Posted by Mat Growcott
Everybody knows that the two absolute worst things about outside sports are being forced to leave the house and actually having to exert energy. That’s where Sportsfriends comes in. Forget about wet weekends on muddy football fields, and think about trashing your BFFs in a fine game of Johann Sebastian Joust instead. With four games to pick from – as well as a couple of hidden ones – and endless opportunities to thrash those closest to you, the only limit to your enjoyment here will be the amount of controllers that you own – and the number of real-life friends that you have.
A warning for those considering picking up Die Gute Fabrik’s compilation: it’s multiplayer only. And when we say that, we don’t mean that it’s a ‘sit at home on your own’ online affair like Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, but a title that is only worth playing if you have at least one – or preferably two or three – people to play it with locally. There’s no netcode and no artificial intelligence; to get the most out of your purchase, you’ll need at least two controllers and a gaggle of willing participants. If you can’t conjure up anyone to play with – not even with the promise of alcohol and fried food – then you’ll definitely need to reconsider your purchase.
Alas, assuming that you’ve got enough dirt to blackmail three people into sharing a room with you, then you will probably have a hoot. There are four minigames to choose from, each of which harks back to the golden age of local multiplayer and couch justice. This nostalgic look back is something that the makers have adhered to religiously, which explains why one of the games is locked out unless you have a full set of players, and the reason that none of them can be played by one person alone.
BaraBariBall is a Super Smash Bros-like ball game that lets you pick from one of a handful of characters, each with their own special move. You’re given a limited number of jumps before you need to land and recharge, with the goal of shooting a huge white orb into your opponent’s pool of water. Matches are frenetic, and each round only lasts a few minutes, so there’s quite a lot of action in a small span of time. This is probably the most fun of all of the included content, and is the one with the most longevity. It’s a guaranteed laugh.
That’s not to say that it’s all golden, though. Even the best of Sportsfriends has some pretty rotten weaknesses that can easily ruin a party. Here, there are a number of levels to play across, and some of them are just dreadful; they don’t suit the gameplay at all, but seem to have been included just to keep the numbers up. On top of that, as soon as you learn a few tricks, it becomes incredibly easy to win. There are no real ‘cheats’ per se, but try telling your friends that after you’ve won 3-0 for the tenth time in a row.
Meanwhile, Super Pole Riders has less of the depth BaraBariBall, and less of the fun, too. On the game’s official website, it’s described as QWOP-like, but it’s nowhere near as hard to control. There’s a ball attached to a rope above the play area, and you must knock or kick it along the line until it reaches your opponent’s goal. You do this either by hitting it with your pole, or by throwing yourself upwards like an Olympic vaulter. It’s enjoyable, but the enjoyment that you’ll get out of it is limited, as there are only so many eventualities that can occur with such a limited rule set, and the laughs will soon run dry.
One advantage here is that you don’t actually need multiple controllers, as you can play by splitting a single controller in two. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite work out ideally for both players, as one will have to contend with the analogue stick being on the wrong side. It takes some getting used to, and is in no way a replacement for a second remote, but it’s a clever and appreciated inclusion nonetheless.
Elsewhere, Hokra is a blast but comes with the proviso that it absolutely has to be played by four people. Again, you can play on two controllers if you like, but it’s much better to have more. A variation on King of the Hill, you and your teammate must capture the ball and hold it in one of your coloured squares. This is almost great fun by default because the excitement and humour will come from being forced to play with a full roster of friends, but it helps that the game itself is well made and relatively deep. Sadly, it doesn’t have the long-term appeal of BaraBariBall, and the expectation of four players is an awful lot to ask.
Finally, Johann Sebastian Joust is something else entirely. Using either the PlayStation Move wand or the motion capabilities of the DualShock 4, your goal here is to stay physically steady. While the music is slow, any small shake will take you out of the game, but as it speeds up, you’ll have more room to move. The end goal is to get your friends to jerk the controller by hassling or pushing them, without setting off your own alarm.
Depending on who you’re playing with, this is a real blast. Like a decent tennis match, the longer a round goes on, the more tense – and amusing – it becomes. It can lose its lustre if you have a participant that doesn’t get into the spirit of things, but with some good natured sports, it really comes into its own. The problem is that it’s hard to account for how much fun you’re going to have here, as your experience will depend entirely on the circumstances in which you play it. There’s definitely the capacity for a rip-roaring time, though.
Sportsfriends is a party game for the type of people that appear in Nintendo Wii commercials – but real-life is never quite that perfect. As such, this is a fun package, but one that will rely on the right kind of investment from your buddies if it’s to become the life and soul of your social gathering. With a low price, it may be worth splitting the cost between close pals for an evening’s worth of entertainment – just make sure that you know what you’re getting into first.