This is it. The game that will convince you of PlayStation Move’s real potential. Yes, it’s a sports mini-game compilation comprising a bunch of unconnected motion-controlled events, but to pass it off as Wii Sports HD would be like saying that BioShock is just Doom with better graphics. The fidelity and depth of control on show here really is that impressive.
You’ll notice it immediately in almost any event you pick up. In fact you’ll spend the first few minutes of that event not actually playing at all. You’ll be too busy twisting, turning and waving whatever sports-based implement is currently at virtual hand in order to marvel at its totally accurate, totally consistent imitation of it real-world puppet master.
None of that would mean a thing of course, if Sports Champions didn’t react to those movements with complimentary finesse. But where all too many Wii games simply translate rough gestures into two or three pre-canned animations, Sports Champions evokes a very real sense of a physical world reacting to your actions. There’s still a little smoke-and-mirrors streamlining to make things friendlier and cooler, but if there wasn’t, you might as well be doing the real sport rather than playing a video game.
Table Tennis shots can be placed quickly and cleanly anywhere you want them on the table, using nothing more than pure instinct and some knowledge of real-world physics. The Frisbees of Disc Golf launch into the air with a million different trajectories and flight paths depending on the angle, strength and point of-release of your throw. And although requiring some trickier mastery of fake 3D space, the ball-tossing Bocce provides a huge amount of variation by accurately reading the pitch and spin of your throws every time. Only Volleyball really fails in the fun stakes, its use of automated character movement reducing your input to simply hitting the right kind of shot at the right time, giving things an uncomfortable QTE feel at times.
But the ones you really want to know about are the sword fighting and archery, aren’t they? Go on, you can admit it. We went straight to them as soon as we fired the disc up.
Basically, they’re fantastic. With every directed sweep of your digi-blade and every angling of your shield tightly replicated, Gladiator Duel is a far deeper and more tactical game than you’d maybe expect. It’s all about carefully picking your moment and parrying your opponent’s attacks, while eyeing them up for defensive chinks. Once you spot a gap, you can nail it with a carefully-placed blow and follow up with a totally free-form combo, even finishing off with special moves if you’ve charged up your power meter along the way. Essentially, it’s like being in Soul Calibur, and as such, it’s an absolute hoot.
And although packing less variety or brutal hardcore appeal, Archery is still a boatload of fun. The idea of miming every action, from the pulling of the arrow and the notching of it on the bow, to the pull and release of the string, sounds frankly ridiculous, but in practice it's an insanely immersive experience, and one of the game’s crowning moments of badassery once you start pulling rapid reload-and-fire chains, Legolas-style.
Downsides? The presentation is, on the whole, a load of unappealing, soulless arse, with a bright, shiny, but sterile feel reminiscent of PlayStation Home. And you’ll have to overlook the fact that all of the playable characters are either musclebound knuckle-heads or flagrantly lazy racial stereotypes, the likes of which would cause the casts of both Gears of War and Street Fighter some serious palm-related facial bruising.
There’s also a lack of any real sense of progression. One of Wii Sports’ smartest ideas was its ambient levelling system, but with no such mechanism here, you’ll be stuck with repeatedly hammering your way through bland AI opponents in fairly repetitive tournaments if you want any sense of single-player achievement. And it goes without saying, with Gladiator Duel and Archery both far more enjoyable when using two Move controllers (though they’re certainly playable with just one), you’ll be looking at quite a bit of expense if you want to access the full fun held on Sports Champions’ shiny disc.
That said though, there is quite a bit of it.