Sports Champions Review
Let me clarify something right off the bat: I’m not the biggest fan of motion sensing. If I didn’t have to deal with PlayStation Move for work purposes, I probably wouldn’t own it. I just think it’s a technology that needs a lot more time to cook and I don’t necessarily feel more “immersed” when I utilize said technology. …but such opinions were only a result of my experiences with the Nintendo Wii which, needless to say, have been underwhelming. This being established, that solid 8.0 up there should say something about Sports Champions and Move’s relatively impressive precision and intuitive, dynamic interaction. I always told everyone going in: “if I’m not sweating after an hour of play, it just doesn’t work in my eyes.” See, I can sit down and flick the Wii wand around in Wii Sports and do just fine. Yeah, not here. This is indeed another step in the motion world, even if it’s not quite there just yet.
When comparing the different motion technologies, we often forget that the Wii has never once delivered high-definition anything, so it was sort of a surprise to see the clear, colorful, high-def visuals in Zindagi Games’ production. We’re all just sort of conditioned to expect lesser everything when it comes to motion sensing, you know? And although this game still can’t compete with the full $60 blockbuster productions and there are a few technical drawbacks (I saw some jerking about when the camera moved quickly between moments of action), it’s still pretty clean. Character detail and animations are smooth, the special effects are great additions and really help to spruce up the presentation, and there aren’t any glaring, crucial flaws. I still think we could’ve used a bit more variety in the backdrops and environments – more volleyball courts, archery ranges, gladiator arenas, etc. would’ve been appreciated – but you don’t notice the landscape much.
Music doesn’t play enough of a role in the sound category, but I like the fact that it picks up during the more intense events, like the Gladiator Duel. I’ve always thought better and more prominent soundtracks needed to be featured in a lot of Wii titles, and I still feel the same way. The sound effects, on the other hand, are just about where they need to be. They’re clear, polished, accurate and above all, effective. Every strike of every ball, every smack of the shield or sword, and even every “whish” of the disc in Disc Golf works to enhance the overall experience. And it’s not like the music is ill-fitting or poor in quality; it just isn’t brought out enough. When combined with the clean, pleasant graphical palette, the overall technical aspects of Sports Champions basically meets most expectations. Of course, there’s always room to grow and progress in the future but for now, this will do nicely.
The game lets you select from the following: Disc Golf, Archery, Gladiator Duel, Bocce, Beach Volleyball, and Table Tennis. Each presents you with very different and distinct movements, so switching up the events on a frequent basis keeps it feeling fresh and entertaining. There's also plenty to do. Each event has Bronze, Silver and Gold sets of rounds, there are lots of Trophies and challenges to complete, and with the exception of Disc Golf and Table Tennis - two events I'm not overly enamored with due to what I perceive to be a mechanical shortcoming - the difficulty curve is just about right. Now, everyone seems to be wondering the same thing- “how is that different/better than what we already have on the Wii?” I thought about how to answer that question and in the end, I’ve concluded the following should serve as all the differentiation we need:
For a while, in certain events, I didn’t fare very well. This is because I had the Wii in the back of my mind, and I was trying to figure out how best to move, so as to achieve the best results. Suddenly, at one point, I realized such a frame of mind was a mistake- the advanced technology inherent in Move is that you’ll do better if you simply imagine you’re actually participating in what is happening on the screen. In other words, rather than attempting to satisfy the machine with the correct movement, I simply moved as I thought I might move in real life. Look, here comes the ball; I want to set it to my teammate. I move my arms up to make a set and push up, with about the same technique and power I would if I were on a real volleyball court. The attack is coming high; I’m going to raise my shield to the proper position based on my own eyes. The ping-pong ball is low and short on the table; I need to step forward and alter my swing accordingly. This is the best way I can describe the difference between Wii and Move.
Of course, you don’t get this in all the events. The Archery, for instance, is pretty straightforward and besides the added accuracy and super intuitive aiming, it’s not that much different than the arrows I fired in Wii Sports Resort. Bocce is…well, Bocce. And in all honesty, I think the Table Tennis event might be somewhat broken. It might be the one event that best displays the potential and depth of Move but at the same time, there’s a definite mechanical issue: you have to move so quickly and when you move the “paddle” back, you will often accidentally strike the ball on that backswing. It’s most annoying when switching between backhands and forehands; even moving the paddle from one side to the other can result in accidental, inaccurate strikes. Even without this problem, it takes a lot of practice and being a tennis (and ping-pong) player, I’m not so sure it’s 100% accurate.
I also question the accuracy of Disc Golf. My brother and I have been throwing Frisbees for years and I know how to throw one. It is actually impressive to see just how much of my arm and wrist motion the Move captures – don’t think I didn’t notice it – but the results were just a bit iffy. Beyond that, I’m pretty darn happy. Remember in the intro where I said I’d have to be sweating for it to work? Yeah, I was. I’m in pretty good shape and after any given hour of play time, I’ve got an active pulse rate going, thanks to vigorous volleyball and duel gameplay. The duel, by the way, is pretty cool, provided you remember to be steady with your movements and strikes. You actually jump to perform a jump attack, and the shield bashes, side steps, and back-steps are all easy to execute. Your shield and sword go almost exactly where you intend and with no perceivable delay. Volleyball might be my favorite; it’s easy, fun and really demanding in the later levels.
Sports Champions is a solid piece of entertainment that gives us a glimpse of what is to come. You really do have to “move” and many of the available events highlight Move’s super advanced reliability, precision, and responsiveness. The Table Tennis definitely seems flawed and there were instances where I’d say, “er…pretty sure I didn’t do that,” but those are my only complaints. I would also like to add that while some events allow you to choose between one or two Move controllers, I have difficulty believing two will give you much of an edge. I only say this based on the controls I read in the instruction manual, though, so I can’t be sure. In the end, this is a great start to Move and this is coming from someone whose expectations barely registered on any scale going into the review. I’ll end with this: Wii Sports was the start. In comparison to Move and Sports Champions, the differences really are crystal clear. And no, I hadn’t anticipated that.
P.S. I will deliver a hardware review for Move this week. I want to spend more time with it, try the demo disc here, and sample a few other games. I want to make sure the review is as accurate as I can make it. In the meantime, I will say that I do recommend it if you are interested in the premise. It's quite satisfying.
9/18/2010 Ben Dutka