Developer: San Diego Studio/Zindagi
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4
Sony’s latest release in the battle to win casual sports gamers away from Nintendo’s Wii continues with the much-better-looking-than-Wii-Sports Sports Champions 2. The sports are Bowling, Boxing, Archery, Skiing, Golf and Tennis. Various events (Boxing, Skiing) use two controllers and if you have them then the control system feels more natural and makes more sense.
When making a player profile you can choose from stock character models or edit up your own Tiger Woods PGA-style, but the character models are quite cartoony and not overly attractive (they kind of reminded us of Timesplitters.)
The Bowling is a skilful game - you can apply spin and aim quite precisely. The physics are accurate, the ball rolls and spins in a believable way and the pins react as you’d expect. You can hold ‘square’ to get a closer look at the way the pins stand if you get a messy spare. You can choose from 3 locations to play in, day or night and how long a game you want; 3, 5, 7 or 10 frames. In Free Play mode you can practice alone or against an AI opponent. We had a lot of fun with this one, among the best bowling games on any console.
The Boxing is a little more sophisticated than it would first appear, you can manoeuvre your boxer quite well, jump back out of range and dodge to either side. I’ll describe the single controller method first, as I expect most people will play it this way. You can perform jabs (‘Move’ button), hooks (‘Square’) and uppercuts (‘Triangle’) by holding the relevant button while swinging/jabbing the controller towards the screen, and add power to a punch by holding the controller back behind you to charge your punch up (your fist sparkles gold). You can also guard against high and low incoming punches by holding the ‘T’ button and moving the controller up or down to the height of the incoming combo. The 2-controller method feels much more realistic and intuitive, as your on-screen fists accurately respond to your movements without the need to select the type of punch. It’s also a lot more satisfying to pummel an opponent back with a series of jabs and then finish them off with a big roundhouse or uppercut charged up with your other hand. Blocking your opponent’s punches and avoiding taking damage is obviously the key to winning, but particularly against AI opponents as it drains their energy so once they've had a flurry of punches you get your opportunity to ‘lay the hurt’ back on them. Free Play allows you to change the venue and time of day (kinda pointless with a boxing game to be honest), alter the length of the rounds and the number of rounds the contest is staged over, so you can go right up to a full championship 12x3-minute rounds if you’re mental enough.
The Archery will feel familiar to anyone who’s played a fun game we reviewed earlier this year, Medieval Moves: Dedmund’s Quest, as it uses almost exactly the same control method. The aiming is done by holding the controller in front of you (it’s very accurate) and you nock (load) a new arrow by holding the ‘T’ button and reaching back over your shoulder (like you were taking an arrow from your quiver) then releasing ‘T’ when you’re lined up. Holding the ‘Move’ button zooms in the view for greater accuracy. You can also use a 2-controller method, with the left controller aiming the bow and controlling zoom, and the right nocking the arrows and acting as the trigger. This makes the game harder but also rewards you with higher scores as an inner bull scores 64 against 50 for getting one with the single controller method. Play modes include pure marksmanship on traditional targets, but they can also be fixed to windmills or on pendulums if you want a bit more variety. There are also variations on a theme like ‘Race’ (shoot quickly and accurately to raise a flag before your opponent), ‘Rally’ (keep a floating cube in the air to score the most points) and ‘Push’ (shoot the targets to push them to your opponent’s end). The final mode is pairs (like the memory game), and this can be played on 3 different sizes of board.
The Skiing can, like the Boxing, be played with two controllers to simulate your ski poles, and this is probably the best way to play the game, but as I expect most people will play with one I’ll describe that control method first. Right from the start you use the Move controller to launch yourself out of the starting gate, then you must hold the controller low to crouch and build up speed. When you come to a jump you can get extra height and distance by swiftly flicking the controller up and once you’re in the air you can make your skier forward flip or back flip by tilting the controller forward or backward gently. Getting your skis flat for a perfect landing will boost your speed when you land, and this takes some practice. If you crash or slow down you can pump your ski poles by mimicking the classic skier’s action, and finally holding ‘T’ crosses your skis to slow you down. With two controllers the game obviously feels more realistic and the actions of your ski poles need to be replicated to keep your speed up and point both skis in the same direction, so like the Archery, this actually makes the game more realistic, more rewarding and more challenging to play with 2 controllers. There are three locations with two runs on each, with a third option to combine both short courses into one long run. Each course has optional routes from the clearly marked main run down the mountain, some are shortcuts and some turn out to be long cuts because of the added difficulty (due to obstacles, tight turns etc.) You can race in daylight or at night, and the runs all look and feel pleasingly different.
The Golf plays like any other golf game that uses motion control; you swing the Move controller to replicate the length of swing you require, and can take practice swings to gauge the power & distance before addressing the ball. You’ll be able to hit mighty 300 yard drives and short chip shots accurately with practice as the game mechanic is quite forgiving. Although the game is easy to play it also holds some interest for more advanced players as it’s possible to draw and fade shots around trees by opening or shutting the club face, and we found that players that hook or slice the ball in real golf do the same in this game, so kudos to the designers for that. Putting on the greens is a pleasure and the slopes and the amount of ‘borrow’ required are read via a contour overlay just as in Tiger Woods and all the other good golf games. Each of the 3 locations has both 9-hole full courses and par 3 courses (you can choose to play 3, 6 or 9-hole games), so there’s a total of 54 holes to play, with plenty of variation in look and design of the holes. The Golf comprises of two different modes; a full-blown golf sim and Cup play with target markings on the green and bonus rings to fly the ball through, adding plenty of variety away from normal golf.
Sports Champions 2’s Tennis is another surprisingly good game, with your player’s on-screen racquet precisely following your actions with the Move controller. There’s a lot more control over shots than many full-price tennis games we’ve played, and that includes the ever-popular Wii tennis. You can direct your serves accurately, play topspin lobs and sliced backhands, even delicate drop shots at the net when you’ve practiced a little. Like the Boxing, holding the controller behind you charges up a power shot that’s highly likely to win you a rally. There’s a very playable 2-player option with split-screen for versus games and same-screen for doubles, even a 4-player mode, although the amount of play space required would render this completely impractical for most households with typical living rooms. We genuinely fear for anyone attempting the 4-player mode as we can foresee many Move-related injuries; smacks around the head, black eyes and worse. Apart from a few issues with the AI that controls your player position suddenly changing at the last millisecond leaving me playing a forehand when it should have been a backhand and vice-versa, we had a lot of fun with this, and will definitely play the game again.
Playing in party mode requires you to take a picture of yourself and you can also take a sound sample of you yelling in victory (or voicing a foul, party-wide insult in my case). In a multiplayer event you also get to scribble on your opponent’s picture or deface it, which seems a bit strange to me, it’s like they were desperately scrabbling for ways to use the Move controller without designing another full sports game. Party play allows you to play games with up to 4 players. You can set the game up to be over 3, 4 or 7 random events or customise it to suit yourself.
Cup play gives you a selection of six progressively difficult opponents and challenges to play against, the object being to win bronze, silver and gold trophies in each sport. These can be played separately so if, for instance, you don’t like boxing you can just play the others.
Being Gamecell we do, of course, have a few gripes, like when you have to quit out of every sport just to change game options, this is very clunky and shows little awareness on the menu designer’s part. But on the whole this is a quality collection of sports games, one of the best on the PS3 so far. Good-looking (apart from the character models), realistic and accurate, but easy to play and fun for all the family, this is an excellent alternative to buying a Nintendo Wii just to play Wii Sports.
- A good selection of quality games. - Perfect response from the controller(s). - Much nicer looking than Wii games!
- The pointless Party Mode scribbling option. - The playable characters could have looked better. - The potential for personal injury and damage to fixtures & fittings.