Sports Champions is a Move-required game that includes, with the exclusion of sword dueling, an assortment of recreational activities. It is a game designed with the family in mind. It offers six unique games that widely vary from one another: Volleyball, Gladiator Duel, Bocce, Disc Golf, Archery, and Table Tennis. Other than a couple of slow-paced, yet relaxing games, Sports Champions requires a lot of physical interactions, so I strongly advise taking a break whenever arm fatigue kicks in. That can be hard to do, since the game can become addictive fun once you get going, so grab your friends, family or significant other and enjoy one of the most realistic sports experiences ever!
Each sport can be played in a single campaign mode that consists of three Cups each: Bronze, Silver and Gold. The Bronze Cup includes tutorials that teach the basic controls as you play along. You face off against 10 players in each Cup, with a challenge mode set up as an intermission. You earn stars after each victory, with 3 stars being the most. Loading times between turns or serves are excellent. However, they become significantly longer during a match point. This is an extreme mood killer, especially if the game deuces, because not only does it extend the match, it also forces players to endure multiple match point load times. I didn’t find calibration to be the nuisance I expected it to be. It’s a harmless, quick process that measures the depth and height of the player. The Move needs to be calibrated before every game. Recalibration is unnecessary as long as you proceed with the same single player mode, or don’t switch to a different sport while playing with others. You always have the option to recalibrate the Move controller at any time during the game though, just in case it seems off.
Now, without further delay, let me introduce the sports!
Bocce consists of a target ball, called the pallino, and bocce (throwing) balls. You start by throwing the pallino, then each player gets a point for every bocce that is thrown closest to the pallino. The player with the most points wins. There is a meter that indicates the ideal amount of force that should be applied to underhand throws. Motioning your hand without releasing the trigger button will give you a feel for how the meter works. To throw the balls, simply release the trigger to release the ball. You can also roll the balls against smooth surfaces (similar to bowling, in a way). The Move controller nicely translates how gently or forcibly you throw the ball in the game. Rotating your wrist at the end of a throw will make the ball spin in the direction of the twist after landing. Flicking your wrist upwards spins the ball in a way that allows it to halt as it lands. This can be a lot harder than it sounds, and even though successfully pulling these moves off can prove difficult, it’s half the fun.
After the first couple of matches, I was under the impression that Bocce was always played on smooth surfaces with wooden boarders. However, you’ll start to find yourself playing in urban parks and wooden docks, with or without clear boundaries, on sloped grounds, negotiating elevated objects and holes, and countless other interferences, all of which greatly affects how and where the balls land. You can interrupt the location of the opponent's balls and/or the pallino to turn the tides in your favor. Other controls include shimmying the character left or right and rotating them. You can skip opponent throws in both Bocce and Disc Golf, which helps to somewhat speed up the process of the game, since the AI can really drag out. Bocce isn’t a game you want to introduce to company because it can definitely kill the party. This game is best played in single player mode, when you have an hour or two to kill. And while it’s a pleasant surprise, it can get boring.
Gladiator Duel is a head-to-head battle that can be played with one or two motion controllers. Players face off in an arena and the aim is to deplete the opponent’s health bar, or knock them out the ring. This game truly shows off what the Move can do because it works in almost full 1:1. Players automatically move towards each other, which keeps you within striking distance. Each player is equipped with a shield that can be used with a second Move controller, or by holding the trigger button with one motion controller. There’s not a single type of attack that you can’t pull off: horizontal and vertical slices, leg sweeping, air launching, mid-air attacks, thrusting, head-bashing and even face kicking downed opponents.
Quick, successful combos will sometimes stun the opponent, leaving them open for a launch attack. You can regain balance by leveling and rotating your arms. The harder you swing the Move controller, the more damage you’ll inflict. Each player has a Super Strike gauge that gradually fills up as you successfully block and parry attacks. You can activate it by hitting X after it fills up. If you successfully land a strike on an opponent before it depletes, you will perform a special attack, controlled by a few motion sequences. Players can also dodge attacks using the Triangle, Square, or Move buttons. Shield bashing is good for freeing up an attack on opponents who constantly block. Shields that receive multiple attacks will begin to shatter and wither away, giving you more openings. Gladiator Duel is best played with two motion controllers in the single player mode. It can get really exciting and challenging, although I do advise taking the occasional break. It is just as satisfying playing with another person, and it can get quite competitive.
The rules of Disc Golf are pretty much the same game as ordinary golf, except you use a frisbee instead of a ball, and replace the hole with a chain basket. There are three types of discs: the driver, mid-range disc and putter, which the player can browse through with the Circle button. Triangle allows for free-view and the Move button rotates the player. Just as in Bocce, you grab hold of the disc with the trigger button, motion a throw, and release. A gauge for practice throwing is also to the left of the screen, along with a map that provides a landscape of the terrain and its obstacles. Driving the disc over lakes and waterfalls, through caves and tree branches is pretty neat, especially since you can curve throw, which helps make the discs flow swiftly around obstacles. However, wind resistance can heavily effect the spiraling of the disc in elevated tosses, whereas icy slopes can make them rest feet away from where they originally landed.
Disc Golf is probably the sleeper hit in the line-up; a fun game you didn’t care about until you actually played it yourself. Sharing creative ideas on how to throw the disc with others is fun, and the single player mode is just as great. Don’t forget to try the torpedo throw!
Those who are familiar with volleyball will know that there are three basic fundamentals in the sport: receiving the ball from the opponent, setting up the ball, and then finally striking. That 1, 2, 3 set-up is represented beautifully in Sports Champions. The best way to counter a serve, or spike, is with the typical folded hands hit, aiming the Move in the direction of your team-mate. You can use the same technique for setting up the ball, but I found that tipping the ball upwards works best. You can raise the ball a long way into the air, giving your teammate more time to react and correctly strike the ball, especially if they’re recovering from a dive, or you can set it up for a quick strike. You can strike (spike) the ball in any direction you want. However, you can tip the ball over the opponents head if you see an open area for a quick point. You can block spikes by lifting your hands in the air, and swinging them left or right, predicting the direction of the attack. You’ll notice a ring around the ball on various occasions – to avoid passing or spiking the ball too early or too late - which will change color to green when it's the ideal time to hit the ball. Sometimes the game will give the player the opportunity to dive for a ball that is out of reach by slowing down time, which helps you to counter spiked balls.
One thing to keep in mind while playing volleyball is to avoid lazily slapping the ball. If you don’t physically tap or strike the ball with the correct motion, it will fall flat on the ground. Also, if you don’t keep control over the direction you hit the ball, it can easily be jerked out of bounds. Volleyball is best played with friends. Playing the single player campaign doesn’t do it justice. This game can have up to four people playing at once, and while it can support two Move controllers per player, it feels more comfortable with just one, with the EyeToy doing a decent job of tracking the empty hand.
Here is the gem of Sports Champions. The physics of this game get so real that I’m constantly reminded of how terrible I am at table tennis, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from having a blast with this masterpiece. The first, and only, obstacle to get passed in this game is visualizing the dimensions of the tennis paddle using the move controller. It’s important to keep the face of the paddle directed towards the opponent’s side of the table as you strike. It’s not unusual for the ball to be carelessly flung out of play. A shadow provides a range for where the ball may land. If the ball is short, you can lean forwards to reach it. If it’s overshot, you can step back and recover it.
Spiking lobbed balls is fun, and putting the correct spin on an ordinary ball to create a spike is even more enjoyable. The player can under-slice or over-slice the ball, giving it a spin or making it travel faster. You can experiment and combine these hitting methods for some really amazing shots. The best defense against spiked balls is to block them and not swing at them. Another friendly tip is to correctly swing at balls anticipated to tip off the side of table because those still count! This game is just as exciting whether it’s against a friend or CPU, and it’s one of the first sports to consider playing when starting up the game.
Archery is played by hitting various stationary or pull-up targets. They include bull’s-eyes, watermelons, pumpkins, apples, projectiles and… tic-tac-toe grids? The tougher the targets you hit, the more points you’re awarded. The game limits you and your opponent with a certain amount of arrows, or a time frame. Whoever gathers the most points wins. The arrow dips the further it travels, so it doesn’t help to aim directly at distant targets. Besides being alert, all you have to keep in mind are the few mini-windmills that can cover targets. Archery, along with Gladiator Duel, is one of the most tiring of the six games. But, unlike dueling, it isn’t tiring because of constant movement, but because of the strain it causes on your forearm, elbow and wrist from constantly extending them.
Archery can be played with one or two Move controllers. Archery with one controller has the easiest controls of Sports Champions. Simply reach behind your back, press and hold the trigger button, aim, and finally release. The longer you hold the trigger button, the more tension you add to the strike. Putting too much tension on the bow will significantly narrow down the player’s scope of view, but you can have it remain broadened by tilting the Move controller upwards after reaching for an arrow. This helps you to keep track of moving targets that could potentially disappear from view. Archery with two Move controllers becomes one of the hardest and most frustrating games to play because it has the worst controls. You use the second controller for aiming and positioning the bow, but the aiming feels off. You have to raise the second controller way over your head to actually get within the strike zone, making it a game of estimation and not accuracy. I thought it was due to the gaming set-up, but I got the same awkward results after multiple recalibrations, turning off all light sources and even trying it at another person’s house. It's a shame because this was a game I was really looking forward to playing with two controllers. You can rotate the bow sideways with the second controller, which is a pretty effective way of keeping the glowing globe from blocking your view. Unlike playing with one controller, though, you don’t simply nock the arrow by aiming at the screen, but by connecting it with the second Move controller and then pulling back.
Archery is great, whether it’s single player or with someone else, but it’s definitely best played with just one controller. Because it demands a lot of attention and focus, it’s probably the only game that won’t include smack talk while playing with others.
Sports Champions has a lot of different settings, each being as gorgeous as the next. Gladiator Duel, for example, features run-down coliseum-like arenas or dark temples which have destructible pillars. Beach Volleyball includes beautiful sandy beaches, military bases and isolated islands with volcanoes spewing lava into the ocean. But perhaps Disc Golf has the most diverse and stunning environments, which you can actually explore. The sports champions themselves are modeled well in the game, and look great in HD. The game has rich sound effects, but the music is lacking. The game, however, does have a customizable music feature that allows you to play any soundtrack stored on the PS3.
Challenges become available after completing them in Cup mode. You can also unlock new arenas for multiplayer by completing Cups. Cups dramatically increase in difficulty, making them very challenging. There’s also a fourth, and very difficult, Champion Cup that can be unlocked after successfully completing the Gold Cup. At the end of the Gold Cup, there’s a boss challenge which unlocks that boss as a playable character if defeated. There are a total of seven unlockable bosses. After winning a Cup, you’re rewarded a victory pose, which is a picture of yourself holding the equipment you used in the game. You can post those photos on Facebook, but the quality is really poor, making them a pretty embarrassing status update.
Depending on the number of stars you collect from the single player mode, you can unlock outfits and equipment for characters. The sort of equipment that can be unlocked ranges from a lollipop instead of a tennis paddle, to stone discs, and even Cupid’s bow for archery! And that’s really just scratching the surface. The only area where value takes a hit in Sports Champions is the online. There is no online, and this has to go down as one of the biggest disappointments in PSN’s short history, because Sports Champions, if you haven’t figured it out already, is a social game.
The question everyone is probably asking themselves now is “is Sports Champions worth picking up the Move controller for?” And I’ll answer that with another question: are you open to a new gaming scheme that introduces a variety of fun, competitive or family-friendly sports games, including balls, discs, bows, arrows and swords, all beautifully executed and rendered in countless lush settings? Yes? Then go for it!