The original Sports Champions may have been conceived as a direct response to the Wii Sports phenomenon, but beyond its surface accessibility it offered a subtlety that went missing on players looking for little more than a party game. Obfuscated by its shoddy art style and limited multiplayer options, the PlayStation Move launch title’s simulation leanings got overlooked – and it didn’t quite garner the universal acclaim it deserved as a result. Sports Champions 2 aims to strike a much better balance between casual and hardcore gameplay, with a roster of five new events and one returning favourite.
From the outset, it’s immediately obvious that the developer was burned by criticisms pertaining to the original game’s lacklustre art direction. High-definition it may have been, but it lacked personality – something that Sports Champions 2 possesses in abundance. You’re now given the option to create your own protagonist, selecting from a slew of different dress types and body models. Characters look distinctly Dreamworks-like, with whopping great jaw lines and disproportionate limbs. Meanwhile, environments are packed with distinguishing details, such as a bowling alley that’s surrounded by an aquarium filled with tropical fish. It doesn’t sound particularly practical, but it gives the title a much more interesting look.
Improved as it may be, though, the presentation is merely window dressing for the bevy of activities concealed within. Sports Champions 2 opts to toss out all of the original game’s events aside from archery, and introduces boxing, bowling, skiing, tennis and golf in their place. Each of these sports can be experienced in Free Play, Cup Mode or Party Play – the latter of which is a fast-paced four-player local multiplayer experience that finds you passing the controller around (or using multiple peripherals) in order to stage your own version of the Olympics in the comfort of your front room.
Depending on your social tolerance, you’ll spend most of your time with the game playing through the Cup Mode single-player campaign. As with the original title, this sees you working through a series of increasingly difficult cups in order to become the ultimate, ahem, sports champion in each event. Each cup contains six stages, spanning four ordinary opponents, a score challenge level, and a boss. You’ll earn stars depending on your performance on each stage, unlocking new gear to personalise your character along the way.
Unsurprisingly, Sports Champions 2 is a real showcase title for the PlayStation Move. Through a combination of witchcraft and sorcery, developer Zindagi Games has managed to enhance its already impressive motion control implementation from the original release. For starters, the three-piece calibration sequence has been completely removed, replaced by a simple one-time set-up procedure. Once you’ve calibrated for the first time, there’s no need to repeat the process as you switch between sports – the game simply works. You can recalibrate at any time should you need to, but we rarely found this was necessary. Unlike competing motion control products, the PlayStation Move maintains its initial calibration alarmingly well.
Playing the events on their basic difficulty levels activates a number of assists, which are gradually removed as you progress. Golf is great example of this; if you fail to strike the ball cleanly on the Champion Cup you’ll be severely punished by an accurate degree of fade, whereas the Bronze Cup will let you get away with sliced shots relatively unscathed. The other activities incorporate a similar difficulty curve, as tennis takes into the account the speed, follow-through and angle of your swing, while bowling analyses your approach with much more detail. The game gets fairly difficult – for example, we worked up an unexpected sweat trying to overcome the boss of the tennis gold cup.
The accuracy is impressive throughout, but some events do fare better than others. Skiing is perhaps the most contrived of the set, prompting you to replicate outlandish gestures in order to pump your way down slopes and perform flips off ramps. It’s a shame that the sport is so poorly implemented, because it’s actually the best looking of the six. The sense of speed as you race down colourful mountaintops is impressive, but the controls aren’t accurate enough to complete the illusion. It feels like you’re copying gestures in order to replicate button prompts, which is never a positive accolade for a motion controlled game.
Thankfully, the other sports control much better – but it’s worth noting that you’re going to need two motion controllers if you intend to get the most out of Sports Champions 2. Activities like the aforementioned skiing, boxing and archery are all playable with one device, but simply don’t feel right without the extra peripheral. Boxing is the worst offender, assigning pre-recorded button prompts to your weaker hand. It feels a little bit like you’re fighting with one arm tied behind your back. Introduce a second device, however, and the experience is elevated.
Indeed, boxing really showcases the accuracy of the PlayStation Move technology, without succumbing to the same issues that plagued the flawed The Fight: Lights Out. By maintaining a fixed distance between fighters, the game’s able to ensure your punches always connect correctly. Swings and blocks are interpreted accurately in the game, allowing you to put together some neat combos. You can also dodge and shimmy by moving your body like a boxer, or pulling the T trigger.
As with the original game, different opponents have unique strategies. In boxing, for example, you’ll come across heavy hitters and defensive personalities throughout the course of the campaign. Your best option against the former fighters is to block their attacks and let them wear down their stamina, allowing you to take advantage of openings by flooring them with quick combos. You’ll encounter multiple tactics in tennis too, as some opponents opt to sit at the baseline, while others attempt to shorten rallies by sprinting into the net. Finding ways to deal with the different strategies is part of the game’s fun, and it’s a shame that most of the other sports featured – archery, bowling, skiing and golf – don’t immediately lend themselves to the same degree of variety.
That’s not to say that the activities aren’t creative, though. Archery enjoys the greatest assortment of diversity, providing a slew of different game types centred on the core bow and arrow mechanic. Throughout the course of the sport’s campaign you’ll find yourself staving off cardboard skeletons, matching up pairs of hidden farm animals, and attempting to outscore your opponent in carnival-esque shooting galleries. Meanwhile, golf has a selection of colourful driving ranges, while bowling sees you attempting to knock down awkward arrangements of pins.
The great thing about Sports Champions 2 is that there’s always something new to do. In addition to each of the sports being mechanically unique, the developer has packed an array of different rules into each of the events. That makes it a perfect fit for multiplayer sessions.
Thankfully, Party Play makes setting up a local competition a doddle. You can play with multiple controllers or one, though you are limited to a specific selection of events if you’ve only got a single device. The mode takes inspiration from other PlayStation Move party games like Start the Party, allowing each player to snap an image and record their name in order to create a unique personality. Of course, you’re also given the option to create unique player avatars for each participant, though there are defaults available if you’re in a rush.
Scores are added up across the course of multiple random events, with the winner given the option to deface the loser’s photo. You can then save these tweaks to your PS3 hard-drive, or even upload them to Facebook for maximum humiliation.
Sadly, the pace of the mode is offset by some unfortunate loading times. The game’s never overly offensive in this area, but it lingers just long enough to become a frustration; an install option probably would have solved this issue, making it an unnecessary oversight. The lack of online multiplayer is similarly disappointing. While the game is clearly designed around local play, it would have been nice to shoot a few holes of golf over the PlayStation Network.
Sports Champions 2 is some of the most fun you can have with a PlayStation Move controller in your hand. The title is accessible enough to make it a perfect fit for parties, but it boasts enough depth to keep enthusiastic gamers occupied long after everyone’s gone home. The activities are largely well selected, and the calibration improvements are technologically impressive. It’s just a shame that online multiplayer’s still absent, otherwise this would have been an unmissable release.