Of all the Playstation Move launch titles, one game particularly stands out as the showpiece: Sports Champions. This is partly because of its similarities to a certain other sporting mini-game collection that appeared alongside a motion controller, and partly because Sony are very much pushing it as the main event to begin with – even going as far as to bundle it with the Move controller in the USA. No such luck over here, but at a budget price, it’s certainly worth a look.
But let’s assume you’re as yet unfamiliar with the Move controller. It’s a black, rounded handle shaped controller which fits snugly in the hand. It looks pleasingly sleek, or would do if you kept the top bit covered – a rubbery glowing ball, which changes colour so that the Playstationcamera can track you accurately in the room. This is what makes the control behave a lot more predictably than other camera based outings – I’m looking at you You’re In the Movies. Or I would be, if I hadn’t buried that particular game in a remote wasteland several months ago.
How well the Move controller works is, to a degree, dependent on the game, but the overall result is very nicely – and it feels a lot more flexible that the Wii’s remote control. The camera tracking measures you in 3 dimensional space, as well as where the controller’s pointing, and how it’s being moved. The upshot of this is that, in something like Table Tennis, you can apply spin, lean in for shots and step away from the table, and your actions will be replicated on screen. It’s nothing short of the same kind of revelatory gaming moment the first day you unwrapped Wii Sports.
Two paragraphs in and already two references to Wii Sports – that’s pretty telling. The similarities are right there, although Sony has tried to hide it by subtly changing the games so Nintendo can’t whine at them at the next big game conference. Golf becomes Disc Golf, Bowling becomes Bocce and Tennis becomes Table Tennis. If you’re thinking that none of those games sound as fun as the Wii Sports lineup, then you’re pretty much bang on the money. While none of them are bad, I for one would have loved a proper golf game rather than a sport that has been nicknamed ‘frolf’ with zero irony. The lineup of games on the disk is completed by Archery, Volleyball and Gladiator Duel, and spotting the odd one out of the selection should be akin to spotting the one that isn’t a glove puppet on the Sooty show. Quite why the game decides that Ancient Rome holds the best fighting experience for the controller is a mystery, but then I suppose Wii Sports already took boxing.
Anyway, there are six games and the good news is that they’re all pretty decent. Table Tennis is probably my pick of the lot, because it shows off the controllers accuracy so well. If you’re reasonable at the real sport, you’ll pick this up right away, even pulling off side and top spin, and smashes with different moves on the controller. The bat appears on screen in front of you, so you can always tell what position you’re holding it in, and like in all the other events there’s a single player championship to complete as well as competitive multiplayer (which of course needs two Move pads). The difficulty ramps up through the competitions, and you’ll need the full range of motions by the time you reach the Gold Championship, where the opposition will be firing smashes and spin shots at you, in an effort to make you slip up.
Next up is Disk Golf, which is already at an advantage by allowing multiplayer for up to four people without needing to buy extra Move controllers. And while I would prefer a genuine golf game, or a mini-golf version, Disk Golf does pretty much everything you could want from it. Tilting the Move controller when you make the throwing motion will send the disk to the left or right after you release, while you can perfect the force you push the controller with using the accompanying mini-map and power bar. It’s only when you release the trigger on the back, that the disk goes flying – hopefully towards the target, rather than straight into the various water hazards on the course included.
Archery is one of the games which can be played with one Move controller or two – and is probably the only one that makes a big difference when played this way. It’s perfectly serviceable with just the one pad (and gives a surprising workout), but an extra one allows you to mimic the motions more naturally adding to the engagement. The Challenge mode in this one involves you shooting at various targets, ranging from straight forward ‘dart-board’ style shots, all the way to melons balanced on beams (that explode with an accompanying gratifying ‘splat’) and bags of money fired towards you, requiring you to adjust your aim for where the target will be. It’s good, but not as addictive as Table Tennis or Disk Golf, and can really tire your arms, so is best played in small sessions.
Next up is Bocce. What? You’ve never heard of Bocce!? Surely you watched the Bocce World Cup this summer, and read with envy about the kind of money the World’s best Bocce players attract? No? Me neither. It turns out it’s a bit like Bowls. You throw or roll balls (the Move controller is very good at telling the difference) across the playing area, and try to angle yours to be closest to the target ball. It’s a close approximation to the real thing (I imagine), but the truth is the sport isn’t really interesting or varied enough to be one you keep coming back to. That said, the controls work well, and it’s a nice change of pace. Just don’t expect to be rushing out to buy all the pro Bocce kit on the back of this introduction.
Gladiator Duel is next – almost as popular a sport as Bocce in the 21st century. This one works with two Move controllers if you have them, with one acting as a shield and the other as the sword. This one feels like you’re missing less when playing with just the one, and it’s quite well realised – like a more accurate version of the sword fights from Red Steel on the Wii. It loses some points for being complex enough to require use of the face buttons on the Move controller to duck out of the way of certain hits, but it’s still a solid addition to the lineup.
I’ve kept the worst until last – Volleyball is a game that I can’t really see myself returning to in a hurry. The motions feel less connected, and the game itself is almost insultingly simple as character positioning is controlled entirely by the computer. The player is simply in charge of moving at the right time with one of a handful of motions, while the game prompts you to do so, making the whole thing seem like a glorified Quick Time Event. As you can imagine, this gets old before the end of the first round. The idea of playing all the way through the bronze, silver and gold cups will be a bridge too far for most gamers.
In terms of presentation, the game is leaps and bounds ahead of Wii Sports, of course. The courses in Disk Golf are particularly easy on the eye, with water effects and tree shadows giving you the illusion of a well kept piece of nature, rather than allowing you to acknowledge the untidy state of your living room (well, mine at least). One slight negative is the complete charmlessness of the characters in game, who all resemble the type you’d get on a mid-90s arcade cabinet: brash, arrogant, irritating types who have stock noises for both good and bad bits of play. They’re a diverse mix, which is to be applauded, but part of the charm of Wii Sports was the ability to use your own cartoon image, and to compete with your friends’ cartoon caricatures. To be fair, it’s a minor detail, and should at least placate those who feel insecure about playing the family friendly Wii Sports with anyone over the age of 18.
If you’re looking for the perfect way to show off the Move controller, this seems to be the pick of the retail games out there at launch. There’s a surprising amount of content here, and it’s a great way to get to grips with the new pad. It’s not going to make any Game of the Year lists (except maybe “Best Motion Controlled Sports Game on a BluRay Disk”), but anyone expecting that was seriously deluded, anyway. For a game given away as a freebie with the pad in the States, this is a fun and surprisingly addictive introduction to a new way of playing PlayStation 3, and a very promising sign of things to come when developers get really stuck into the new tech. What’s more than that, it’s definitely one to dust off whenever you have people visiting.
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