2010’s Sports Champions, for all of its championing of the Move controller, occasionally felt like a hollow-eyed tech demo. It combined the world’s most unknown sports – disc golf, bocce and…gladiator combat – with sterile visuals and a cast of cardboard cutout characters. It did, despite its shortcomings, play very well, and remains a great demonstration of the Move’s abilities.
With Sports Champions 2, in-house development studios San Diego Studio and Zindagi Games have brought the original game’s penchant for tight, accurate controls forward, but have attached them to a series of sports you’ll have probably heard of. Add in a dose of much-needed personality and you’ve got yourself a winner.
• Developer: San Diego Studio/Zindagi Games
• Publisher: Sony
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
• Release Date: October 30th (US)/November 2nd (EU)
The game brings five new sports to the table and retains the archery of the original title. Making their debut are bowling, boxing, skiing, golf and tennis; they’re not exactly original, the territory already treaded by Sports Champions‘ Wii and Kinect rivals, but each is plenty of fun thanks to the responsive and delicate controls of the Move controller. And, as a sign of improvement, there’s no longer a need to calibrate before each and every match.
In golf, for example, rotating the Move allows you to hook and slice your shots – or, in my case, compensate for a sloppy swing. Holding it at an angle in tennis allows you to play lobs, or to apply topspin and backspin and influence exactly where the ball is going. There’s no Wii-style wrist flicking here – the Move’s accuracy does the spirit of sportsmanship a lot of favours.
However, Sports Champions 2 is a game which requires, at the very least, a couple of Move controllers for maximum enjoyment. Boxing is a joyless barrage of punishment at the hands of some vengeful AI when played with one controller: using the Move’s buttons to launch weak-handed punches abandons any hopes of real strategy, and there’s no option to use a DualShock for your second hand like in 2010 Move scrapper The Fight.
On the other hand, single-handed archery feels cheap. Conquering the three-tier single-player mode with one Move and a rapid-fire aim doesn’t actually feel that fun. With two Moves, you feel like a badass (it reads better than “you feel like Orlando Bloom”) and that you’ve earned your victories. Serious arm pain aside, playing the game’s range of sports with just one Move doesn’t feel honest. Or particularly fulfilling. Best make sure you have two when playing solo.
The single-player also suffers from tedium in the later, tougher stages. Your opponents become impossibly talented, bowling perfect games and blocking your every punch. This is an ideal time to give up and move onto the multiplayer, which is naturally home to Sports Champions 2‘s best moments. Alongside split-screen and hotseat contests, a Party Play mode also offers up rapid-fire competition across a tournament of more fantastical challenges such as hitting score hoops or defeating advancing armies of wooden skeleton targets. Winners get to draw on pictures of the losers – no prizes for guessing what we drew whilst testing the mode out.
Despite the Move controller receiving dismal support as of late, it’s reassuring to see that real thought is going into what could have been a rush job. Sports Champions‘ laminate feel has been scrubbed a little by introducing deep character customisation and bringing in over-the-top bizarro competitors. Balding men in old Hawaiian shirts, afro-bearing disco kings, robots, Vikings, yetis – sensible sports and less than sensible sportsmen. In terms of audio, the laidback Americana soundtrack and generic character grunts aren’t a world away from the original game. But don’t let that discern you.
This is the sequel that the first game wholly deserves. It’s great to see sports that you’ve actually heard of being given the Sports Champions treatment and that it’s been done well, both mechanically and aesthetically. But please make sure you have enough Move controllers to make it an enjoyable experience, rather than a one-way ticket to Painsville.