Sports Champions Review

Sony thinks so highly of this title that it’s packed in the official PlayStation Move starter pack and the official Move/PS3 bundle.For US$ 399, you can get the PlayStation Move Sports Champions bundle. Back when it was announced, neither the press info nor the packaging mentioned how big the PS3′s HDD was going to be…..

First, the obvious: Sports Champions is basically Wii Sports (or rather Wii Sports Resort) for PlayStation Move. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like Wii, Move is soon going to be inudated with cheap, hastily put-together minigame collections, and at its heart, Sports Champions is just that, a minigame collection. But like its Wii Sports cousins, it’s composed of games you’d actually want to play. They all control well, and in some cases, they’re superior to what you get on Wii.

The game is easy to understand: you can choose from six different events (Disc Golf, Gladiator Duel, Archery, Beach Volleyball, Bocce, and Table Tennis), with single- and multiplayer modes for each. They can all be played with one Move controller, but some events (particularly Archery and Gladiator Duel) let you use two of the bulbous wand controllers simultaneously. Playing through the game on your own earns you rewards (like new costumes or event-specific items) you can use to customize your chosen character with, and the difficulty on each event is scaled well — easing you in with some introductory matches and pushover opponents, before putting you up against increasingly more skilled A.I. opponents. Unfortunately, the avatars you can pick from consist of an assorted mix of sports and ethnic stereotypes that don’t fit in all that well with the game world, and whose differences don’t make any substantial impact on gameplay.

Archery seems to be the universal favorite with everyone I’ve played with. The act of holding the bow steady with one Move controller and pulling the other back like your arrow is simple and fun. It’s easy to track where the arrow will go on the screen, so just about anyone can feel like Green Arrow after getting the hang of the control scheme. Sweetening the pot is a bunch of variations to play. There’s a tic-tac-toe board where you’re trying to mark your spots before your opponent can, one where you have to shove a sled across a field with your arrows, and so on. This keeps the sport from being a one-trick pony.

Sadly, that isn’t the case for all the games on this disc. I actually really dig bocce ball in Sports Champions, but there are no crazy cool variations for it. Every time I sit down to play, I’m just tossing balls. Similarly, disc golf is fun, but you’re strutting your stuff on the same courses over and over again. Don’t get me wrong; the controls work well here in these games – I throw a Frisbee far better in this virtual world a than I do in real life – but the experience starts to feel like the same-old-same-old pretty quick.

Sports Champions’ volleyball match is an interesting idea that doesn’t provide for the most exciting time, at least in my matches. Here, you use the controller or controllers to spike, dig, set and so on, but the computer automatically moves your player around. You just stab or swing the controller when a circle goes green around the ball. It’s a bit ho-hum. Meanwhile, table tennis provides plenty of opportunity to slam flaming ping pong balls back at your opponents, but I had a lot of trouble returning balls that were hit to the center of my side as I couldn’t seem to get the PlayStation Move in the sweet spot and couldn’t get power behind it.

Rounding out the pack is gladiator duel. Here, one controller is your shield and another is your sword or mace. One controller can function as both if that’s all you have, but having to share control of two things with one controller can be a pain. Anyway, you slash with your weapon, slam people with your shield, and try to be the last one standing in the end. The system’s OK and sometimes the slashing feels great, but the stiffness of the characters and the super-simple visuals make this feel like a really basic arcade game rather than a full-fledged PS3 game.

Yet Sports Champions never feels unfairly balanced, no matter how good your adversary is, mainly due to the excellent, nearly one-to-one controls. If you can throw a frisbee in real life, you can throw one in Disc Golf, and the tiniest change in your grip or throwing style dramatically affects your aim. But those changes always feel entriely realistic and under your control. Whether it’s the spin you put on the ball in Table Tennis, the angle of your serve in Volleyball, or the swing of your club in Gladiator Duel, the game responds to your actions as though you were performing them in real life

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some limitations, but they always seem to fit in the context of the game. For example, in Gladiator Duel, you can haphazardly swing your weapon around as quickly as possible to try and get a random hit in somewhere on your oppoenent. The weapons give off a genuine feeling of heft, and after you swing, you have to wait for the momentum of your weapon to follow through before trying to swing again. It’s not about doing actions as quickly as you possibly can, it’s about pulling them off carefully.

Each of these sports has three ladder trees to play through on your own, challenges to play, and multiplayer to tackle. I didn’t have any issues with the game not reading multiple controllers, so feel free to get out there and play with pals – but beware of barbs. Even though the most fun I had in Sports Champions was playing with other people, I had to put up with the understandable comments of “This is so empty – it looks like an MMO.”

Of course, perhaps this was the plan. Sony wants you to jump in and be the star of Sports Champions, so giving you some average characters, super-simple stat screens and empty places leaves you to fill the game with your personality and multiplayer fun. However, the game’s so generic that it’s actually sinks itself. If I don’t care about any of these characters. Why would I care about unlocking new outfits for them? Sports Champions doesn’t have that polish you’d expect for a big launch title. It feels stiff and sterile. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but it certainly means that it’s not revolutionary.

Even after hours of play, the only game that really wore thin for me was Beach Volleyball, since the action is less about mimicing real life movements, and more about swinging your controller when a green circle hones in on an on-screen ball. And while it’s not a big issue, you won’t find much variety in Bocce, Table Tennis, or Disc Golf — even with their unlockable challenge modes, they’re straightforward minigames. For people playing solo, it would have been nice to have an overarching ranking or something to tie all the events together. As it is, they’re fun, but completely separate, standalone experiences.

But is Sports Champions a “killer app?” Not exactly, but, as you might guess, the multiplayer is a lot more fun than single-player. If you’re intrigued by the mere idea of motion-controlled games, you probably already own a Wii, and that novelty is long gone. But as the pack-in game for the the PlayStation Move bundle, Sports Champions is certainly worth it.


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