Sports Champions 2 Sports Champions 2

On September 7th of 2010, Sony introduced a game that really showed how much the Move had to offer – Sports Champions.   The game featured Table Tennis, Beach Volleyball, Gladiator Duel, Disc Golf, Bocce, and Archery.  Packed in with the hardware, it served up some experiences we’d seen on other platforms, but never quite this well.  While Volleyball fell flat, there was no beating the feeling of squaring off as a Gladiator with a shield, or nocking and arrow and sending it down range.  Naturally, Sony and developer Zindagi Games wanted to follow up the with a sequel, and as such I’ve gotten the chance to take Sports Champions 2 for a spin.  This time around we’ll be a whole new slew of activities to play, but I’m very happy to say ahead of everything thing else that Archery has returned and it’s better than ever.

Sports Champions 2 features Boxing, Bowling, Archery, Skiing, Golf, and Tennis.  To properly review this title I gathered up some friends and family and charged up my move controllers.   The game kicks off with one of the big new features – the ability to create and customize your own character.   There are six pre-made characters, or you can modify the characters that are already in the game.  Clothes, logos, shoes, and much more can be swapped out at will, with a handful of them being locked until you’ve beaten the Bronze, Silver, or Gold Cups to unlock them.  Just as in the previous game, there are some silly options like eyepatches, monocles, funny hair styles, and other fun accessories.

When you are past the customization options you are offered three different options to start the game – Cup Play, Free Play, and Party Play.  To get familiar with the new game activities we kicked off Cup Play.

The Seven-Ten Split

Cup Play is essentially the single-player aspect of Sports Champions 2.   We decided to work from left to right, starting with Bowling.   Now, many of you have likely played Wii bowling and have long since stopped – the fidelity of the Wii Remotes were just not good enough to be a passing fancy.  Zindagi clearly paid attention to fan feedback from their first title – the controls for Bowling are as simple and intuitive as Archery was.  Holding the controller to your shoulder, you hold the trigger, and in one fluid motion you bowl as you naturally would.  That means stepping into your throw, turning your wrist (and by proxy, the controller) to add spin, and how fast you sling the ball make a difference.   I couldn’t think of a better person to test this than somebody who has come close to a 300 game many times in her life – my mother.  After going through the quick tutorials, she bowled her first game – a 147.  By her second game she would throwing over 200, and by her third she was nearing 240.   By simply ignoring everything and simply ‘bowling’ like she used to, she was able to do something I didn’t expect – she beat my score!

Bowling, like all of the games, pits you against rookies and slowly escalates until you reach a boss for each of the three Cup levels.  In between there are challenges.  In this case, you are given a round called “Target Score Bowling” where you have to be a point target value within the given frames.  Another challenge had me waiting for pins to line up and then driving my ball down the lane to hit them.  Super Pin Bowling lights up specific pins that generate extra force to help clear out the other pins and grant extra points.  The event is timed, but hitting all the pins extends that time.  Getting to the end of the Challenge Cup gives you a chance to square off against a boss – in this case, a gold Lamé-wearing disco groovester named “Sven” who throws a shiny disco ball.   After we played through all of the other games and I had plenty of notes for my review, the crew (mom especially) came right back to bowling.   It is, in a word, fantastic.

Sweet Science
Switching to the next game in the list, we jump into another ‘Mii-too’ title – Boxing.  In Wii Sports boxing the game was about furiously ‘waggling’ and hoping that somehow you came out the victor.  Sony wants to bring some more accuracy to the table, and now we have their take on the sweet science of pugilism.  Using natural motions you can jab, hook, punch, uppercut, and block.  Holding back your hand for a few moments will fill up a power meter, allowing you to unleash an unblockable Power Punch.  Using the triggers on both controllers you can dodge left or right, or by hitting both you can dodge backwards for a quick respite from combat.  The challenge mode for this section is a more commonly used training tool, asking the player to hit specific areas of a training dummy in rapid succession.  The boss battle for the Bronze cup is, hilariously enough, Bjorn – a Skyrim-looking warrior wearing a horned hat, bracers, gloves, and a kilt.

Boxing felt natural, but it somehow lacked a little bit of variety.  I easily dusted my opponents time after time by dodging backwards, charging a power punch, and then beating them down while they were stunned.  After I got the hang of it, I had Round 1 knockouts or TKOs every time.  Playing against your friends is where it’s at, but since you are instructed that swinging harder in real life makes your on-screen avatar do the same, you might want to clear some space in the living room for the brawl.

Splitting Arrows
If you watched the recent Olympic coverage, you likely spent a great deal of time checking out the fantastic Archery section of the competition.  Archery is back this time around, and with some solid upgrades.  The first thing you’ll notice is what’s missing – you no longer have to calibrate to jump into the game.  Second, you’ll notice a completely new scoring system.  Rather than a purely numeric value that ramps with each round,  you get a more Olympic style “Best of 3” or “Best of 5” style.  As in the two previous modes, there are also challenges and different mode varieties to mix things up.  In Marksmanship you’ll have 10 arrows to rack up the highest point values possible.  You can get higher point values for splitting arrows, repeating hits, and bullseyes to close the gap in a close match.  Shooting Gallery gives you unlimited arrows and simply asks you to shoot everything that moves.  The Archery Challenge reminded me instantly of Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest as it has the player shooting cardboard cutouts of skeletons to drive them back.

Race mode is a new mode that asks you to push your flag to the top of a pole before your opponent can do the same.  You’ll have to shoot bullseyes as fast and accurately as you can to win this mode.  When you add in shot blockers, you can see how this mode makes your friends go nuts.  Rally is another new mode that has the two shooters trying to juggle a giant cube without letting it touch the ground.  Since it only gets faster the longer you go without the cube hitting terra firma, you can see how this escalates.   Pairs is quite simply the Matching Game from when you were a kid, only you’ll be shooting arrows to select your pictures.  If you loved the archery system in the previous game, you’ll love it here – good luck against the Kunoichi boss, Hana – she will be tough to beat.

Pizza Wedges
Taking to the slopes for our next event, we click some skis to our binders and set off on the powder.  Since the extent of my skiing knowledge comes from 80’s movie “Better Off Dead”, I turned to my wife Laura, a Michigan native and skier, for her advice.  She tells me that the controls are decent approximations of the basics of skiing.  To control your skier you’ll raise or lower one controller, turning towards the lowered one.  Pulling the controls to your waist (you don’t have to actually duck down) will allow you to crouch for speed, whereas pulling them back to your chest will make you stand.  Digging your poles into the snow to push off is done how you’d do it in real life – holding both in front of you and making a pulling motion.  You can also, when coming off of a ramp of some kind, perform flips, throw your legs out to both sides, and other tricks for additional points and speed.

The Skiing Challenge is a simple one, and once again one we’ve seen in the Olympics – downhill.  Rushing down a steep mountain, you have to stay inside of the flag-designated path or suffer a 3 second penalty for each one you miss.  Since snow roughness or obstacles can slow you down or even knock you on your tail, you’ll run the whole gambit of motion controls as you head down the mountain.  When you eventually reach the end of the first cup you’ll face off against, of course, a snow Yeti who has turned to his newest hobby – skiing.  While skiing was a fun distraction, this minigame was surprisingly easy, requiring only that you stay on your feet and don’t hit anything to win.

Hit the Links
Next up on the list of games is one we’ve seen turned into a full-fledged product by EA – Golf.  Tiger Woods has been using the Move in its motion control systems for a few years now, and to great effect.   Sports Champions 2 has clearly benefited from their efforts as it features quite a bit of the same gameplay as the aforementioned.  Setting up in a side-facing golf stance, you’ll swing the controller exactly like a club (another reason to wear the strap, if bowling wasn’t enough!).  Taking into account twisting of the controller, you’ll slice the ball or fade it based on your technique and follow-through.   Since your clubs are often selected for you, your body mechanics are the biggest factor.  The challenge mode for this game has you hitting as many shots as you can for 10 seconds.  Hitting rings multiplies your score or extending your time as your accuracy improves.  The boss battle in this mode is less goofy, pitting you against a guy named “Gunner” that looks not unlike Paul Newman.  This particular game was a little more difficult than the others, requiring a bit more precision – not a fault of the controller by any stretch, but falling squarely on the shoulders of the player.  It’s nice to be challenged and know that practice should make perfect without the need to fight the game mechanics.

ACE!
The final mode in the Cup Play area is Tennis.  Sega brought us Virtua Tennis 4 with Move Controls which was met with less than stellar reviews.  Zindagi Games decided to see if they could put some spin on the ball, and I’m sad to say that they didn’t fare much better.   The controls are intuitive enough, having you raise the controller and overhand hit it at its apex, and you can swing from the right side for a forhand shot or the left for a backhand.   Putting topspin on the ball is as simple as turning the controller appropriately, and charging up for a power shot is handled the same as it is in boxing.   The problem is that all of these controls (other than service) are inconsistent.   Through the course of a dozen matches, any losses came courtesy of strange arm gestures not matching the smooth swings I was trying to execute.  Visually you’ll often see the racket a good 6” above the ball, yet somehow it is returned across the court.  Trying to softly lob just over the net occasionally shot the ball directly 90 degrees to the right.  Speaking of the net – I found that if the ball bounced off the top for any reason it made it nearly impossible to send back across.  Similarly, the on-screen avatar would sometimes twist and contort into a bizarre angle, completely negating any chance I might have had at hitting the ball.  Several retries (and a lot of luck) later, I got to the first challenge mode.  This section has you driving the ball through specific routes through rings which build up score multipliers.  These are cleverly disguised training opportunities to help you more accurately place the ball.  At the end of the first section, ACE-9000, upgraded brother to the ACE-8000 from the first game awaits you.

Free Play and Party Play

Finishing up the single-player portion of the game my friends and I switched over to Free Play.  This mode lets players select any of the modes and play them nearly any way they wish.  As I mentioned, this was where the crew ended up for more bowling and archery.   Party play on the other hand is more suited to its namesake suggests.  Adding up to 8 players, you can record a picture and your own little audio message before selecting the length of game you’d like to play – 3, 5, 7, or custom length.  When your turn is up, pass the controller – it doesn’t matter who is holding what, it’ll work when their turn arrives.  Since the Party Play mode is random, it helps even things up – you never know what mode is just around the corner.

Time for the Trophies
Sports Champions was a solid title, and this sequel does a great job of capitalizing on that good.  The developers clearly read the reviews and put their efforts into sharpening it up.  The three-point calibration system before each and every game is now completely optional – you can just jump in and play.   While the crowds still look pretty rough and blocky, the environments have gotten an upgrade, with the golf courses looking especially solid.  Bowling can take place in a bowling alley, the back of a cruise ship, or even an underwater bowling complex that reminds me of the underwater hotel Poseidon in Fiji.  Tennis can take place on clay, hardtop, or grass.  Archery has you shooting on a target range, or even in an old-tyme shooting gallery.

In the audio department, all of the players are still mute, but the ambient sound is very well done.  On the golf course you’ll hear the cicadas, birds, and a gentle breeze filling the background, and the music in the game, though generic, is suited to each of the sports they support.  Boxing gets a more upbeat and driving track whereas golf is more laid back and subdued.  There was a frequent problem where audio would occasionally drop out completely and then come back a few seconds later.

Sports Champions 2, if nothing else, has shown just how the Move can be effective on a new set of six game types.  While Tennis fell flat, Archery remains strong, and the Bowling portion was an absolute blast.  I know that I just added bowling to our Sunday family game night, and for that I can certainly recommend Sports Champions 2.