Since the launch of the PlayStation Move, Californian outfit Zindagi Games have done more than most to keep the device’s torch burning; launch title Sports Champions showcased what Move was capable of, follow up Medievil Moves delivered a satisfying and entertaining narrative adventure and now Sports Champions 2 bounces onto the scene. In its latest title, Zindagi have opted for a more meat and potatoes collection of sports – there’s no table tennis, no gladiatorial combat and no Frisbees in what’s become a far less eccentric affair – but does this mean that it’s also far less enjoyable?
It’s easy to feel a little sorry for Sports Champions 2 considering the world into which it is launching. After being the flavour of the month (for a year or two…) after the launch of the Wii, motion controls are now regularly written off as a failed experiment, an evolutionary dead-end that barely managed to elevate itself above novelty status. In fairness, anyone who has played and enjoyed the finest examples (the sublime table-tennis in Sports Champions, the wonderfully immersive Child of Eden and, of course, Wii Sports) must be aware that it does have something to offer but, sadly, this is dragged down by the hordes of titles that erased the word ‘button’ from the design document and replaced it with the word ‘waggle’.
Thankfully, like its predecessor, Sports Champions 2 is largely devoid of waggle and does an admirable job of putting you in the sneakers of your on-screen avatar as you take part in any of the six sports included. Unlike the sports chosen for the last game which were eye-brow raising purely for being so strange (Frisbee golf? Gladiator duels? Bocce? And what the heck is Bocce anyways?), the surprise this time around is just how conservative it all is; boxing, golf, tennis, skiing, and archery. It is now even harder not to see this is Sony’s Wii Sports, a ‘Mii Too’ ethos writ large.
The upshot of the inevitable familiarity of most of the events included is two-fold; firstly, for anyone who has spent hours with Wii Sports (which, let’s face it, is everyone) the incentive to actually play Sport Champions 2 can be considerably diminished – we’ve bowled that motion-controlled bowling-ball too many times before. Secondly, it once again gives the PS Move a platform from which to laud its accuracy and responsiveness over Nintendo’s aging Wiimote. In light of the current widespread indifference to motion controlled gaming, the latter can be quickly forgotten, but sadly the former is an issue of which Sony must be aware.
It is, of course, unfair to damn a title for its positioning within an oversaturated market without investigating its own unique merits, and looking at Sports Champions 2 in isolation paints it in a far more sympathetic light. Most importantly, each of the events makes you feel like you’re actually participating in them (which is kinda the point…); the movements required with the Move are logical and intuitive, with the swinging of the racquet, the throwing of a punch and notching an arrow coming with the visual and haptic feedback required to complete a satisfying gameplay loop.
The degree of accuracy afforded by the first game also remains present and correct with your movements being impressively replicated on screen and, at its best, detects the slightest of tilts and affects the on-screen action accordingly, in turn allowing for extra layers of nuance that simply didn’t/couldn’t exist within the now iconic Wii Sports. So, where Nintendo’s take on boxing usually descended into the frantic and exhausting flailing of arms, Sports Champion 2’s pugilism is surprisingly tactical, with success requiring blocking, feints, combos and the ability to make the most from an opportunity. The same is also true of Sports Champion 2’s tennis, golf and, to a lesser extent, bowling. The archery is as satisfying as ever – especially if you’re fortunate to have two Move controllers, though it is a shame that Zindagi didn’t take the opportunity to expand the returning event a little more.
The freshest event in the package is skiing, which is a reasonably successful addition even if it makes for a less demanding and ultimately less interesting use of the motion controls. Lean left to turn left, lean right to turn right, crouch to pick up speed… it all works well enough and the mountains you race down are attractive if a little strange (the palm trees seem out of place…), but it ultimately feels very safe, and a long way from the motion-controlled magic of Sports Champion’s table-tennis.
Sadly, on all events there are the odd occasions where the technology doesn’t quite gel, leaving your avatar striking strange poses and your desired action failing to play out as planned. Such moments are few and far between – and are therefore far from game-breaking – but it happens frequently enough to make you notice, especially within the tennis. On a more positive technical note, Sports Champions 2 no longer requires you to perform a series of arm movements to sync your Move controllers – this time, it’s as simple as pointing at the PS Eye and pressing a couple of buttons.
Missing in action is the cast of characters from the first game, something that is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, although the original Sports Champions were hardly iconic works of design, they did exude a certain – strangely vacant – sort of charm. In their stead, Sport Champions 2 allows you to create a champion of your very own by choosing body size, hair, facial features, clothes and tattoos. Although reasonably flexible, the pre-defined template champions provides immediately gives you an idea of the possible results, ranging as they do from stylised realism to frankly terrifying putty-faced gurners. Still, it does give players an opportunity to create an approximation of themselves, something that history has proven to be so key in a party/sports game of this type.
Where the original Sports Champions really outshone Wii Sports was in its single player mode, which offered a surprising degree of depth and in this respect the sequel is just as satisfying. Though six sports might not seem like a lot, it’s easy to find yourself caught in a loop, flitting between them and nudging your way through the rankings and up the online leaderboards. The simple multiplayer also works well, with the greater emphasis on player skill rather than waggles-per-minute making for a more engaging experience than Wii Sports, even if it is a slightly less charming one.
Without the hype that comes with the launch of a new piece of hardware for support, Sports Champions 2 is a title that is all too easy to overlook and the fact that it comes with such an uninspiring collection of events makes it doubly so. In fairness, there is much here to be recommended, especially in light of its budget price. The six sports are well executed and there’s plenty to keep you playing – from the core events, challenges, online scoreboards and multiplayer. In many ways it feels indicative of motion-controls reaching a maturity of sorts; sure, the carefree magic of its youth may be fading, but it still delivers a polished and satisfying, if slightly uninspiring selection of sporting goodness.
Score - 3.5/5
(This review first appeared on www.dpadmagazine.com)
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