Sports Champions - Review

   15/10/2010 at 09:20       Phil May       5 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Sports Champions, Sony San Diego Studios, Playstation 3, Playstation Move Controller, Lollies

Adding fuel to the fire that Sony’s Move Motion Control system is “the Wii HD” is the fact that the first run of titles for Move have closely followed Nintendo’s lead. One of the first releases for Move was Sports Champion, an unashamed alternative to the Wii’s killer app, Wii Sports.

Sports Champion offers a selection of “sporting” events that break away from the norm a little bit and so far it’s the only “full priced” game that feels like it justifies a purchase alongside a set of Move controllers.

Breaking the game down into its constituent parts, there’s a little something for everyone.

Disc goes here, disc goes there.

Disc Golf (or Frisbee Golf) is the first sport on offer. This peculiar hybrid of, well, Frisbee throwing and Golf works in much the same way as a traditional game of golf does – only instead of a club and ball, you’re using a Frisbee. Each “hole” is actually a chain basket target. The holes carry their own Par ratings and the idea is to get your Frisbee into the basket on or under par.

Using a single Move controller, throwing a Frisbee is fairly intuitive – you literally twist your wrist and arc your arm just like you would when throwing a Frisbee in real life. You can even be one of those flash goits who throws the things back-handed if you like. After the usual calibration malarkey (which you do unfortunately have to go through a lot in Sports Champion) you’re given a brief set of tutorials that show you how to throw the Frisbee, and how to get a bit of distance and accuracy to your throws.

Then you’re up and running in a proper championship mode, pitted against sports champions from other disciplines. In each of the sports challenges there are three cup championship modes (Bronze, Silver and Gold), each with varying degrees of difficulty and opponent AI. You can also play against other players but this really does turn the business of calibrating controllers into a logistical nightmare (imagine what this would be like with four players having to calibrate at the start of each event?)

Calibration issues aside, Disc Golf is actually a fairly relaxing and engaging little game that’s plenty of fun in single or multiplayer modes.

Call that a sword? THIS is a sword!

Moving on, next up is one of Sports Champions standout events. The Combat Arena. Basically this game manages to almost address all your hopes and dreams of ever seeing a motion-controlled version of Soul Calibur. It lacks the bouncing tittilation or the abject bloodletting and violence (please folks, this is a family show!) but it beautifully demonstrates exactly what Move’s strengths are – replicating your arm and wrist movements perfectly on screen with no lag.

With a single controller, combat feels slightly automated because you control only your sword arm. With two move controllers you also get the option of using your shield arm more actively. If you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” you’ll see why those Move adopters who’ve picked up a couple of controllers will fare better than people who’ve just bought the one.

Each Sports Champion has their own unique combat style and weapon (using the cute Baseball girl meant that in combat, I ended up with a rather nasty looking giant baseball bat studded with metal studs, and a fairly mean looking shield).

Like any other combat game worth its salt, you and your opponent must hammer away at each other until one or the other person’s health bar is depleted. At first, I took a rather sedate approach to combat, playing defensively and waiting my turn while my opponent got in some quite nasty strikes. This wasn’t really cutting it and my opponent clawed back a win simply by hammering me into the ground like a tent peg with her shield.

Next round I came out swinging like a mental barbarian. Watching too many of the latter Star Wars films, and the magnificent Lightsaber battles obviously affected my combat skills as I found that whirling the blade over and over with circular wrist movements provided some devastating offensive hits, with the on-screen avatar actually keeping up with my movements fairly well. Coupling this combat strategy with plenty of defensive shield work meant a near-perfect clear round win.

Naturally, this cockiness didn’t last long. The next opponent just played defensive and absolutely annihilated me.

Importantly though, Sports Champion’s combat arena could almost provide the basis of a game in its own right and is definitely one of the best games on the disk. Please Namco, take a look at this and think about Soul Calibur Next!

A load of old volleyballs

While I’m pleading with Namco to do a move-enabled Soul Calibur I might as well throw myself at the feet of Tecmo to bring their bouncing beauties in Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball to the PS3 and Move as well. Sports Champion features a fairly faithful representation of Beach Volleyball and though this is probably the weakest of the collection of games, it’s still fun and does a good enough to ensure that four player mode could probably irreparably wreck your lounge. Again the game fares better if each player has two controllers (meaning you can’t do four player mode anyway). With two controllers you can more accurately perform proper volleyball-style serves, punches and slams.

A little more effort could’ve gone into player animation and movement but let’s face it, if you’ve still got a faint memory of seeing DOA’s scantily clad lovelies bouncing around a beach, the fairly unsexy avatars in Sports Champion aren’t much cop in comparison.

Do you speak Bocce?

Bocce (or more recognisably, Boules) is a sport that takes the rules of Crown Green Bowling, throws them out of the window and instead substitutes a fairly aggressive throwing stance for a gentle roll across an immaculately manicured lawn.

Sports Champion represents the sport perfectly, and Bocce is extremely easy to pick up and play. Rather satisfyingly, the Bocce balls have just the right sort of “heft” (conveyed by the way they arc in the air, and the way they almost “feel” like they’re heavy) to utterly convince you that more effort is required with this minigame’s version of a boules set than with the little plastic set your kids lost on the beach last summer.

Using a single Move controller, you first set up the game by throwing the Jack onto the playing pitch. Points are scored for players who get their balls closest to the jack in each round. It’s also possible to knock an opponent’s bocce balls further out of play but this carries the risk of a rogue rebound knocking one of your balls out too.

There’s no comfortable way to describe a game that involves balls – but Bocce is fun, engaging and again, strangely relaxing stuff even when competition is fairly intense.

Anyone for a game of arrahs?

Archery also features in Sports Champion and this is the game you see featured in a lot of Sony’s press for Move. I’m not really sure why though, as I found it pretty fiddly and annoying, and even with a two-controller setup, targeting and drawing an arrow to the bow felt over-complicated and annoying.

With two controllers, one is held out in front of you as “the bow” and the other controller mimics your arm movements for drawing an arrow from your quiver, notching it to the string, and then drawing the string back. If you stick fairly closely to the range of movements you would when using a real bow, you’ll get on with the game famously, but the archery section of Sports Champion has a tendency to go off at a tangent when you’re trying to grab another arrow or pull the bowstring harder for more powerful shots.

It took me ages to get things set up correctly and part of the problem could simply be that the game needs more elbow room and players to stand further away from the EyeCam while playing, but I found Archery to be very hit and miss in its execution.

You pong when you should be pinging.

Last but not least is Table Tennis / Ping Pong. Anyone familiar with Rockstar’s Table Tennis “sim” or even Nintendo’s Table Tennis effort in Wii Sports Resort would have high expectations of the Move version of this quirky little sport. After a brief tutorial and the usual calibration setups, you can get straight into a game and this is definitely one of Sports Champion’s better minigames. It faithfully replicates your arm and wrist movements to the point where you can comfortably put spin, push and power behind each strike on the ball. Volleys flow effortlessly, and sometimes it’s extremely easy to get into a stalemate situation where you and your opponent can’t break each other’s shots.

One lapse in concentration though and you can win or lose on the turn of a paddle (in fact in one game the stalemate situation was so bad last night that it got to 21 points before I finally cracked and the AI opponent marmalised me).

It’s difficult to choose between Table Tennis and Gladiator Combat as to which is the strongest of the minigames on offer, but I can definitely see me spending hour after hour on Table Tennis as it really is the best simulation of the sport I’ve ever played on a games console.

Overall

Sports Champions is probably going to be the title that most early Move adopters pick up along with their kit, and rightly so. It’s not perfect – the calibration stuff really is a pain in the arse. It’s not exactly a graphical showcase for the PS3 (but there’s no tearing, and character movement is fairly natural and convincing) but it does show exactly what you can do with the Move Controller / Camera combination in order to deliver a reasonably faithful representation of a range of different sports. I can imagine that San Diego Studios are probably already thinking about a sequel and what sports they can add next (though at the moment the studio seems to be following the usual Sony strategy of pumping out needless DLC that doesn’t bring any enhancement to the game other than giving you daft new characters to play with).

As with any console sports title, and particularly any titles that use motion controls, this really comes into its own when played with a bunch of friends (though it remains to be seen whether your friends will have the patience to put up with the three-point calibration system at the start of each different sport or round – calibration IS remembered between individual rounds if you have more than one controller but if you’re just passing the one around, you have to calibrate every time – AGH!)

That said, Sports Champions is a strong effort that could perhaps have benefitted from a little more tweaking and polishing here and there. If you can pick it up on the cheap (it’s currently 22 quid on Amazon which is the only reason I bought it) then it’s a pretty good showcase for Move and both the Combat and the Table Tennis are brilliant games in their own right.

Stars
User Comments:

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HairyArse - on 15/10/2010 at 13:00 wrote:
 
All this calibration nonsense sounds off-putting and a right old nuisance.
 

peej - on 15/10/2010 at 13:08 wrote:
 
It's annoying, but it's not common to all Move titles - so it seems odd that a "flagship" title in Move's catalogue should have it.

Most games just get you to point the Move controller at the camera at the start of the game, and that's it - done - that controller is now calibrated and as long as the camera can see it, you're in business. in Sports Champions they seem to have this rigid insistence on getting your body into the Camera frame at the start of the game, them measuring where your hand is at your shoulder, your hip and your belt buckle before it can accurately tell where your arm movements will go.

It's a faff in single player but you can quickly get set up. In multiplayer it's a flipping nightmare, particularly if you're all sharing a single move controller because you have to re-calibrate for every player, every round of every game. If you've got more than one controller, you just calibrate that controller at the start of each event and it stays calibrated for the duration of that event.

Nutty.
 

ilmaestro - on 15/10/2010 at 22:35 wrote:
 
The games themselves sound more than good enough to make up for it, review definitely has me way more interested in picking up some Move kit.
 

peej - on 18/10/2010 at 09:45 wrote:
 
The more I play this, the more perturbed I am by the calibration stuff. Last night, feeling lazy, I fancied a quick round of Frisbee Golf so rather than clear the room of all the washing, furniture and other stuff that seems to have been lumped into what was once my gaming haven, I thought I'd do a very quick setup - just calibrate three points by pointing the Move controller at the camera and making best guess for someone slumped in a comfy chair - And it worked perfectly.

So if it's not really too fussed about you getting your body into the camera frame then picking the three reference points, why do it at all? Why not do what all the other Move titles do and just calibrate at the start of the session and make people manually recalibrate if they really feel a need to?

Bonkers really, and a shame because as you say Ilm, the games do make up for this bit of daftness.

Really enjoying the combat arena, the more I play that, the more I realise that in a straight fight, Vader would turn me into a fricasse!
 

ilmaestro - on 20/10/2010 at 18:15 wrote:
 
Very strange decision indeed!

Oh well, I guess they will at least have got rid of it by the time Sports Champions 2 rolls around.
 


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