Sports Champions Review
Posted by Corbie Dillard
Will it make you want to Move?
When Sony announced it was developing a motion controller for PlayStation 3, it certainly didn't shock anyone to see a collection of motion-controlled sports games to go along with it. While comparisons to Nintendo's Wii Remote and Wii Sports Resort are inevitable, it might be a bit more fair to compare it to the original Wii Sports. While there are some good activities that do a nice job of showing off the Move's motion control capabilities, the package comes off feeling a bit light on content for a full-blown retail release.
If there's one event that stands out from the pack in Sports Champions it's the Archery. Not only does the Move controller provide just the level of accuracy and response you need for this type of activity, the presentation and variations are top notch as well. Not only is there timed competitions where you can earn points, there are also moving targets and hindrances that will try to block your arrows. As a solo experience it's quite fun, but if you want some intense competition, round up a few players to go at it in one of the speed rounds. The game will even allow you the option of using two Move controllers to add even more realism to the experience if you have a spare handy. If you're looking to show off the precision of the Move controller, this is the event you want to play.
Disc Golf is another event that's designed quite well, offering plenty of fun as a solo or multiplayer experience. There's really only one 18-hole course, but it's broken down into sections that range from heavy forest to solid ice that makes things a bit slippery. Tossing the disc is quite intuitive using the Move controller: you control how hard you throw the disc and can even curve your shots by tossing the disc at an angle. You'll soon find this handy when you reach holes on the course that bend and curve around and place the goal out of reach of a straight throw. Much like the Archery, this is another fun activity for times when you want a solo experience, although the AI can be a bit too easy to beat on the regular settings and somewhat cheap on a higher difficulty setting.
Beach Volleyball is one of those sports that's tough to replicate in a video game for some reason. While the actual moves themselves are easily performed using the Move controller, the game itself handles your character's location on the court. You will get to control the direction of a dig or what side your character will spike or serve to, but for the most part you'll be going through the motions of putting your hands up or bumping to set up your spiker. As a solo experience, it's fun and challenging going through the various Cup tournaments, but you won't really get into the action until you bring in some additional players. That's when the action really heats up and feels a bit more authentic. You'll even be tossed a few challenges from time to time that will let you serve at targets to earn points. It's a small touch, but a nice diversion from the main game.
Gladiator Duel proves to be a much shallower experience than you'd expect from an event of this type. This is yet another event where can choose to use one or two Move controllers, with two controllers once again offering up a more intuitive and realistic experience. That being said, one controller still works adequately once you get used to using a button for your shield. While there is a bit of strategy involved, most of the fighting is basically swinging away at your opponent and hoping to land a few blows in between their flailing around. If you can find an opponent that's a bit more skilled it can make for a much more intense fight rather than going at it with someone who's just wildly swinging their controller. The game will allow you to use a special move or power attack from time to time, but it ultimately doesn't add a whole lot to a fighting event that quickly turns repetitive once you've experienced all it has to offer.
Bocce Ball will probably be the one game in the package that many people will not have heard of, or at least not be familiar with how to play. Basically it consists of you tossing a small ball, called a Pallino, out onto a court and then trying to roll your four larger balls closer to it than your opponent. You'll even be able to earn additional points for every ball you manage to get closer than any of your opponent's balls. It might seem rather shallow at first, but once you learn how to put spin on your balls, not to mention knock your opponent's balls away from the Pallino, you'll soon see how strategic and fun it can be. The motion controls are extremely simple and put most of the emphasis on how hard you toss the ball forward and twisting your wrists to impart spin on the throws. This is definitely a game you'll get far more out of with at least one other player as playing the CPU can get a bit tedious after a short time.
Table Tennis is a game that tends to transfer to the video game world fairly realistically. You can control the forehand and backhand, but you'll also be able to impart spin in much the same way as you would in real life by coming up over the ball for topspin or coming down on the backside of the ball for backspin. The game will even allow you to step forward to move in on short balls or step backwards to reach lobs. While the competition starts off fairly tame, you'll find the AI opponents in later cups downright nasty in terms of intensity and skill level. As with most other events, you'll find the game far more fun taking on human opponents and you'll also likely get a bit more variety that way as well. Just remember not to stand too closely to the other players unless you're looking for a black eye.
Even with only six activities to tackle in the game, the developers have still managed to add some depth and incentive to the experience by including unlockable characters and mini games to keep you coming back for more, and there's a wealth of trophies to unlock too. Couple these extras with a very smooth and responsive play control system and you've got a package that not only does a nice job of showing off the Move's capabilities, but also offer a fun gaming experience that should appeal to a very wide range of people.
It's tough to tell what the developers were going for when they put the visual presentation of the game together. Some parts of the game show an impressive level of detail and polish whereas others look like they were tossed together quickly with little detail and even less shading or lighting effects. What makes this stand out even more are the fairly detailed characters that inhabit the areas. In truth, it's not a big deal considering the type of game, but a little more spit and polish might have paid off in the finished product given the game's realistic look.
The music and sound effects are a lot like the visuals in the way they seem to be hit and miss. There are some fantastic orchestral musical tracks in the game, but at times they feel like they should be playing out in an RPG rather than a sports package. There are also a lot of times when no music is playing at all, which can make it easier to concentrate but gives the game a rather bland feeling. The players don't do much in the way of voicing any dialogue, but you'll certainly get plenty of groans and grunts as you take on the various challenges.
Sports Champions does a nice job of showing off the capabilities of Sony's new Move controller, but with only six sporting events to tackle, you might feel a bit short-changed. Granted it's included with the Starter Pack in North America, but in territories where it's a separate retail release it's undeniably limited. Some events are obviously more enjoyable and playable than others, but if you can manage to round up some friends and want to show off that new Move controller, Sports Champions should do the job, at least as long as you can keep your expectations in check.