The furore surrounding the introduction of new motion peripherals back in 2010 meant that the excellent Sports Champions got lost in the shuffle. Sony pushed the mini-game compilation as the first must-have title for the PlayStation Move, but post-release discussion almost always centred on the title’s technology rather than the game itself. As a result, developer Zindagi Games’ console debut never quite got the recognition it deserved.
With the excitement surrounding new motion hardware now a thing of the past, Sports Champions 2 has the opportunity to stand out as a game and not a show-piece – but does the sequel impress like its predecessor did two years ago?
Part of the problem with the original game was its forgettable art direction. Our Sports Champions 2 demo only included the skiing, golf and tennis mini-games (the full title will also include archery, boxing and bowling), but even from our limited hands-on, we got the impression that Zindagi had really taken the visual complaints to heart. Gone are the sterile arenas from the original game, and they have been replaced by more stylistic environments. These improvements are perhaps most noticeable during the skiing mini-game, as you rush down courses with swirling winds and bright colours filling the screen. It still doesn’t quite have that over-the-top presentation that we’d prefer from a game like this, but it certainly looks a lot better than the original.
The bland, stereotypical protagonists from the first title have also been scrapped, with a new avatar creation system included in their place. We didn’t get the opportunity to try out this component, but the idea is that you build up a unique character over the course of the game, unlocking new clothes and accessories as you complete events and win tournaments.
Other changes include the removal of the three-piece calibration sequence, which has been replaced by a single one-step process that only needs to be completed once. You can hop freely between sports without ever needing to recalibrate and, as always with the Move controller, the quality of the calibration doesn’t tend to degrade over time. Sony’s motion wand may not be particularly original in concept, but it remains a thoroughly impressive piece of hardware when put in the right hands.
That’s evidenced by the tennis event, which was our first port of call. Numerous PS3 tennis titles have attempted to implement motion controls into their gameplay, but so far all have come up short. Top Spin 4 failed by focusing on its DualShock 3 controls, while Virtua Tennis 4 resigned its implementation to a throwaway mini-game. Sports Champions 2 is in the unique position of being able to fully flesh-out its integration, and the quality shows.
Just like in the original’s exceptional table tennis mode, the sequel allows you to twist and turn your racquet with exact precision. The controller knows exactly which way you’re orienting your arm, which gives you unparalleled accuracy when it comes to placing shots. Serving is completed by making a tossing motion, and playing the ball before gravity brings it back down to the ground.
The pace of the game was a little bit slow during our hands-on, but that may be because of the difficulty level that was selected. The previous title gradually reduced the number of active assists enabled as you progressed through the campaign – essentially turning the table tennis mode into a full simulation – so we wouldn’t be surprised if the same occurred in Sports Champions 2.
Despite the slow speed, however, shot selection is surprisingly accurate. Hitting over the ball allows you to perform top-spin shots, while cushioning forehands or cutting through backhands gives you slice. You can scoop underneath the ball to perform a lob shot, and also place the position of your shots by angling your wrist in the direction you want the ball to go.
The accuracy feels good. We spent approximately 45 minutes attempting to place different shots into the corners of the court, and found that most of our returns would reach their intended target. You can approach the net by pulling down the T-button, and volleying feels equally precise. Cushioning a careful drop-shot into the opponent’s court is supremely satisfying.
The AI wasn’t especially strong during our hands-on – missing shots that were played without pace into their forehand – but, again, we’re not entirely sure what difficulty level was being used. Hopefully the game gets much more challenging on later stages.
While we spent most of our time with Sports Champions 2 playing tennis, we also took a moment to sample the other modes on offer. Golf feels good, with power and fade determined by the strength and straightness of your swing. Meanwhile, skiing is perhaps the most contrived of the three sports so far, with a ridiculous amount of gestures introduced. Squatting allows you to increase speed, while lifting the controller in the air makes you jump. We sampled the game with two controllers, but it can also be played with one. It’s fun racing down snowy hill-tops, but while the tennis and golf mini-games come close to recreating their real world activities, you never really feel like you’re skiing, which makes the event’s inclusion somewhat questionable.
From what we’ve seen, though, Sports Champions 2 seems promising. The game not only looks better, it’s also significantly easier to set-up too. Not having to calibrate after each activity is a fantastic improvement, and it doesn’t seem to have come with any accuracy compromises. Both tennis and golf feel great and, as big fans of The Fight: Lights Out, we’re eager to see how the boxing fares as well.