Every motion control system, it seems, has to have one. The Wii had Wii Sports and its sequel. Microsoft will have Kinect Adventures. And Sony is touting Sports Champions as its premier lots-of-activities-on-one-disc motion-based offering. But is it any good? Well, for better and worse, it hews closely to Wii Sports in some ways, while deviating in others.
Sports Champions is a collection of six mini-games and... that’s about it. Each game has its own championship mode, along with free-play and multiplayer variants. The selection of games is a bit baffling at first, but after playing them you suspect they were picked by some sort of twisted genius. Let’s go through them one at a time...
Bocce turned out to be lawn bowls mixed with mini golf. With two or more players, it easily captures the fun and/or bitter rivalries from those activities. Seriously, forget playing this against the computer — find some friends who you won’t mind hating by the end of the evening and start smack talking. Different courses provide different challenges: there’s the basic rectangle, but also an ‘S’ shape, one with a windmill, and one that forces you to throw through tires onto platforms at different levels. Insane. For actual skill-based matches, definitely stick with the basic course layout.
Gladiator Duel is possibly my favourite of the bunch. With a sword and shield, you must swipe, stab, parry, dodge, and block against a single opponent in a ring. With what feels like 1:1 motion movement, it can be very satisfying — and hard on your sword arm. With one motion controller, you hold the trigger to control your shield, but two motion controllers allow you to use both at once — definitely the preferred option. I kept wondering what a fully-fledged Soul Caliber-type game would be like with this kind of control. Totally different to a standard fighter game, of course, but boy could it be fun.
Beach Volleyball is made up of a series of pre-canned move type that you need to activate at the correct time. When you’re serving from up close, you punch the ball. Serving from far away means hitting the ball underarm. Setting up a ball for your partner to hit brings the camera in to the side, and so on. It’s fun enough, but with movement stuck on automatic and no real freedom in what you can do, it’s a bit too abstracted from volleyball for my liking.
Table Tennis is an interesting one. It’s probably the best motion-based depiction of the sport around, but that may not be saying much. The Move’s tight controls really help here, and matches can get pretty intense. Yet I couldn’t really ever get a solid feel of how much power to give a shot, or where the ball might go based on the angle of my bat. Practice would overcome this, but I certainly couldn’t really use my experience playing table tennis in the real world. It’s sort of like singing in SingStar — you’re learning to play the game much more than you are learning to sing.
Archery is... well, you hit targets. It’s not terrible, although I wouldn’t recommend it with just a single Move controller. But it certainly didn’t grip me, even in multiplayer. And Disc Golf may have perked my interest, but in the end suffered from too many unknowns when you were taking your shot. The goal is to throw a frisbee near a target, while an opponent tries to do the same. The problem, again, is that it’s hard to judge how strong your wrist flicks should be — it’s simply a result of taking away the actual physical object in your hand.
And now here’s the paragraph that compares Sports Champions to Wii Sports. You can certainly see semi-direct equivalents in a lot of the sports: Bocce stands in for bowling; Gladiator Duel replaces boxing; Disc Golf is the closest thing to regular golf; and Table Tennis is at least sort of like regular tennis. I would say that the extra fidelity in Move makes a lot of the sports on offer here more satisfying — it’s harder to get away with a lazy flick of the controller to swipe your racquet, for example. Gladiator Duel, in particular, is far more involved and interesting than the frenzied shallowness of the Wii’s boxing.
So overall, it’s a mixed bag of sports, but generally of a higher quality and depth than rival offerings. But one problem I have — and I was surprised to have this problem — is the lack of Mii’s. You can select from a bunch of pre-made characters, but who cares about them? When playing against my mates, I want all of us to create digital versions of ourselves and have them perform hilarious victory dances.
In fact, I’d settle for any personality whatsoever. Sports Champions is a very Sony offering: technically competent and extremely slick, but somewhat devoid of actual personality. There’s no overarching narrative holding these disparate games together; no points system driving you to try out a bunch of different things; and certainly no characters that you care about. Sure, this might not be essential in the slightest, but even a token stab would help make this feel more like a cohesive package, and less like a series of (admittedly pretty good) tech demos.
Nonetheless, this is the game to get if you’re set on buying a Move controller or two. It’s a shame that we couldn’t have more involved experiences at launch, but Sports Champions should tide you over until the mythical bunch of ‘second generation’ Move games arrive - and it's priced reasonably at around $60. If they can flesh out the concepts found here, Move should end up being a very interesting platform.