IGN Review of Academy of Champions: Soccer
Thanks to the new-found effort to appeal to a younger demographic of gamers we have Academy of Champions: Soccer from Ubisoft. A lot of children start their athletic careers on the soccer field so it stands to reason that Ubisoft should try and kick off what it hopes will be a series of games with the youthful sport. This first effort stars Pele and Mia Hamm, two former soccer greats that act as teachers in the academy. The game itself is a mix of soccer, mini-games, test taking and chatting with classmates. Academy of Champions tries its hardest to engulf you in a fun-filled world of soccer but unless you're under the age of twelve chances are you'll have your fill rather quickly.
The game begins by selecting either a male or female soccer player and naming them. This determines whether you'll have Mia or Pele as your soccer master. I'm not exactly sure why they chose to exclude Mia from the men's game and vice versa; it seems like they'd want as much star power as possible regardless of the gender you select. Anyway, from there you're off to check out your squad, called the Mighty Five (since all of the soccer is five-on-five). While you have a set of players that you start with, you can change your squad throughout the game by recruiting other players. When I say recruiting, I don't actually mean convincing other players to come to your team. It's more like you click on their face and they instantly join. From there you're off to take part in a full day of schooling.
There are three events per day. These range from training drills – sometimes you'll have to choose from two – to talking to people around school to buying accessories for your teammates to actually stepping on the pitch and playing some games. My problem with the structure of the story mode – if you can call it that as there's no real plot – is that it never really changes as you continue past your first term at the school. Academy of Champions has a good amount of length thanks to the story mode, but the reason to continue playing thins after a short time. The drills you're doing never change, your interactions with students remain the same and the games you'll play, while they do become more difficult, feel identical after awhile.
Thankfully the soccer itself is actually pretty fun less an annoying bug that I encountered several times. Rest assured, FIFA fans, this is not a simulation of your favorite sport. Academy of Champions is all about arcade-style fun so you won't find thru balls nor will you find complex mini-games. Instead the soccer is kept to a simple dribble, pass, trick move, and shoot affair.
Thankfully there's some expandability in the form of talents. Each player has a specific talent that can be activated by purchasing it in the store where you'll also find attribute-boosting equipment. The different talents and accessories try to change up gameplay, but in the end it feels very similar to the way it did when you first booted up the game. At least the players on your team can be improved in four different attributes through your performance in games and in drills. You assign skill points to one of the four categories and that's where you'll feel the biggest change from beginning to end.
Also adding spice to the gameplay are a few mini-games that pop up while you're on the pitch. There's one for headers and one for jostling to get possession of a pass. The jostle requires you to hit the proper direction on the analog while the header calls for you to simply mash on the A button to fill a meter. Neither is all that exciting and you won't find that the list of mini-games expands beyond the initial two.
The bug that I mentioned before thankfully doesn't break the gameplay, but it is annoying when it happens. Essentially it happens whenever a defender is close by and you try to make a quick pass. The passing animation will play out, the ball will leave your foot and all of a sudden the defender will warp to the ball and steal it away. It only happens during some instances, but when it does it can be nauseatingly annoying. Thankfully that's the only bug that I encountered.
Control on the pitch is handled by both the nunchuk and Wii remote in tandem for standard controls and just the remote if you're playing casually. Playing the game casually allows you to put the remote on its side, but I'd recommend sticking to one peripheral per hand as it allows for the widest array of moves. Academy of Champions also makes use of Wii MotionPlus...sort of. To make a high pass or shot, just raise your MotionPlus-enabled remote. That's all the functionality you get. Balance Board support is also touted on the back of the box, but from what I can tell only the freestyle mini-game makes use of it.
There's a list of six mini-games as well as a quick play option on the main menu that's aimed at elongating the play experience. Sadly the mini-games aren't much more than the same training stuff you'll do in the story mode and quick play is just that, a quick game to hop into. None of the modes – not to mention the absence of online play – do a good job of extending the play experience much further beyond the story mode.
The visual design of Academy of Champions: Soccer follows the arcade-style gameplay with cute, cartoony designs for every character on the field. Effects are bright and colorful as players flip around the screen when you activate certain moves. As a cool nod to Ubisoft fans you'll find some notable characters from other gaming franchises peppered throughout the game. The additions to the lineup are definitely cool and help add more life to the gameplay. You won't be wowed by any of the effects, but at least the framerate is fluid and there's no real technical failings to speak of.
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