Sports Champions is a somewhat predictable title for the PlayStation Move, taking Sony's new motion controller and pitching in with a snackable title that showcases the variety of ways the Move can be employed. In some ways it is the ultimate demo of the "new" technology, but we can't help feeling that it struggles to raise itself above that demo feeling.
The game is broken down into six sports: Disc Golf, Gladiator, Archery, Volley Ball, Bocce and Table Tennis. Some of these might seem a little odd as there is an obvious omission of standard tennis and 10-pin bowling, which would have seen this title line-up against Wii Sports.
But Wii Sports this is not. First of all, you never really get the sense that the game wants you to play it. There is no character customisation and even if you don't like the bobble-headed Mii characters of the Nintendo Wii, at least they provide a degree of personalisation. Throughout Sports Champions you have the choice of 10 characters to pick and in the vein of Tekken, these are various types of uber-humans - the large breasted babe, the hulking muscle jock, etc.
It leads to a sense of detachment - there is no engagement with these characters, they are ultimately meaningless and that partly sets the tone for Sports Champions as a whole. The game relies on you being blown away with the motion control, rather than trying to engage you in any other manner: there is almost no music, sound effects are basic and even the graphics look dated. As a showcase for Sony's latest hot toy, we can't help feeling a little underwhelmed.
Diving into the games themselves, they provide various levels of multi-player, and each comes with a tutorial so you can see the technique required. This is really what Sports Champions is about - learning that the PS Move is an incredibly sensitive piece of gaming equipment. Some of the games (Gladiator, Archery) let you go to town with two controllers.
Disc Golf is essentially Frisbee on a golf course. You throw the disc down the fairway looking for par by getting the disc into the cage which represents the hole. Usual golf rules apply, so if you "drive" it into each of the cages, your other player might get a couple of throws to catch up. It isn't all about distance though, as the courses are varied across terrains, with various bits of landscaping to add variety.
You soon learn that technique is everything when throwing the disc, just as it is in real life. You can throw in different ways (basically a sweeping action and releasing the trigger) to send your disc flying. You can curve it around obstacles and it bounces realistically when it hits something.
But you can't help noticing that some of the graphics are shocking here. The forest floor lacks texture - it looks like leafy carpet; the shadows show really jagged edges - an introduction to the PlayStation Move this might be, but at £29.99 we’d expect some degree of refinement.
Gladiators is basically duelling and is the first real glimpse at where we suspect many gamers will want Move to go. You get in the ring and fight with sword and shield and is best played with two controllers - one for each arm. There are various moves you can pull off, with the tutorial walking you through what is on offer. Swinging the Move naturally sees you swing the weapon, although at times we'd find ourselves flailing around without getting the desired response, raising an important question: how do you account for fatigue and damage in a fighter, when the player doesn't experience this?
The shield too is an effective weapon, not only blocking strikes (as long as you have it in the right place) but you can also use it you push your opponent, knock them off balance and taking the advantage to strike. There are also jump strikes that you can pull off, ground strikes and if you get to the edge of the arena, you can push your opponent out and win the round.
But again, it doesn't deliver the seamless ferocity you might want. Okay, so perhaps it is aimed at family gaming rather than those looking for a gore fest, but we expected a little more action. As it is, it feels rather disjointed, a little slow, and never particularly challenging.
Archery is a more compelling experience however. Again putting two controllers to the task, one holding the bow and the other for the string. Various targets are presented for you to shoot, with it becoming immediately obvious that positioning is all important. Archery was also the game where we realised that PlayStation Move does like a little more space than we'd given it, as we found that drawing the string back would see it lose sight of the rear controller. Give yourself plenty of space for the best experience.
Volley Ball is as it sounds, and is one of the games we found more fun. You get to double up on controllers to give you a wide range of moves to pull off. It is surprisingly accurate too, so you can easily place a shot wherever you like in the opponents court and there is something very natural about swinging the controller over your head to smash the ball over the net. You don't have to put up with stinging wrists either.
Bocce, or boules as continental folk might call it, sees you throw out the jack and then try to get your boules in the vicinity. The courses vary from traditional bowling green to urban park, but the game is essentially the same. Holding down the trigger, you sweep forward, release the trigger and off goes your boule. There is little to master here, but minute adjustments of the controller do make a difference and some of the more exciting courses give you a chance to get some great deflections off surrounding objects.
Finally you have table tennis, which is exactly as it sounds. The thing that is impressive is that if you drop the controller, you see the bat drop on the screen. Again, there is a natural feeling to the experience as you hit the ball back and forth.
But across all these game there is the same problem. The whole thing feels utterly soulless. As a showcase of what the PlayStation Move can do we've established that there is plenty of potential, but this isn't a proof of concept - it's an actual game. We've spent hours bashing away at Wii Sports tennis because it is fun and Sports Champions is missing that vital ingredient: it isn't fun to play.
Yes, there are glimpses of interest here and there, but once you've got past the novelty of controlling the game with motion controllers there is little to make you actually want to complete any of the challenges.
Overall Sports Champions isn't really a champion game. It shows what can be done with PlayStation Move and would be better bundled as a title or as a cheap PSN download, but as a game? No, we can't really recommend it.
But it's early days for PlayStation Move and Sports Champions demonstrates just how important it will be to have good developers working to incorporate the new control system. There are some Move compatible titles in the works that have us excited, but as a starting point, Sports Champions is a bit of a lacklustre flop.