With the raptors deep in the tank and Vince Carter worth about as much as an elastic band on the trading block these days, midwinter basketball attention inevitably turns to college hoops.The U.S. national college basketball championships have everything the NBA lacks: high drama game after game, Cinderella stories and unpredictable upsets, and kids desperately trying to make their mark. The lack of superstar egos and off-court arrest warrants is refreshing, and the audience for college ball is massive. No surprise, then, that the video game world has picked up on this, offering up two college hoops sims, with more to follow.
NCAA Final Four 2003 and NCAA March Madness 2003 try to capture the chaos and energy of the real-life March Madness with varying degrees of success. Every top-level U.S. college team is available. (For obvious reasons there are no Canadian teams.) Both games also allow users to play just the championships or the entire season, which lets you live out your hoop dreams and take your tiny college team all the way to the Final Four.
Some unavoidable inconsistencies mar the games, though. Video-game basketball is fairly straightforward, but Final Four 2003 and March Madness 2003 should actually be harder to play. College players aren't nearly as skilled as their NBA counterparts, so logically there should be more missed shots and blown plays.
But there aren't. Both games are based on the framework of established NBA simulators, just with different jerseys attached to the players. There's a vague sameness about the players' looks -- these are college stars, so does anyone know who looks like what anyway? -- and a routineness about the game play itself. Those who schedule their vacations around March Madness will be thrilled at their ability to pretend to be, say, Gonzaga rather than the New York Knicks on the big screen, but beyond the jerseys and the presence of a marching band in the stands, the difference is minimal at best.
Given the high-flying antics of 17(!)- year-old hoop whiz and soon-to-be NBA number-one draft pick LeBron James, when will video-game manufacturers start making high school basketball sims? firstname.lastname@example.org
NCAA FINAL FOUR 2003 for PlayStation 2, $70. Rating: NNN; NCAA MARCH MADNESS 2003 for PlayStation 2, $70. Rating: NNN