There I was, sweat pouring off my forehead. Every laboured breath burning through my lungs, but regardless of the pain in my calves, a toothy grin appeared on my face. As I crawled towards the couch, I gasped, “Most…awesome… workout…ever”. But then, I caught a glimpse of my cellphone’s LCD screen. My eyes instantly widened, and with a few choice expletives thrown in, I screamed “What the *%#$…that was only 5 minutes? %$#% @#$”.
Obviously, I’m grossly underestimating my athletic ability a bit – my first attempt only lasted 8 MINUTES – but despite all my protests to the contrary, there’s something decidedly delightful about motion gaming. Which is interesting, because in the last two years, I’ve only bothered to buy three or four PS Move exclusives. The most notable (for me) was the original Sports Champions, and a dismally underrated, but highly competent boxing title called The Fight: Lights Out. Both managed to provide a slight glimpse of what was possible with the technology. Fast forward two years, and I think we can all agree that the PS Move was essentially SONY’s failed attempt to appeal to casual gamers. You could even think of it as motion gaming’s Dreamcast. For those who didn’t catch the reference, the Dreamcast was technically superior to the Nintendo 64 and the PSOne (it even launched with an innovative eye fixated on online gaming), but sadly, not even that was enough and SEGA bowed out of the hardware race.
The PS Move may not have set motion gaming alight, with frantic light-sabre action, or swashbuckling pirate-y action, (and depending on where you stand “SONY dropped the ball with it” or the PlayStation 3’s fanbase eats casuals for breakfast), but the hardware’s latest title, Sports Champions 2 reminded me that the PS Move is an exceptional, but sadly undervalued piece of kit. I (literally) spent countless hours playing the original Sports Champions. The two events that kept me coming back for more was Bocce and Disc Golf. It was strange, because they were sport types that I wouldn’t in a million years have thought that I would enjoy, and yet, I did. It also made me realise that Zindagi Games actually took a gamble when they opted to include the “quirkier” events. To their credit, they didn’t just copy the Wii Sports model, and actually tried to have Sports Champions craft its own niche. Obviously, the gamble was met with mixed responses, because sadly, the gamers wanted “Wii Sports” on a Sony console. Unfortunately, the unwashed gaming masses got their wish, and Zindagi has built a game that should appeal to the vox populi. It’s a decision that has left me very disappointed.
However, regardless of my frowny face, I can’t deny that Sports Champions 2 is an improvement on the original. The controls have been tightened. The once lengthy calibration screen has been steam-lined, and the game actually looks pretty impressive. Also, Archery makes a welcomed return, and is also joined by 5 new sports events. Zindagi has managed to capture the peculiar mechanics of each of the 6 events, and created a very competent translation using the Move controllers. What’s even more interesting is that unlike the previous game, where it felt awkward to play with just one controller, sport types – that traditionally would have required two- can be easily played with just one. Obviously, if you want to unleash your inner Muhammad Ali, and float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, two controllers in your hand will make you feel like a king.
Archery is the only event that survived the cut from the original title. While, the gameplay remains unchanged from the previous game. The event has been fleshed out a little. You’re no longer merely shooting at stationary and moving targets (while trying to beat a fellow player or the computer). You must also fend off advancing hordes of wooden zombies and goblins. The play style is still unchanged from the previous game. You have to reach back to grab an arrow from the quiver, and then nock the arrow, where after you can draw the string and let the arrow find an exposed knee (this meme will never die!).
My personal favourites for Sports Champions 2 have to be the Bowling and Boxing events. Boxing is conceptually straightforward, and without a doubt works best with two controllers. The harder you punch, jab or throw a hook or uppercut, the more damage you can afflict on your opponents. The only downside is that movement is limited, and your match quality is greatly influenced by your fitness level. The silver matches had me lying exhausted on the floor, with barely the strength to pose for my victory picture. Bowling is strangely both the easiest event and also the hardest to master. The neat thing about this event is that you can add spin to your ball, using your wrist. It’s a genuinely fun event, but the first series of Bronze and Silver matches give the impression that it’s easy to get concurrent strikes.
Skiing is another competent event, however it’s also my least favourite addition to Sports Champion 2. While, I can’t flaw the controls, with the Move controllers acting like Ski poles. I just couldn’t get into it as much as I thought I would. You can attempt a few tricks by launching yourself off ramps, and even attempt a somersault or two, but it just feels like it could have benefited from a bit more flair. Races require you to avoid obstacles by moving your character by leaning from one direction to another. You can also attempt increase your speed by bending your knees a little, or using the Move controllers as Ski poles and push yourself forward by digging at the snow. But, I think the biggest problem with the Skiing event, is that it feels like it was copy-and-pasted out of Kinect sports.
But the real surprise has to be the Golf event. It’s a case of simplicity of controls actually adding complexity in action. Much like with real Golf, you have to be mindful of wind direction, your choice of golf club, and your swinging technique. I cheated a bit by facing the camera, and swinging the controller by my hip, but it remains without a doubt one of the trickier events. The weakest event in the title has to be Tennis. While the controls have been nicely implemented you have no control over the movement of your character. It’s all about swinging your move controller, while your character places himself for optimal shots. If they had allowed the use of the sub-controller or even dualshock controller to allow you to move independently, the event would have been a lot more challenging and definitely more engaging.
Aesthetically, Sports Champions 2 is a beauty. The framerates run smoothly. The graphics are crisp, and as expected the lightning effects are superb. The ability to customise your avatar (rather than merely choosing from a number of pre-set characters) is a welcomed addition. The best bit is that you don’t have to settle for a boring jock. You can add wacky hairdos with odd colours, tattoos or even apply bizarre skin colours to your character. In addition, additional equipment and uniforms are unlocked through events, which means at the end of the day, the sheer number of customisation options would rival a typical role-playing game.
If you already own the original Sports Champions, the obvious question would be; “should I bother with the sequel?”. While the improvements are truly exceptional, and I could rave on about the character creator, it does boil down to whether you’d like to settle for a game that amounts to a prettier and more competent Wii Sports? Quite frankly, while I’d love to recommend the game, it just doesn’t have the same impact as the earlier title. On the plus side, it does make a terrific party game, and if you’re new to PS Move, what are you waiting for? Quick! Go get it!