Is it any wonder Sony chose to include Sports Champions in the PlayStation Move bundle? If you’ve played Kung Fu Riders or Start the Party, the only other two retail games available at launch for the hardware, you’d know they had no choice but to feature its sports compilation, even at the risk of looking like a Wii Sports knockoff. The good news is, even though it is a bit of a Wii Sports knockoff, Sports Champions is both a skillful showcase of the Move motion controller and a fun game to play amongst friends.
It must have been challenging for the developers to come up with set of sporting events that weren’t identical to those featured in Wii Sports. Nintendo pieced together a solid lineup of bowling, tennis and golf (yes, I’m purposely leaving baseball off that list, it was by far the worst of the foursome) and Sony wasn’t about to copy their competitor. So instead of bowling, we get bocce. Instead of golf, we get disc golf. Instead of tennis, we get table tennis. And rounding out the package is beach volleyball, archery and gladiator duel.
The PlayStation Move is on full display in table tennis, in what is most likely the sport players will return to over and over. Not only will you see the 1:1 motion control in action as you rotate your paddle to add spin to the ball, but the PlayStation Eye also plays a significant role. If your opponent hits a high smash your way, you actually have to take a step back from the camera in order to return the ball. Similarly, if your opponent uses backspin to hit a drop shot, you have to take a step towards the camera in order to reach the ball. Table tennis is the only event that makes use of this added dimension provided by the PlayStation Eye.
A close second behind table tennis, in terms of my favorite events, is bocce. The concept is simple: throw the pallino, the target ball, and then toss your bocce balls. The goal is to land your bocce balls closer to the target ball than your opponent. Bocce rules the lawn when it comes to playing with friends. It is the most entertaining multiplayer event of the group. Archery is another event that plays well in both in single- and multiplayer. It’s also one of two sporting events that actually play better when players wield dual motion controllers. You get a better sense of holding a bow and arrow with two controllers than one.
The other sporting event that benefits from dual motion controllers is gladiator duel. With two controllers in hand, one will act as your shield and the other your sword. Gladiator duel features the most intricate control scheme of all the sporting events, and in that sense it’s also the only sporting event that has a little too much “waggling” in it. Still, it makes for a solid single- and multi-player game, and its premise definitely lends to the Move’s potential in both the fantasy and fighting genres.
Beach volleyball and disc golf share one thing in common. Unfortunately it’s that neither is all that much fun. Beach volleyball has all the right motion controls in place but for some reason it just doesn’t come together. It doesn’t feel as responsive as the other sporting events. As a volleyball fan, I found it to be the most disappointing event of the bunch. Disc golf suffers from a lack of depth. Play it once and you’ll have your fill of the event.
All of the sporting events feature the same three modes: Champions Cup, Free Play and Challenges. Champions Cup is the career-style mode, broken down into Bronze, Silver and Gold Cups that will see players take on increasingly difficult opponents and challenges. Free Play is the multiplayer mode, and it should be mentioned that multiplayer is only available through split-screen. There is no PlayStation Network support other than leaderboards and trophies. Last but not least, the Challenges mode features mini-games that often present a zanier side to each sport.
Visually, Sports Champions looks sharp. It doesn’t quite have the same charm as Wii Sports, but it does well to appeal to a worldwide audience with its diverse lineup of opponents representing just about every nation you could think of. The audio doesn’t make or break the game. The music is appropriate and the sound effects are solid.
The only other major complaint I have with the game is the constant calibrating. Every time you start an event you have to calibrate the motion controller. If you switch from bocce to archery, guess what? You have to calibrate once again. It’s a simple three-step process but it becomes annoying rather quickly.
Sports Champions is by far the best of the launch lineup for the PlayStation Move. It’s not quite as charming as Wii Sports, or as original, and the constant calibrating of the motion controller is a bit of a nuisance, but Sports Champions does well to showcase the talents of the PlayStation Move - specifically the highly responsive one-to-one motion control – and it’s a lot of fun to play with friends or family. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Sports Champions is reason enough to buy the PlayStation Move but if you’re already in the market for the hardware, it’s the one game you should pick alongside.