The launch of a new motion technology for a console is now an instant guarantee for a flagship sports title. The Nintendo Wii had Wii Sports, Microsoft’s Kinect will have Kinect Sports, and, not wanting to feel left out, Sony’s new PlayStation Move has been bestowed with yet another casual collection of themed sports mini-games entitled Sports Champions. “How predictable,” you must all be thinking.
Sports Champions‘ line-up of activities is far from predictable, however. Whereas Wii Sports served suggary nuggets of familiar sports such as Bowling and Baseball, Sports Champions considers this far too juvenile and serves up a posh nosh menu of Disc Golf, Archery, Bocce and Gladiator Duel, along with Table Tennis and Volleyball for slightly less cultured mortals.
Nevertheless, the monumental influence of Wii Sports cannot be disregarded, so can Sony’s more sophisticated approach do the hardware the same justice as it did for Nintendo four years ago?
Right off the bat (no pun intended), Sports Champions is a testament to the fact that the technology powering PlayStation Move actually works. Take the Table Tennis mini-game for example, which offers a terrific demonstration of the Move controller’s capabilities with a surprisingly realistic portrayal of the real thing.
PlayStation Move’s 1:1 tracking is put to full use here – it’s scarily accurate. Wave the controller around and the on-screen virtual bat will mimic your movements so precisely that you’d swear it was all witchcraft. As well as making it incredibly fun and intuitive to play, this versatile precision also has a profound effect on the gameplay as it allows you to use real-life techniques to hone your skills and naturally improve over time, meaning that progression is a matter of skill and judgement rather than blind luck.
From back-hands to smashes, every subtle or ferocious flick of your wrist is effortlessly tracked by the oh-so shiny ball sitting atop of your controller that looks like an edible lollipop. Fancy adding some top spin to batter your opponent? Simply strike the ball at an angle to skilfully spin it and prepare to weep when you realise this wasn’t possible on your now obsolete Wii.
The trigger button is also put to good use throughout Sports Champions as it primarily allows you to hold or release objects, or in the case of Table Tennis, serve the ball. It’s a simple yet intuitive control scheme that works well in conjunction with the sublime motion technology.
Table Tennis is hands down the most impressive utilisation of the controller I have seen so far in Move’s launch library thanks to its precision – I had my doubts, but it feels surprisingly natural playing a physical sport through your television.
Likewise, Archery offers its own take on the sport with an array of engaging gameplay challenges. Unlike Table Tennis however, Archery encourages you to play with two Move controllers, though one will still suffice. If you do have the luxury of an additional controller, the controls are rather clever as it requires you to physically pull back the arrow with one hand whilst holding the bow steady with the other.
I’ve yet to try it and it certainly sounds quite innovative, but I can only imagine how much of a berk you will look. Even shooting with one arm can become strenuous however, so you would do well in following the game’s advice of resorting to shooting from the hip. Archery is arguably the most diverse game of the bunch, thanks to its variety of shooting challenges, from obliterating watermelons to repeatedly shooting targets in order to push them against your rival. It even throws in a head-to-head game of tic-tac-toe.
Gladiator Duel is another highlight, if only to showcase the possible future of fighting games. As with most fighting games, the aim is simple: repeatedly batter your opponent into submission until they are knocked out. Swiping the controller like a sword is satisfying when you witness the brutal results on screen in real-time as your opponent tumbles to the ground, but the sadistic demon inside of me wishes there was at least a trace of visual blood after bludgeoning someone with a sword.
Like Archery, you can also use two controllers which act as a sword and shield, but the shield is otherwise initiated by the trigger. Using the square and triangle buttons will also cause your fighter to dash left or right, but the animation is too stiff which makes the fighting feel a bit pedestrian.
Disc Golf replaces golf balls with Frisbees, requiring you to throw the disc and make it land as close to the target as possible. Again, the 1:1 tracking makes everything worthwhile as you can aim at any angle or position and execute the throw with any degree of velocity.
As someone who is usually less than adept at sport (I was always the one who put on the “my trainers no longer fit me” excuse during the dark times of physical education), my lack of agility is well reflected in Disc Golf – let’s just say that water landings were all too frequent.
Less successful is the inclusion of Volleyball, which plays more like a timed rhythm game than an unrestricting sport. All the factors of playing volleyball are apparent, but the game insists on controlling the character’s movements for you which makes the point of Move’s emphasis on freedom somewhat redundant.
Then there’s Bocce, a sport which no human being has ever heard of (ironically there is even a trophy entitled “I’ve heard of Bocce” once you complete the first match). Despite the pompous name, it’s just a simple game of boules in reality. Later levels attempt to add some variety to the proceedings in the level design, but throwing a small ball in an empty court can only get so enthralling.
Each sport has a championship mode for added longevity when playing solo, featuring three main tiers consisting of ten matches with rising difficulty. The AI can certainly prove to a formidable opponent during the later levels too, and additional medals, trophies and a fleet of clothing and environment unlocks can also be achieved to keep you playing.
Turn-based multiplayer is also available, along with split-screen in Table Tennis, which is great fun with competitive compadres and highlights how well the Move can already work in a multiplayer scenario. Online multiplayer sadly didn’t make the cut though, which feels like something of a missed opportunity.
For everything Sports Champions attempts to do to trounce Wii Sports, there’s one thing it completely forgets about its competitor – it has a personality. Wii Sports was colourful and evoked a certain childish charm with its Mii avatars, but Sports Champion’s cast of degenerate stereotypes appear limp and lifeless by comparison with just odious grunts and taunts to articulate themselves with as well. The limited selection of environments are equally bland and barren too, which gives the game an unfortunate sterile quality to it – even the home menu looks strikingly garish.
But that would be missing the point. Sports Champions is still a great starting point for early adopters of the PlayStation Move controller, and is clearly the most proficient launch title. Those who have overplayed Wii Sports may find the concept just a trifle too familiar, but the advent of Move’s 1:1 tracking technology enhances the already established genre tremendously.
Stay tuned for more PlayStation Move coverage this week on Gamer Limit!
The visuals aren't bad, but lack the personality and detail you come to expect from the PS3. The less said about the corny characters the better.
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Move's Motion technology works like a charm in immersing you into believing you are playing the very sport depicted on-screen.
The sound effects are very sparse, which doesn't help the feeling of emptiness that prevails in the game. The default orchestral score also feels out of place at times, although you can replace it with your own custom soundtrack.
While there are only six mini-games on offer, the championship level system and required learning curve make up for this.
As a technical demonstration of the PlayStation Move's prowess and future potential, Sports Champions excels. The majority of mini-games are fun and show depth in places, but a few misfires and soulless presentation let down an otherwise solid package.