After what seemed like months of waiting and dreaming of glowing balls, PlayStation Move is upon us, and leading the charge on the software side of things is Sports Champions, a mini-game collection of six different sports. Sony thinks so highly of this title that it's packed in the official PlayStation Move starter pack and the official Move/PS3 bundle. And after playing with it for a little bit, it's easy to see why, thanks to its accessibility and controls – although it might not be the home run some sports fans were looking for.
Buy Sports Champions, and you're getting volleyball, table tennis, disc golf, gladiator duel, bocce and archery in one package. Each game can be played with one PlayStation move controller, but a few (volleyball, gladiator and archery) support two PlayStation Move controllers per player for an even more realistic feel. Overall, the Move controls work well.
Archery seems to be the universal favorite with everyone I've played with. The act of holding the bow steady with one Move controller and pulling the other back like your arrow is simple and fun. It's easy to track where the arrow will go on the screen, so just about anyone can feel like Green Arrow after getting the hang of the control scheme. Sweetening the pot is a bunch of variations to play. There's a tic-tac-toe board where you're trying to mark your spots before your opponent can, one where you have to shove a sled across a field with your arrows, and so on. This keeps the sport from being a one-trick pony.
Sadly, that isn't the case for all the games on this disc. I actually really dig bocce ball in Sports Champions, but there are no crazy cool variations for it. Every time I sit down to play, I'm just tossing balls. Similarly, disc golf is fun, but you're strutting your stuff on the same courses over and over again. Don't get me wrong; the controls work well here in these games – I throw a Frisbee far better in this virtual world a than I do in real life – but the experience starts to feel like the same-old-same-old pretty quick.
Sports Champions' volleyball match is an interesting idea that doesn't provide for the most exciting time, at least in my matches. Here, you use the controller or controllers to spike, dig, set and so on, but the computer automatically moves your player around. You just stab or swing the controller when a circle goes green around the ball. It's a bit ho-hum. Meanwhile, table tennis provides plenty of opportunity to slam flaming ping pong balls back at your opponents, but I had a lot of trouble returning balls that were hit to the center of my side as I couldn't seem to get the PlayStation Move in the sweet spot and couldn't get power behind it.
Rounding out the pack is gladiator duel. Here, one controller is your shield and another is your sword or mace. One controller can function as both if that's all you have, but having to share control of two things with one controller can be a pain. Anyway, you slash with your weapon, slam people with your shield, and try to be the last one standing in the end. The system's OK and sometimes the slashing feels great, but the stiffness of the characters and the super-simple visuals make this feel like a really basic arcade game rather than a full-fledged PS3 game.
Each of these sports has three ladder trees to play through on your own, challenges to play, and multiplayer to tackle. I didn't have any issues with the game not reading multiple controllers, so feel free to get out there and play with pals – but beware of barbs. Even though the most fun I had in Sports Champions was playing with other people, I had to put up with the understandable comments of "This is so empty – it looks like an MMO."
You see, the biggest issue with Sports Champions is that everything feels rather bland. There are a bunch of characters to play as, but they're all just athletic stereotypes. End-of-game stats are just plain text on the screen without any flair. The environments – especially the table tennis arenas – are empty and feel barren. The world just doesn't feel alive, and it hurts the experience.
Of course, perhaps this was the plan. Sony wants you to jump in and be the star of Sports Champions, so giving you some average characters, super-simple stat screens and empty places leaves you to fill the game with your personality and multiplayer fun. However, the game's so generic that it's actually sinks itself. If I don't care about any of these characters. Why would I care about unlocking new outfits for them? Sports Champions doesn't have that polish you'd expect for a big launch title. It feels stiff and sterile. That doesn't mean it's not fun, but it certainly means that it's not revolutionary.