Tournament Dreams College Basketball Review

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Publisher: .400 Software Studios
Developer: .400 Software Studios

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM, 16 MB 3D video card, 750 MB HD space

Are you one of those armchair coaches who'd love to see what it's like to manage a college basketball team? Are you positive that you have the eye for talent that would take your favorite team to the national championship? Then Tournament Dreams College Basketball was made for you. This accurate coaching simulation is not without its problems, but if you are willing to wade through the bugs, you'll be rewarded with a rich, realistic experience, with more statistics than you know what to do with. March Madness is just around the corner, so check out the demo of this game to see if you've got what it takes to battle toward the national championship.

Solomon Dirigible

.400 Software Studios offers Tournament Dreams College Basketball to the gamer who cares less about glitzy graphics and arcade-style gameplay than an experience driven by realism and control. The concept is unique, and the depth of control offered is impressive. However, bugs do affect the game and will leave you desperately searching the company's (admittedly helpful) tech support forums for solutions. Overall, Tournament Dreams College Basketball presents a truly unique gaming experience, perfect for a specifically targeted group of sports game fans. The problems with crashing and errors, unfortunately, mean that only the most dedicated of gamers will take the time to seek out solutions and play this brilliant game for any length of time.

Once you've gotten the game loaded, you'll be introduced to the TDCB interface. To a large extent, this is a role-playing game based in the world of college basketball. Your role is that of head coach, and the first thing you'll have to do is select your team. Once you've chosen your team, you'll open your email inbox, which serves as the conduit for all the information you'll need. Everything you'll need to access, from your team's general info, to its roster, to the gameplay options, is accessible from a row of buttons on the top of the screen. This universal interface makes the game very easy to navigate, as you can get from any one category to any other with a single click of the mouse. The screen is laid out in an understandable way, and the use of your email inbox as the method by which to relay information to you is a nice touch. The instructions for setting up your dynasty are included in your first few emails. Simply follow the clearly written instructions contained within, and you'll be up and running in no time. The ease with which you can get into the game is a definite plus for TDCB.

Team Creation and Development

One of your first steps is customizing the out-of-conference schedule for your team. Whereas in other games you can simply select whomever you want to play, and whether or not you'll play them at home or away, in TDCB, the opposing team will have to agree to play you. After selecting the teams you'd like to play, you'll receive emails from the Athletic Directors of those teams telling you whether or not they've accepted your challenge. This subtlety offers a fantastic touch of realism, as, if you're a lower-echelon team, it will be difficult to convince an upper-echelon team to play you. This mirrors the real-life scenarios as top NCAA programs in major conferences often avoid playing high quality mid-major schools, for fear of suffering a bad loss that would affect their potential tournament seeding. Once you've figured out whom you're playing, it's time to figure out what kind of a team you are so you can strategize.

The control you have in choosing your team's style and, for lack of a better word, "personality" is astonishing. You are able to select from a number of slide-bars which alter such aspects of basketball as game tempo (half-court or fast break offense), offensive strategies (post-dominated or perimeter-dominated), defensive strategy (conservative half-court or full-court press), and substitution patterns (reactive or proactive), among others. You'll have to look over your team's roster and decide where the strengths of your team lie. The roster section of your interface includes ratings on each individual player in the form of both A-F grades and bar graph style scales. You can also select your starting five and determine the order of your subs. Again, the overwhelming level of control is something to be admired.

Once you've sorted out your players, figured out what kind of team you are going to be, and finished making the necessary adjustments, you'll be ready to actually coach some games. The game screen is similar to what you might see in an internet-broadcast of a college game. Rather than seeing the court in front of you, you'll see a scoreboard, a list of the players currently on the floor with an abridged list of their statistics, and a running text of the play-by-play. This is all enhanced by background sounds such as sneakers squeaking, balls bouncing, and cheers or jeers from the crowd. You'll be able to make substitutions, alter your gameplan, call time outs and generally do all the things for your team that a real-life head coach has control of. Overall, TDCB is a coaching sim, rather than a full-blown college basketball sim. The game interface is full of information and you really feel as though the decisions you make have a great influence on your team's play. For example, if a team is pounding you on the inside, you can change your defense to a 2-3 zone, and see a noticeable drop off in the number of points in the paint your opponent scores. If one of your players gets hot offensively, you can switch to an isolation-style offensive set to let him go one-on-one for a few possessions. The level of detail is so great that, at the end of a close game, you can direct your team to look for the three-pointer, inside basket, or the best available shot. You can also adjust the speed at which the game is simulated, so if you like, you can set the game to auto-coach, and crank up the game speed until it looks like your team needs you. The creators thought of everything. In fact, while the interface resembles an internet-broadcast, in many ways, it is superior in the amount of information available on the screen. Companies that manage broadcasts over the web of real-life NCAA games should take note of the style of TDCB. They could learn a few things.

Building a Dynasty

As in the real world of college basketball, recruiting is a huge part of the game – if you can't recruit the top talent, you're only going to go so far. TDCB presents the most detailed, involved recruiting interface in any game available. What's more, it maintains the accuracy of the college game, as you'll have to recruit during the season, as opposed to having a separate recruiting period. Rather than having "X" number of points to spend as you try to land top players, you're given a budget to manage. From the budget you have to apportion funds for campus visits, cell phone calls, and general recruiting, which has levels from "light" to "aggressive". The harder you pursue a player, the more likely you'll convince him to attend your school. Now there are hundreds of recruits generated each season, so to manage the recruits, you'll have to hire a scouting service.

The better teams will have more funds available, and will therefore be able to hire the more prominent scouting services, which will provide details about the high school stars. As you look over potential recruits, you can gauge their interest level based on a meter that appears on the screen, which is the quick and easy way. But if you want to get a better feel for what they think of your school, while at the same time demonstrating your interest in a player, you can call them on your cell phone. You'll be rewarded with a little speech bubble appearing by the prospect's picture, which will inform you of his state of mind. You can also use the recruiting interface to see if a player's stock is falling, rising, or remaining unchanged. This is useful, as some later bloomers can make great strides toward the end of the signing period. One of the interesting aspects to recruiting in-season is that your team's performance will directly affect your ability to recruit. For example, if one of your player's is suspended from the team (for academic reasons, for example) you may find a recruit telling you that he's leaning towards some other schools, because he's heard of some bad things happening on your team. Entwining the recruiting process with the season makes everything feel very real and connected.

Once you've finished the season, which includes national tournaments, you'll get some potential job offers in your inbox, and you can either accept one, or remain where you are. Either way, the next step is to outline the training plan for each of your players. TDCB includes the very detailed, hands-on training mode that many gamers have longed to see in other sports games. You allot up to 45 hours a week to each player in a number of different drills. Some drills are designed to improve quickness, some ball-handling, some add strength, some develop offensive or defensive awareness. You are able to divide the 45 hours among all the different drills, and the division of workouts is accurately reflected in your players' improvement. Having gotten your players on the road to improvement, it's time to take care of your coaching staff.

That's right. You not only have your players to think about, but you'll have to manage your staff. Your top assistants could leave to find better positions, and you'll have to replace them. On the other hand, one assistant coach might not be pulling his weight, and you might have to fire him and bring in some fresh blood. This is a small part of the game, but it adds greatly to the realism. Assistant coaches all have different strengths, so you may make coaching changes simply because you want a more defensive-minded assistant, for example. It's this kind of control that the developers were shooting for, and they definitely pulled it off.

Almost a Dream

Overall, Tournament Dreams College Basketball is the perfect game for gamers who are real fans of college basketball game, and want that feeling of complete control and realism that's largely absent from other games in the genre. The concept is brilliant, and largely well-executed, but the bugs and glitches detract a great deal from the experience. That the game has such potential and really could be one of the top sports world simulation-style games makes the errors and bugs all the more frustrating. Unfortunately, not every gamer will decide it's worth the effort of scouring the tech support forums for answers to the problems, and those who don't will be missing out on an excellent game. Personally, I think it is worth it, but I'll recommend that you download the free demo from the .400 Software Studios website. You should definitely check out the demo and, if you decide to buy the full version and brave the bugs, you'll be rewarded with a fantastic control and statistics driven gaming experience.

Updated 3/25/03:

The latest patch available from the Tournament Dreams College Basketball download website, update v1.30, has fixed virtually all the bugs.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 14, 2003 9:15 AM.

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