules and turn off that annoying illegal defense crap. Many options provide a meter that lets you fine-tune things like fouls, audio, and replay options. You can create your own players and play a one-on-one game in a city street court, with dream match-ups like Dr. J vs. Vince Carter! Despite much room for improvement, NBA Live 2001 still delivers some decent hardwood action. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
In contrast to this year's field of college basketball duds, the NBA games are surprisingly strong. NBA Live 2005's fast, up-and-down style of play is reminiscent of the very first NBA Live (Genesis 1995). Its presentation won't blow you away, but the gameplay is realistic and competitive. The control scheme is well designed, although I will admit it's easy to confuse the two shoot buttons (close range and jump shot). The controls are responsive, and EA's "T-meter" foul shooting system is intuitive. Despite not being able to "lead" your passes (players tend to pause when passing or catching), NBA Live still
has more fast breaks than its rival (Sega's ESPN 2K5). While Live excels at "above the rim" action, nailing jump shots can be tough. Under the default settings, it's easy to block but hard to steal, though option menus "sliders" allow you to fine tune these mechanics. Numerous camera angles are available, but in my opinion the "press box" provides the best vantage point. NBA Live's presentation is minimal, with average two-man commentary and no cheerleaders during half time. In addition to the obligatory play modes, you also get the rookie challenge, 3-point shootout, and a slam-dunk contest. Unfortunately, the controls for the customized slam-dunks are not
explained very well, and I couldn't figure them out. Still, NBA Live 2005 delivers where it counts. I played some exciting head-to-head contests against my friends, and most agree NBA Live 2005 is the best basketball game of the season. If only EA had put this much effort into their college game! © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
When NBA Jam arrived in 1993 (SNES), its arcade graphics, non-stop action, simple control, and over-the-top dunks won over everyone who played it. And when I played NBA Street, I got that same old feeling. This three-on-three basketball game takes all the things you love about the sport and leaves out everything that slows it down. There are no fouls, time-outs, substitutions, or set plays. What you do get are rim-rattling dunks, no-look passes, tip-dunks, paralyzing juke moves, broken rims, alley-oops, hot-dogging, and razzle-dazzle to spare. The urban theme is cool, and kind of funny. Players include a collection of "street legends" as well as NBA Stars, with Michael Jordan available from the start! (he's good) The smooth, crisp graphics are a real treat, and the action never lets up. The matches take place on street courts, providing a refreshing change from the generic pro arenas. The scoring is different from normal basketball (1 point per basket, two for a long range shot), and you play to 21 points (must win by 2). The controls are simple to learn and responsive, although my player would sometimes seem to stop for no reason. In addition to a turbo meter, you have a boost meter that lets you to perform dramatic "game breaker" shots, which actually take points away
from your opponent. The background music is good, but the repetitive one-liners from commentator Joe "The Show" get old in a hurry. My biggest beef is how the computer insists on keeping the contests artificially close. A tournament mode lets you advance through the ranks, earning new players and opening new courts. NBA Street rates very high on the fun meter, but where's the four-player mode? © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
This final edition of NBA Street for the PS2 offers insanely good graphics and slam-dunks that absolutely mock
the laws of physics. The new "dunk stick" allows for "freestyle" dunks, and while you can do some amazing moves in mid-air, some of the acrobatics look downright comical. V3 also includes a custom "court creator" letting you adjust everything from the surface quality, to the backboard design, to the surrounding scenery. It's fun to play around with at first, but its impact on the actual game is minimal. On the court, the action is much like the previous two editions, but far more exaggerated as players tend fly all over the place looking for alley-oop opportunities. Expertly performed crossover dribbles will put the defender on his face, and players who unsuccessfully contest a dunk will take some nasty spills. I love being able to use the right stick for cross-overs and stealing. The camerawork is generally good, except for the odd angle used during inbound passes. The understated music is exceptionally good, although the loudmouth commentator wears thin after a while. V3's graphics are appreciably better than Volume 2, with flowing baggy uniforms and players with lifelike faces. With its fresh coat of paint and awe-inspiring moves, NBA Street V3 will thrill newcomers and die-hard fans alike. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
NBA Street Vol 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
The first NBA Street delivered some inspired three-on-three b-ball action, and Volume 2 offers even more arcade fun. As you play on famous inner-city courts, you'll witness ankle-breaking crossover moves, monster slams, and furious rejections. Along with stylish graphics and killer soundtrack, there's a much-needed multiplayer mode that supports up to six players. The action is quite up-tempo and hectic at times, but I love the "controlled chaos" feel of it all. NBA Street 2 injects a distinctive old-school flavor into the mix, including oversized afros (cool) and short shorts (not so cool). When I heard the opening notes of "The Way They Reminisce Over You" (Pete Rock and CL Smooth) on the title screen, I knew Street 2 was on point. Crazy new moves include kick-passes, passing off of the backboard, and bouncing the ball off your opponent's forehead. Volume 2 boasts 25 NBA Legends including Magic Johnson, Pistol Pete, Dr. J, and no less than three
versions of Michael Jordan. It's funny - ten years ago you couldn't play
as Michael Jordan in any
basketball game (due to licensing issues), but now you can have a whole freakin' team
of him. The new Legend mode lets you create your own player and advance through the ranks. I went ahead and created a version of myself, and just as I always suspected, I was able to hold my own against those punks in the NBA! It's not a drastic change, but NBA Street Volume 2 scores major points for its stylish presentation and multiplayer action. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Let's face it - EA's college football game is great every year, and it continues to improve. NCAA 06 provides the most exciting and realistic brand of pigskin action I've experienced. The graphics have improved slightly, with players that slip on the turf, make sliding catches, and contort their way through holes in the defense. The right thumbstick is now used for jukes on offense (including a new "backward juke") and to apply "big hits" on defense. For novice players, the game offers excellent (and thankfully brief) tutorials. The "running the option" tutorial is required watching if you want to fully understand the college game. I also love how the game prompts you on how to spike the ball or call no-huddle as the clock is winding down. In general the graphics haven't changed much since last year. There's a hint of slowdown on rare occasions, but it's hardly worth mentioning. The teams properly reflect their real-life counterparts, and the CPU-controller opponents are intelligent and unpredictable. I really enjoy the new "Race for the Heisman" mode, which literally puts you
in the game. It's a nice alternative to the Dynasty Mode, since you don't have to worry about any tedious coaching or administration duties. Another new feature is "impact players", which allows standout players to execute explosive plays in the clutch. NCAA 06's TV-style presentation includes a game introduction with anchors at a desk, and the in-game commentary is solid as usual. NCAA 06 takes customization to the extreme, allowing you to create your own players, playbooks, fan signs, and even your own school! There are no major flaws in this game except for a few "EA-isms", like when your runningback stops dead at the goal line (and stands up straight) or inexplicably injure his chest
. I also wish the game would let you know definitively if a pass is complete or not. There's no half-time show, which is odd considering the game has everything else. One pleasant surprise is the music selection, which sounds like the soundtrack from my college days. With tracks from De La Soul, the Pixies (a censored version of "Debaser"), and the Clash, it's madly eclectic but highly listenable. NCAA 06 Football is a terrific package, and a no-brainer for college football fans. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Final Four 2001
Publisher: 989 Studios (2000)
The awful cinematic montage that opens this game is an ominous indication of things to come. The game play isn't a complete loss. The computer-controlled players are competitive, but fouls are excessive, and the computer hits a very high percentage of shoots. Taking an open shot in this game is almost impossible, because the computer defense is unbelievably quick. The ball physics is good, but at times it's difficult to determine if a shot went through the net! The players look okay, but their movements are far from fluid. There are some nice bells and whistles, including coaches and players yelling at the refs, and seven-foot tall cheerleaders that provide entertainment during halftime. The play by play by Quin Buckner is oh-so weak - that man needs help! And then there are the options - or should I say, LACK of options. There aren't many at all, and the ones you get really stink! Take for instance the "recruiting" option which lets you add the overlooked players on your team that weren't included in the game. You can modify the current players, but you're still stuck with the original numbers. Would a create/delete player option be unreasonable? I can only assume 989 doesn't have the "technology" to do that yet. Finally, couldn't the programmers provide some kind of "ending" to each game, like players shaking hands, or fans storming the court? I guess not. Unless you absolutely have to have a college basketball game for the PS2, stay away from this. (Thanks to Eric V. for his help on this review.) © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Final Four 2003
Publisher: Sony (2002)
This was one of the last games released under Sony's 989 Sports banner, and it's easy to see why. This has got to be one of the worst basketball games I've ever played. To be honest, the only reason I even picked this up was because Juan Dixon is on the cover. He led Maryland to a national championship in 2002, and is currently lighting it up as shooting guard for the Washington Wizards. Too bad his mug had to be plastered on such a pitiable game. Final Four's graphics are pretty good and the play-by-play is decent, but the basic game mechanics are the WORST. The first thing that sticks out is the slow, floaty passes that magically penetrate every solid object in their path. It takes the ball so long to get to its destination that an open player will be completely covered by the time he receives the ball. That in of itself is enough to fail this game, but there are many other problems as well. The AI is atrocious, with players that run out of bounds before
receiving a past, and rarely crash the boards. Then there's the non-existent collision detection that allows your arm pass right through an opponent's body when you try for a steal. Jump shots employ a fancy jump meter, which is a good idea in theory but hard to use. The foul shooting mechanism is similar to Sega's old "squeeze the trigger" system, except you use the two joysticks and it's not nearly as difficult. Final Four's dunks seemed canned and don't reflect the actual ability of the players. NCAA Final Four isn't realistic enough to be a simulation, and it lacks the fun factor of an arcade title. In the end, it's probably just as well that this series died a premature death. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Football 2002
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Historically college football fans have been second-class citizens in the video game world, but with NCAA Football 2002, the college game has finally been given the royal treatment. Using the famous Madden 2001 engine, this game combines the greatness of Madden with all the pageantry of college football. The opening is impressive, combining a well-edited montage of in-game graphics with some fine music (non-rap). New features include additional animations, celebrations, and team mascots. The coaches are much better animated on the sidelines, and the NFL Films-style replay angles are awesome. The gameplay is rock solid, and the Option play (rarely used in the pros) is done to perfection. Little details like the height of player's socks shows just how much effort was put into this game. A minor problem is an excessive number of fumbles. Also, someone needs to tell the voice talent that the Maryland Terrapins do NOT play in Baltimore. Other than that, EA has delivered another great football game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Football 2003
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
NCAA 2003 effectively conveys the feeling of being at a real college football game. The pre-game introductions, sideline cheerleaders, band music, and surprisingly accurate stadiums really bring the spirit and pageantry of the college game alive. I've been to plenty of college football games myself, and little details like the drums beating between plays really hit the mark. NCAA 2003 gets off on the right foot right away by initially asking you what your favorite team is, and this is used to customize the game to your taste. The gameplay itself is fantastic, with all the unpredictability and excitement that makes the college level a whole different game than the pros. With all the trick plays, options, and laterals, anything can happen. I marveled at some of the incredible animation sequences, like how my quarterback was able to shake-off a would-be tackler. One receiver came up with a ball after it bounced off a defender's hand. It's always satisfying to see a quarterback pitch the ball back a millisecond before a linebacker crushes him. The kicking game is hard compared to Madden, as it should be. The three-man commentary is superb, and dialogue rarely get repeated. NCAA 2003 contains 144 teams with their own fight songs, mascots, and 3D cheerleaders. Extra modes include dynasty, practice, and rivalry modes. I recommend using the Practice Mode to work on your option plays. You can collect trophies and earn pennants that function just like Madden cards. Very impressive. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Football 2004
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
You gotta hand it to those guys at EA Sports - their college football games are not
just rehashes of the popular Madden games. NCAA Football has a distinct look and feel of its own. From the cheerleaders, to the mascots, to the sound of the marching bands, the college atmosphere is unmistakable. The playbooks are loaded with formations and option plays you would never find in the pros, and the games tend to be wilder and less predictable. The two-man commentary is far better than Madden, with more variety and banter between them. The control scheme, which has had years to evolve, has been honed to near perfection. Occasionally one player runs through another, and there's no half time show, but otherwise it's hard to find fault with this game. You'll love all the new animations including some nifty drag-down tackles. Sports Illustrated magazine covers can be viewed during the season mode, and useful information is displayed on the loading screens. Even if you already have Madden, college fans should not overlook this outstanding title. I personally prefer
this to Madden. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA Football 2005
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
It's another solid year for EA's college football franchise, and if you're a diehard fan, buying this game is a no-brainer. NCAA Football 2005 plays like Madden, but has an entirely different feel. The distinctive college playbooks contain plenty of option plays, which allow the quarterback to either run with the ball or lateral it back to a running back. Compared to Madden, you'll see many more dropped passes and broken tackles. The full-featured dynasty mode lets you construct your own stadium and tend to each player. Most of the new features in this year's edition fall under the "bells and whistles" category. EA came up with the great idea of letting YOU design the signs held up by the fans, but unfortunately they botched the implementation. While it's easy to create a sign for each type of situation (touchdown, interception, etc), getting your signs shown during the game requires some really confusing button presses that take a long time to figure out. Once I got it to work however, my friends were rolling on the floor in laughter after witnessing some of the most perverted, profane signs I could come up with. Another cool new feature lets you douse the coach with Gatorade. On the field, you can "power-up" a part of your team (line, secondary, etc) whenever a timeout is called, which is quite useful near the end of the game. The worst of the new features is the "crowd pulse" which makes your play selection screen shake in an irritating manner when the fans get rowdy. It looks more like a bug in the game! Other annoyances include no halftime show, players that walk through
each other, and the fact that you can't bring up your receiver symbols before hiking the ball (unless you want to reveal their routes!). For a series that's been around for so long, I found NCAA Football's flaws hard to overlook. But still, if you like the college brand of pigskin action, this is a lot of game for your money. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA March Madness 06
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Have you heard EA's new slogan? "If it comes out before the Y2K Sports, it'll sell more copies". Or better yet, "If we price it $10 higher, people might think it's better." I reviewed this one with my old buddy (and fellow college basketball fanatic) Eric. Over the years, we've played nearly every college basketball video game ever made. Needless to say, we were both fairly disgusted by NCAA March Madness 06. EA really "phoned it in" with this one. Incredibly, the game's graphics appear to be de
volving - they look sloppier than ever! I actually had to adjust the contrast and brightness
on my TV to clarify the dark, muddy graphics to an acceptable degree. The creepy player faces don't even vaguely
resemble their real-life counterparts, and if their hideous mugs don't scare you, the bizarre ball physics just might. The manner in which the ball leaves the hands of the players looks "unnatural" at best and "buggy" at worst. March Madness hasn't kept up with the times, and its venerable engine is showing. The players do not
move in a fluid manner, and pause before passing or catching the ball, killing fast break opportunities in the process. Rebounding against the computer is almost impossible - you can have three players crashing the boards, only to have the single computer-controlled player come up with the ball. At the other end of the spectrum, slam-dunks occur on nearly every
possession, and they're always those crazy, two-handed, hang-on-the-rim dunks. There are two shoot buttons (one for jump shot, and one for lay-up/dunk), and it never fails that I get them confused. On defense, trying to steal the ball always results in a reach-in foul, so what's the point? When you're ahead late in a game and the CPU starts intentionally fouling, your players seem to become paralyzed
- you can't even attempt
a pass! Perhaps the most unforgiveable flaw is the complete lack of coaches! Whatever happened to "If it's in the game, it's in the game?" Their absence is especially conspicuous during timeouts, when the players gather around and appear to argue about which play to run! The graphically intensive "screen wipes" that occur between plays aren't as lengthy as last year, but they're still annoying as hell and should be removed altogether. The new animation that shows players getting into each other's faces after a hard foul is a cool idea, but it's poorly executed. The fouled player appears unphased initially, but then suddenly becomes enraged and runs up to the fouling player. Even the menu interface is clunky and needs work. On the controller select screen, the teams are listed on the top and bottom, so when I move my controller icon left or right, which team is it getting assigned to? Finally, your patience will be exhausted by EA's patented, never-ending load screens. Is there anything positive to say? Well, the play-by-play features Dick Vitalle, who is always entertaining. The band music is also quite good, with the exception of that idiotic EA "If it's in the Game" theme song. Five years ago, I could have looked past many of the flaws in this year's March Madness, but now we expect more from our basketball games. This isn't going to cut it in the 06. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA March Madness 2002
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Whoa, this may be the most disappointing EA sports game EVER! Man does this stink! If you don't believe me, just wait until you witness the small white guard do a monster 360 slam and break the backboard, which happens about once a game! And if the gameplay doesn't turn you off, the lack of options will. Get a load of this: there is NO season mode. Can you believe that? There's no "create-a-player" either, which is annoying considering half of the guys on your favorite team are the wrong skin color, or the black guys have white people's hair! Although a few real NCAA coaches are present, many of the big names are conspicuous in their absence. See that old man with the mustache? That's supposed to be Coach K from Duke! And when did Maryland's Gary Williams turn black? Even the courts are screwed up, which is odd since EA is usually a stickler for detail (not anymore!). The graphics and control are fair, but the sound is atrocious. There's no color commentator, and the play-by-play guy sounds horrible. This is one of those games you return to the store the same day! This is madness!! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA March Madness 2003
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
After a dismal effort last year, EA's March Madness has finally stepped up to be to a major contender. It still has its share of rough edges, but the fast, fluid gameplay is very enjoyable. Actually this gave me flashbacks of an old EA college hoops game, Coach K
on the Genesis! Both games have a similar feel, especially if you switch to the press box camera angle. Graphically, the players could have been better detailed, but at least the animation is fluid, with plenty of realistic dunks and lay-ups. Just be sure not to zoom in on the players' faces, because you'll never recognize them. There are some funny animations during play stoppage, like the mascot horsing around with the players on the bench. The gameplay is solid overall, and EA's trademark (and superior) foul shooting meter is back. By default, you'll see too many blocks, but not to worry because everything
is customizable, including game speed, interceptions, deflections, steals, momentum, offensive rebound aggression, etc. Most of the problems are relatively minor. Ally-oops are often caught from behind
(a bug that's been around for years), and the players still need to retrieve the ball after shooting a free throw. Also, you can't see the clock as the half winds down, which is very annoying. There are a few new moves that really improve the gameplay, like being able to dive for a loose ball or pass to the leading man on a fast break. The CPU isn't too smart on offense, but it's tough as nails on defense, especially with the full court trap. And the CPU will get very
aggressive (some would say cheap) at the end of a game if it's losing. If you want to recreate the season of your favorite team, you'll find most, but not all of the NCAA teams here. Besides the season mode, there are dynasty and tournament modes as well. You'd think that winning the tournament would treat you to a special ending, but no, this is an EA game, so you don't get squat. The Brad Nessler/Dick Vitalle commentary is disappointing. The comments are sparse and generic, although I did smile when Dick said "You don't get any points for replay but it still looks great!" I think college basketball fans will overlook the flaws in March Madness 2003 and enjoy it for what it is. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA March Madness 2004
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
March Madness 2004 has a lot of rough edges, but the game is still awfully fun, thanks to its smooth animation, incredible moves, and well-conceived control scheme. The players could be better detailed, but their body movements are uncanny and fun to watch. The coaches look very
generic - most look like George W. Bush. The cheerleaders appear to have canvas potato sacks covering their faces - scary! It's readily apparent that the developers at EA spent the bulk of their effort on the mascots, which do look terrific I must admit. Players can execute almost any move imaginable, including jump-hooks, finger rolls, give-and-gos, dives for loose balls, and hops to the basket. There are separate buttons for dunks and jump shots, and this is a terrific idea. I was able to execute alley-oops without too much difficulty, and the foul shooting system is by far the best I've ever seen. EA's patented "freestyle" right joystick control lets you perform some fancy dribble moves, but the player always stops after making his move instead of continuing to the hoop, and that really sucks! Likewise, players always stop and turn around whenever they receive passes, killing most fast break opportunities. Other flaws include far too many blocks, almost zero offensive rebounds, no tie-ups, and you can't tell if a foul call is offensive or defensive. There are over 320 schools and a wide variety of playing modes, including Season, Mascot games, Rival Games, individual tournaments, and an incredibly deep Dynasty mode, which lets you take charge of coaching and recruiting. There are several issues with the Season mode, including problems customizing your players and a horrible scheduling algorithm that often schedules back-to-back games against the same opponent! The ranking stinks as well. There are also a slew of options and sliders, but some of the more desirable options (like adjusting block and steal frequency) are nowhere to be found. Another annoyance is how the game prompts you for the same information every time
you play, including your favorite team and the file name of your season. And since it's an EA game, you can expect some excruciating
load times. In terms of audio, Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler do a superb job and are very amusing to listen to (although Dick is always calling for a replay after you've already skipped it). It's far from perfect, but March Madness 2004 has an arcade sensibility that's appealing, and the multi-player matches are particularly enjoyable. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
NCAA March Madness 2005
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
In past years I've given March Madness (MM) the benefit of the doubt, but in its fourth year on the PS2, there's no excuse for its blatant oversights. Apparently EA dedicated most of its energy to the obligatory "Dynasty Mode", which lets you control every aspect of the team, from training to recruiting, for over 30 seasons. That's a lot of time to dedicate to a single game, and casual gamers will not be impressed. Regrettably, MM's basic gameplay is largely unchanged from previous editions, and some of the new bells and whistles actually get in the way
. At its core, March Madness isn't a bad game. I like how the right joystick is used for special dribble moves, but WHY are there two shoot buttons? One is for jump shots, and one is for dunks, and I always manage to hit the wrong one. Some of the animations are very impressive, like the rebounding and tip-ins around the hoop. Timeouts are like the real thing, initiating a 30 second timer before play resumes. Unfortunately, the action lacks the smooth flow of a real game. Slowdown occurs during steals, and players inexplicably pause during passes and special dribbles, killing what should be easy scoring opportunities. The icon passing doesn't work during throw-ins, so getting the ball in can be frustrating. And where are the [expletive] head coaches?! It's as if EA said, "People complained about how bad they looked last year, so hell with it, we'll just remove them altogether!" I don't understand how a game can have cheerleaders and every possible mascot but no coaches! Their absence is especially conspicuous during the time-outs, where one player seems to be coaching the rest of the team. Next, we have those gratuitous "screen wipes" that flash the team logos between possessions and after replays. Not only do these things create unnecessary lulls in the action, but you can't even turn them off on the option screen! How aggravating. And what's up with the camera angles? Sure, I was able to find something decent after fiddling around for a half hour, but you'd think the default camera would be playable (it's not). The "arena pulse" feature is also ill-advised. When you see the screen shaking, you'll think it's a glitch in the program. Finally, there are the excruciating load times EA is infamous for. They must be using the same slow-ass load algorithms they've been using since the PS1. On a positive note, March Madness excels in the sound department. Unlike most sports title with their trendy rap or alternative soundtracks, March Madness incorporates terrific college band renditions of popular songs. In addition, the two-man commentary (including the one-and-only Dick Vitalle) does a fantastic job. But overall, March Madness 2005 feels like a step back, making it hard to recommend. As a big college hoops fan, I'm frustrated by the series' lack of improvement. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2002)
In the past, Sega's NFL 2K series has always compared favorably to Madden, but this year I think Madden may have an edge. NFL 2K3 is more visually appealing and has better commentary, but Madden beats it in nearly every other regard. The first thing you'll notice about 2K3 is how it begins like an ESPN SportsCenter show. I love the TV-style presentation and music, but Sega doesn't use this to its full potential. Instead of having anchors and highlights during halftime, you just get a few statistic screens with voiceovers. On the field, the action looks superb. You can clearly see the players' faces and their expressions, and even the coaches look good. Gamers new to Sega's football series will dig the silky smooth animation and deep play-by-play, but frankly, it's old news to Dreamcast veterans. The action is more arcade-like than Madden, with harder hits and high-flying bodies. Players dive further, tip passes frequently, and escape tackles more often. The result is less realism but more excitement. The animation is often amazing, despite some obvious slowdown and occasional hiccups in the framerate. The stadiums don't look as good as Madden, and the turf looks a bit fake, although I do like how cloud shadows creep over the field. The camera could be better, as you tend to lose wide receivers off the edges of the screen. Defensive controls are severely lacking. Pass coverage is fine, but there are no special moves for the defensive linemen, so you can't do much with them. The playbook isn't as deep as Madden. For example, there's no goal line offense, and you can't set up to return a kick left or right. There are a few minor annoyances as well. I once saw a ball pass through
a defender's head
, which rarely happens in real life. Also, I hate how time-outs or end-of-quarter whistles seem to cut off the end of a play. I was diving into the end zone at the end of one quarter when the view immediately switched over to the guys running off the field like nothing had happened. And here's another request for Sega: please let us know if a touchdown has indeed been scored. Sometimes the players seemed to stand around clueless, and I have to look at the scoreboard just to see if I made it in! Commentary is good as usual for an NFL 2K game, but really no better than past editions. Finally, there's no way to challenge calls on the field, a feature that is
in Madden. Overall NFL 2K3 is still a good game, but Madden is clearly better in terms of control and overall gameplay. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
If you don't think NFL Street is an absolute blast, you must not be a sports fan, because this game is unreal. It redefines the term "smash-mouth football", with no-holds-barred gameplay, body-crunching hits, and an unprecedented level of trash talking and hot-dogging. This game is NFL Blitz on steroids. And despite the fact that it's made by Electronic Arts, this is NOTHING like Madden. It's a seven-on-seven contest with no yard markers, no clock (you play to 36 points), no kicking, and absolutely no penalties. Teams are composed of actual NFL players with highly exaggerated physiques. The playing fields range from urban areas with brick walls lining the field, to warehouses with poles, to a scenic beach with waves lapping against the sidelines. Unfortunately, only two of the eight fields are available from the outset, and most are not very exciting. A streamlined playbook lets you set up run, pass, and trick plays on offense. Since most hand-offs and pitch-backs are automatic, you can execute complicated plays like double-reverses and flea flickers with ease. I appreciate the large number of "option" plays, normally seen only in the college game. On defense, you select a formation to defend against the run, long pass, or short pass. The action is fast and furious, and the ball gets fumbled all over the place. Besides the turbo button, there's also a "style" button that lets you taunt your opponents at the risk of fumbling the ball. Exhibiting "style" builds up you gamebreaker meter, which when full allows your team to whoop the other team's ass for several plays. It's a cool feature with a lot of strategic value. The controls are simple to learn, although Madden veterans will need to change gears a bit. For example, the triangle is now used to lateral the ball (not jump), and I always find myself hitting it out of habit. The animation is fluid and it's fairly easy to follow the action. Unlike most football games, playing two-on-two works out quite well. NFL Street is a rip-roaring good time that won me and my friends over completely. It was all we played for weeks! © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
It's been quite a while since I've been really psyched about a new hockey game. Oh sure, the yearly offerings from EA and 2K Sports are usually okay, but hardly what I'd call addictive. What's cool about NHL 06 is how it appeals to arcade-minded gamers like myself. Using the Quick Play option, you can dive into games that are relatively short, easy to play, and action-packed. The penalties and stoppages in play are minimal, so you won't have to sit through endless face-offs as you do in other games. It's also refreshing not having to tinker with the options and sliders for once. Even the default camera angle is ideal - it's as close as it can be without restricting your view of the rink. Hockey fanatics looking for more realism can adjust the multitude of options to their heart's content, and set up their own seasons and dynasties. Just be aware that saving a season will take up more than half
of your memory card (damn you EA!). The controls are right on target. Although at first I didn't like the idea of two shot buttons (wrist and slap shot), now I can appreciate why it's designed that way. Slap shots can be "wound up" for maximum strength, but wrist shots use more finesse, allowing you to angle your shots with precision. I love the little target that appears in the back of the goal, leaving no doubt where you're aimed. I also like how when you race down the rink with the puck, you only have intermittent possession of it. That's far more realistic than having the puck magically "stick" to your player. The enthusiastic two-man commentator team always has something to say, and tend to work themselves into a tizzy. On the downside, body checks are relatively weak, and the computer AI is questionable. At the end of one close game, the CPU allowed me to run out the entire final minute without even making an effort to get the puck. The menu navigation controls are strangely unresponsive, and the options for pulling/returning your goalie are confusing. Finally, I think I have an obligation to talk about the "retro" NHL '94 game that's also included on this disk. Initially this seemed to be a fantastic bonus. As a huge fan of the original Genesis version, I still regard NHL '94 as the best hockey game ever conceived. Playing this emulated version however, I was aghast
to witness slow action, sluggish controls, and sound effects that would abruptly cut out. After my friend Steve N. and I forced ourselves to play this mess, we then pulled out the old Genesis and cranked up the original version. Sure enough, it was ten times better, delivering fast, furious action and pinpoint control. We were jumping around and hooting just like the old days. EA deserves to be lambasted
for including such a substandard version of this classic game! And the thing is, it's their game
, not some throwaway title they licensed from another company! Unforgivable! I fear younger gamers may equate this inferior version to the original, which would be a crime. All in all, the main game of NHL 06 is fine, but this so-called "bonus" left a very bad taste in my mouth. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2000)
With all the hype surrounding Madden 2001, NHL 2001 gets lost in the shuffle, but it's certainly of the same calibur. If you thought the graphics in Madden were impressive, you'll freak when you see these hockey players. Their faces are better animated than the Madden players, and these guys actually talk to each other and chew gum. The shiny helmets and photo-realistic uniforms make you feel like you're watching the real thing. The TV-style presentation includes players entering from the tunnel, watching the game from the bench, and even interacting with the coach. The action in the rink is super smooth, although a bit sluggish. The controls are responsive enough, but it can be difficult to locate your teammates with the default camera angle. Still, if any aspect of the game isn't to your liking, chances are you can tweak it with the extensive options menu. The play-by-play is also very good and a big step up from Madden, but the fighting stinks - it looks like a Rock-em Sock-em robots fight! Still, NHL 2001 plays a good game, and you don't necessarily have to be a hockey fan to enjoy it. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Electronic Arts (EA) continues its popular hockey series with NHL 2002, featuring improved graphics and better control over last year's version. The graphics are so detailed that you can even see the players breathing! The fans look three dimensional (in close-ups anyway), and you can see them eating, drinking, dancing, and even waving foam #1 fingers. The control is actually improved from last year thanks to a shooting meter that gives you precision aiming. While the sound effects are fair (including players yelling at each other), the commentary is painfully bad! The play-by-play guy is fine, but the color commentator absolutely sucks. Not only does he fail to provide any insight into the game, his comments are also moronic and irritating! It might have been tolerable if he was funny, but he's not. This year's edition also includes a series of unwanted extras. The new "breakaway camera" (you vs. the goalie) is supposed to add drama but instead is slow and annoying. Turn it off. Like last year, the fighting is horrible and unrealistic, and the instant replay system is remarkably confusing. Another thing I noticed is the lack of a good camera angle. The more distant cameras give you a better view of the action, but sacrifice the graphic details. On a positive note, the automatic replays are awesome, showing you that devastating hit over and over again. Game highlights are displayed during breaks in the action, complete with graphics and slow motion. Despite a few quirks, NHL 2002 still holds its own when it comes to hockey action. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
It's not much to watch on television, but the sport of hockey makes for one hell of a video game. Although not as fun as the classic hockey titles from the 16-bit era, I must admit that the modern hockey games look terrific. In NHL 2005, the animated player faces look incredibly lifelike, and even the fans and coaches look respectable. The gameplay is somewhat arcade-ish, so you don't need a deep understanding of the game to enjoy it. It can be confusing however that there are two
shoot buttons: wrist shot and slap shot. I didn't know what the difference was until I heard the commentators discuss it. Apparently the slap shot is weaker but quicker to get off, and that's important because it's hard to maintain control of the puck in the vicinity of the net. My favorite aspect of NHL 2005 is definitely the "hit stick", which lets you use the right joystick to deliver vicious body checks. One time I even popped a player's helmet off! NHL 2005's passing controls are crisp, and your teammates do a good job of avoiding offside penalties. Unlike so many hockey games of the past, it's not particularly hard to score in NHL 2005, which is refreshing. My main beef concerns the choppy puck animation. It can be very hard to follow, especially after a shot. It's not unusual to lose track of the puck or wonder how
in the heck you scored a goal! Unfortunately, the instant replay is just as jerky! I suspect EA's been recycling the same hockey "engine" since NHL 2001. In contrast, Sega's ESPN NHL 2K5 maintains a silky smooth frame-rate at all times, and it makes all the difference. In terms of sound, I recommend turning down NHL 2005's lousy music and mediocre two-man commentating, but crank up the "on ice" sound effects. The crisp sound of scraping ice, players being slammed on the boards, and the "clicking" sound of the puck are very appealing. NHL 2005 plays respectably and looks great, but if they want to compete with Sega, it's time for EA to get off their lazy asses and create a new engine for this thing. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2005)
I'm usually willing to give 2K Sports the benefit of the doubt because I appreciate their very reasonable $20 price point. But compared to NHL 06 from EA, NHL 2K6 is a bit of a drag. The graphics aren't as sharp, the presentation is lacking, and the gameplay could use a shot of adrenaline. The default camera angle is pulled way
back, giving you an excessively wide view of the rink that makes it hard to follow the puck. In fact, although puck is surrounded by gray patch, I still
lost track of it periodically. The players don't look very detailed and have huge colored circles underneath of them. The body checks are satisfying enough and the passing controls are exact, but I found getting off shots (especially one-timers) to be problematic. For a game that seems aimed for an arcade audience, NHL 2K6 sure has a complicated control scheme. The manual has about 15 pages of control diagrams and explanations! And guess what new features were added this year? You guessed it - additional controls! This should keep the die-hards busy, but I'll stick to my "classic" controls, thank you. NHL 2K6's action is generally fast and smooth, but more often than not there are unsightly stutters in the framerate. The pixelated, 2D crowd could also use some work, and the commentators are so low-key that it sounds as if they're reading off cue cards. I was initially intrigued by the "party mode", but its mini-games are uneven in quality and the load times between them are painful. NHL 2K6 isn't a bad game per se, but I definitely have to give the edge to NHL 06 this year. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Midway (2001)
NHL Hitz does for hockey what NFL Blitz did for football and what NBA Jam did for basketball. It threw out the boring stuff like penalties and face-offs, and intensified the good stuff, like violent hits, blistering shots, and wild fights. For years I've searched for a hockey game that approached the fun factor of NHL 94 (Genesis), and I think this is a close as I'll get. Sure EA's NHL games are realistic, but they won't get your adrenaline flowing like this. NHL Hitz is full of smooth, non-stop action, incredible animations, and addictive gameplay. Take my word for it - this game rocks! Helmets fly, players scuffle, and ferocious body checks send bodies THROUGH the glass! The rink is a bit narrow, which allows you to get a good perspective on the action. The arena only has a few hundred fans, but at least they look realistic (not cardboard cut-outs!). The controls are simple, and shoulder buttons activate your turbo. The smart-ass announcer from NFL Blitz is back with more funny quips, although he tends to repeat himself after a while. Like Blitz and Jam, players can catch on fire if they get in a "zone". My biggest complaint is that that you can't configure the length of the games. They tend to run a bit long, and all the crazy button mashing can take its toll on your hand. Also, some complain that the gameplay is repetitive. Still, arcade and sports enthusiasts will absolutely love this killer game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2001)
This compilation contains arcade-perfect adaptations of Namco's greatest hits, including Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Galaxian, Dig Dug, and Pole Position. Pac-Attack and Pac-Mania are also included but locked. Old-school games like these are best suited to a good joystick, except for Pole Position which was really designed for a steering wheel. One thing's for sure: you will never grow tired of playing these timeless gems. For those who already own these games, this disk includes "arranged" versions of Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug. These new, turbo-charged versions incorporate additional stages, flashy graphics, and power-ups. While not as challenging or addictive, I will commend these games for staying true to the spirit of the originals. Otherwise the compilation feels pretty light, especially compared to the Namco Museum collection for the Playstation One which contained 29 games and a ton of historical material (spread over five volumes). Apparently Namco forgot the museum! There aren't many options to play around with, and no auto-save for high scores. Namco didn't exactly go all-out with this compilation, but it certainly contains some heavy hitters that every gamer should own. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Namco used their 50th anniversary as an excuse to unleash yet another
collection of old arcade hits. This disk is largely a retread of the previous Namco Museum (PS2, 2001), containing arcade-perfect renditions of classics like Pac-Man, Galaga, Pole Position, and Dig Dug. This Anniversary edition does include a few games not found on the previous museum, including Dragon Spirit, Bosconian, Rolling Thunder, Mappy, and Sky Kid. If you own the Namco Museum disks for the PS1 however, the only new titles you'll find are Rolling Thunder and Sky Kid. Sky Kid is crap, but Rolling Thunder is a pretty amazing side-scroller with huge sprites and exciting gunplay. There's one locked title, Pac-Mania, but unlocking it is a wild goose chase. Once you think you've met the initial requirements (like scoring 40K in Galaga), it tells you to do something else (like score 20K in Ms. Pac-Man). You can save your high scores, but there's no auto-save. To make this appear like less of a blatant rehash, Namco incorporated an arcade machine user interface and an upbeat 80's soundtrack. The catchy tunes include "She Drives Me Crazy", "Come On Eileen", and "Everybody's Working For The Weekend". Namco Anniversary might be considered a money grab, but it's hard to find anything objectionable about this collection of oldies-but-goodies. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
This arcade-oriented racer is the one gamers have been waiting for. If you're like me, you're tired of the Gran Turismo "garage" system, which requires you to buy lousy cars and earn licenses before you can even enter a race. In Hot Pursuit 2, you get down to business immediately. The Championship mode lets you race against seven other cars, and as you win races new tracks and cars open up automatically. The new Hot Pursuit mode throws a multitude of kamikaze police cars at you for some frantic cat and mouse action. Both modes are fun and deliver totally different gameplaying experiences. The cars handle well, but if you want them to incur damage, you'll need to enable it on the option menu. One aspect of the game I was less crazy about were the excessively long
tracks. Each lap can take several minutes, and losing a five-lap race down the stretch can be downright heartbreaking. At least the scenery is attractive, including a nice seaside resort and scenic national park. The hard-rocking background music is genuinely good and gets your adrenaline pumping. In case you have multiple consoles, I'd highly recommend getting the Playstation 2 version over the others. The graphics are more vibrant than the washed-out Xbox version, the control feels better, and you get a few extra modes such as "You Be the Cop". Overall, Hot Pursuit 2 provides some high-speed, thrilling racing action. I'll take this over Gran Turismo and Nascar any day. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
As much as I despised
the first Contra game for the PS2 (Shattered Solider, 2002), I absolutely love
Neo Contra. This is arguably the best pure shooter for the Playstation 2. Predictably, the action takes place in a futuristic world of mechanical beasts and hideous bosses. The high overhead view provides a good vantage point as you splatter enemy troops and shoot down aircraft that explode brilliantly. The single player mode is furious and violent, and the two-player simultaneous action is twice the fun. Your main weapon is a rapid-fire gun, but you also have grenades and guided missiles. The control scheme is perfect, with shoulder buttons that allow you to strafe or remain in place while shooting. Although Neo Contra is mainly linear, you can select the stage ordering and certain stages have multiple paths. In addition to the thrilling run-and-gun action, one stage also lets you ride on galloping reptiles. In one particularly over-the-top scene, your man must scurry around on the blades of a flying helicopter's propellers! Now there's something you don't see everyday! Some readers may recall that my biggest beef with Shattered Soldier was its overemphasis on bosses, and although Neo has its share, they all can be defeated in a reasonable amount of time. Another major improvement is that when you die, you restart close to where you left off. On the downside, the cut scenes are not even worth watching, and could the voice actors speak their lines any slower
? Personally, I think it's time to do away with these obligatory cinematics - does every game really need a storyline? Neo Contra can certainly stand on its own without one. It's an adrenaline rush from beginning to end - a supremely satisfying exhibition of destruction and gore. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Neo Geo Battle Coliseum
Publisher: SNK Playmore (2005)
After playing so many King of Fighters games, I'm not really sure what to make of Neo Geo Coliseum. It's a weird 2D fighter with a hodgepodge of characters, not unlike Capcom's Fighting Evolution (PS2, 2004). The competitors hail from old SNK franchises like Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and World Heroes, but mostly King of Fighters (KOF). The fighting action feels
like King of Fighters, except the screen scales in and out like Samurai Shodown. The arcade mode has some unconventional rules. Your team consists of only two fighters, and the object is to dispose of as many enemies as you can within a time limit (usually five minutes). Your number of wins servers as your final score. The game ends abruptly when either of your characters is defeated, so you need to swap them in and out as necessary. A "tag mode" is also included which plays more like a traditional King of Fighters game. Stick with the arcade mode though, because its quirky rules are what makes Neo Geo Battle Coliseum unique. In contrast to KOF games which limited you to human opponents, Coliseum might pit you against an oversized robot or a green jellyfish. Yeah, it can get pretty silly. And if you think the sword-wielding warriors from Samurai Shodown have an unfair advantage over unarmed foes, well, you're right.
Some characters have some incredibly cheap attacks, such as making a giant bell fall on your head from out of nowhere (ouch). Coliseum's crisp backgrounds tend to be high-tech in nature, and they are hard to describe but easy to forget. I guess my favorite is probably the huge satellite dish with the snowy mountains in the distance. The quirky Cool Cool Town stage looks like the worst amusement park ever. Neo Geo Battle Coliseum definitely leans toward the "gimmick" end of the fighting spectrum, but if you're into this kind of thing, it offers a nice change of pace. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2002)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
Demons have conquered the nation of Tenshin and kidnapped the beautiful princess. Fortunately, two pistol-packing ninjas
have stepped up to save the day. Judging from the ridiculous storyline, you'd think this was an old NES title. Since when do ninjas carry guns? But if you can overlook the absurdity of it all, you're in for some wild shooting action. Ninja Assault is to Onimusha Warlords what House of the Dead was to Resident Evil. Set in feudal Japan, you face all kinds of ninjas including ninja archers, ninjas on parachutes, disappearing ninjas, surfing ninjas, and even fat ninjas! What's next - cross-dressing ninjas?! This motley crew is accompanied by an array of freaky creatures like mechanical spiders, giggling gremlins, and flaming foxes. There are plenty of projectiles flying at you in the form of arrows and throwing stars, but these are easy to see and shoot down. Ninja Assault has several elements that set it apart from other light gun games. Your targets have life meters above them, which is a terrific idea. Unlike House of the Dead where your enemies approach slowly, most of these enemies are tough to hit because they tend to hide and dart between obstacles. You won't get an easy shot until they're bearing down upon you. Ninja Assault is great fun, but the graphics and sound are pretty weak - this looks more like a PS1 game. I guess for a light gun game they serve their purpose. The game fails to convey much atmosphere, with the exception of the haunted forest night sequence. There's a chapter-selectable story mode, an arcade mode, and some so-so mini-games, but this game isn't strong in the replay department. Ninja Assault is one of those guilty pleasures for light gun fans. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online