Sports Champions is bound to be the most owned Playstation Move game when the motion-detecting peripheral hits the Playstation 3 on Sept. 19.
That's because the game comes bundled with the controller and camera and with a special Playstation 3 console pack. But you can also pick the collection of sports games up for $40 or so on its own.
But would you want to? Or is the Sports Champions essentially the Playstation 3's version of Wii Sports or Wii Sports Resort: A game meant more to ease you into the notion of a certain type of motion gaming than it is meant to entertain.
Gladiator Duel: Easily my favorite among the bunch, Gladiator Duel has just enough realism and just enough over-the-top action to deliver an experience that makes you feel like you could be a natural gladiator. Playing with a single Move controller is OK, but the game really sings when you dual wield controllers. The controller in your left hand controls the shield, the controller in your right, your weapon. Attacks can be delivered from either side, high, low or straight down, but to do so you have to actually make the proper motion. The same is true for the shield. Don't block in the right place and you're going to get hit.
Archery: Another fun game made better with two Move controllers. Hold one as if it were the bow and the other as if it were the arrow. You have to reach back to grab an arrow and then stretch out and hold the two controllers in front of you notch the arrow. Pulling back on the right controller pulled back the arrow, releasing the trigger on that controller releases the arrow. The game's view zooms in down the shaft of the arrow as you draw back, showing not only a targeting reticule, but also how the arrow will drop as it flies further from you. The matches have you shooting against other players or the game-controlled character to see who can get the most bullseyes, hit the most fruit, land arrows on a grid of targets to win at tic-tac-toe or headshot wooden monsters before they roll all of the way down the range to you.
Disc Golf: Just like the sport, Disc Golf has you throwing Frisbees down around a golf course-like field to try and get the disc in a bucket first. The game does a great job of detecting angle, the power of your throw and the snap of your release, delivering a very realistic feeling experience.
Bocce: Popular Italian ball game Bocce gets a fantastic version in Sports Champions. In the game, you take turns throwing a wooden ball at a smaller ball located down the field from you. The person with the closest ball or balls gets the points. You can also smack the small ball around during a throw. The Move controller does an admirable job of detecting the heft, spin and release point of each throw and then translating that into the direction and movements of the ball. The end result is a surprisingly fun, and rarely seen digital version of a great ball sport.
Volleyball: Not as impressive as the other collected sports in this game pack, Volleyball still delivers a fun experience. As with most motion-controlled net sports, you have no direct control over where you stand or where your avatar moves in a match. Instead you're meant to concentrate on the trinity of volleyball: bumping, setting and spiking. All three motions are fairly straightforward, but the key is your timing. A colored circle around the ball shows its progress. The color and size of the circle lets you know when it's best to make the motion to deliver a move. As with most of the sports in this game, playing with two Move controllers really adds to the experience.
Fun Surprises : There's a lot of neat, a lot of unexpected in Sports Champions. You can unlock new weapons, new equipment and new outfits. You can play against up to three other people at the same time. In Gladiator Duel, pieces of your shield get hacked away, showing exactly where a weapon struck it. And there are those surprise augmented reality prize photos. After completing a full round of matches in a sport and winning one of the game's three trophies, it takes a picture of you as a keepsake, turning the Move controller into a fitting piece of equipment. For instance, when you wave the controller around after earning the Gladiator trophy, on the television the live video image of you looks like you're holding a sword. Very cool.
Detailed, High-Def Graphics: Make no mistake, these are Playstation 3 games. The background is packed with detail and the character models are big and colorful and the whole thing moves smoothly in response to your motions.
Table Tennis: This is the only sport in Sports Champions that I didn't really like. The controller seemed to have trouble tracking the sudden, quick, small movements of paddle play and translating them into the game. And when they did, the graphics sometimes ran into issues of its own. For instance, my serves often ended with my avatar displaying an arm folded like paper where no joint should be. The game also tracked depth, allowing you to move closer or further from the screen during gameplay. But it was hard to judge that depth during a match.
No Meta Game: It would have been nice for the developers to tie all of these wonderful sports together into some greater challenge, perhaps deliver a plot or overriding reason for why you're playing all of these games. As it stands, Sports Champions feels exactly like what it is, a seemingly random selection of solid, fun-to-play sports games.
Constant Configure: Point the Move controller at the screen and press two buttons. Hold the controller at your shoulder and press a button. Point it at the floor and press a button, hold it above an imagined belt buckle and press a button. Now do this or some derivation of it every time you change sports. In general I loved what Sports Champions had to offer, but I sure wish it was less paranoid about the precision of the controllers and let me just play.
I was a fan of most of the offerings found in Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort. I even found a few things redeeming about Wii Play. But that doesn't make me a mini-game sports fanboy. I still expect some depth to my collection of casual and unusual pick-up-and-play games. Fortunately, Sports Champions more than delivers.
For better or worse, I was expecting Sports Champions to be a glorified Wii Sports, the Playstation 3's answer to casual, motion gaming. What I wasn't expecting was a set of experiences that so effortlessly blended high-resolution graphics with precision motion detection. Sports Champions managed to give me a level of intuitive motion gaming I've rarely found, even on the Wii's MotionPlus, and did so in a way I found oddly addictive and pleasantly fun.
Sports Champions was developed by Zindagi Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PS3 on Sept. 19. Retails for $39.99 USD alone. It also comes bundled with a Move pack and a Playstation 3 Move console bundle. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes. Played far, far too much Gladiator Duel.
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