Sports Champions looks like the sort of game that falls out of an intense strategy meeting, with some suited executive pointing at charts and pictures of smiling citizens playing Wii Sports and shouting "if we don't have one of these, we're dead in the water!" Well, whatever went on behind the scenes, it worked. Sports Champions might lack the charm and spirit of Nintendo's flagship Wii release, but the game itself is a lot of fun, both as a multiplayer sort of "party" experience and as an easy first test for what, exactly, the PlayStation Move is capable of.
In fact, once you get up to the harder difficulty settings in Champions' six sports, you might start to feel like the Move equipment is a little too capable. There's something to be said for reining in your movements to make a game of table tennis more accessible, and as a result, I tended to enjoy the easier bronze difficulty over silver or gold. On bronze, most of the games provide a level of assistance, which shows you where to position your table tennis paddle, the proper time to raise up for a volleyball spike, and so on. Unfortunately, playing on bronze results in you being matched up with fairly boneheaded AI when you're playing alone, so playing the game by yourself means you'll have to either take off the training wheels or be satisfied by crushing your opposition. Of course, the directly competitive games are far more interesting when you're playing with other people.
There are six different games to choose from in Sports Champions, each with a single-player ladder mode that works you through the different difficulties and eventually unlocks a set of minigames in a "challenge" mode. You can also play in free-play mode by yourself, if you like, which lets you pick a background stage and your opponent.
For my money, the best of the six games is table tennis. It's frantic and one of the better showcases for what the Move can do. Flipping between forehand and backhand is as easy as, you know, flipping the Move controller from one side to the other. It also looks and feels very close to 1:1 movement with the paddle. If you tilt the controller, you'll see the paddle tilt accordingly. More importantly, your shots reflect that positioning extremely well. The angle of your paddle and the force with which you move it--and the hardware seems very good at detecting high-speed motion--acts how you would expect it to act. If you move the paddle forward, you can play closer to the net, and vice versa. At higher difficulty settings, the game stops showing you where to place your paddle and when to swing. I also get the impression that the easiest setting prevents you from getting too far away from the action, making it more about timing your swings properly. Once you bump it up, you'll need to start swinging in the right spots, too. That might not sound like much, but it's actually quite a bit harder.
The rest of the games aren't quite as frantic as table tennis. Disc golf, for example, is downright leisurely. Really, you're just throwing frisbees at chain baskets with, as you might expect, golf rules. You can select from three different discs, each of which travels a different maximum distance, and just like real life, I'm kind of bad at it. It's weird, I used to be able to throw a real frisbee just fine, with actual accuracy. Now, I usually toss high, curving shots that drift off to the right and are only fun to catch if you're a dog. Considering the game replicates my real-life shortcomings pretty well, I'd call it accurate.
Archery is one of the games that works best if you have two Move controllers. You can play it with one, but with two, the actual act of grabbing an arrow and drawing your bow back is more like the real thing. This one is played as a race against the clock and against another archer, so the object is to be fast and accurate. Different configurations of targets are also available, so if you just want three static targets or distant watermelons, you've got options. It's a good showcase of what one person can do with two Move controllers, but not the best example of it that Sports Champions has to offer.
Gladiator Duel is the best example of what you can do with two Move controllers. In this game, you're armed with a weapon--like a sword or a mace--as well as a shield. So you'll wield one motion controller up front like your shield, positioning it properly to block incoming attacks and setting up swings of your own from the other motion controller. The buttons on the controller let you perform shield bashes, sidestep, or otherwise dodge incoming attacks. It's not especially deep, but again, it's an effective way to get a feel for what the Move can do.
Beach volleyball also lets you use two controllers, but you don't really need them. Bumping, setting, and spiking is pretty similar either way. This two-on-two game of volleyball feels a little stripped down, since you don't actually have to move around the court. It's functional, but not much fun.
You know what is fun, though? Bocce! I know what you're thinking. You're all, like, "Finally! Someone has provided a digital, interactive bocce experience that I can enjoy instead of having to go find a bunch of old men who smell of solvents and hard candy!" All kidding aside, this is a game about making underhanded tosses in an attempt to land balls near other balls. It's sort of like horseshoes. Where it gets interesting is in the more advanced stages, which put you in front of a minigolf-like windmill or other oddly shaped courses. It's not bad and lends some variety to the package.
Sports Champions has a technically proficient look, with nice-looking characters and nicer-looking environments. But most of the presentation feels aggressively plain. The characters are all fairly realistic, and the way the Asian girl performs martial arts poses when she wins is... well, it's super stereotypical, actually. But stuff like that is as close as Sports Champions gets to having any real personality. For the most part, the characters grunt and vocalize in very lifeless ways, and the pristine areas in which you compete don't do anything to amp up the proceedings. It's sterile where a game like Wii Sports is charming. This, more than anything else, is Sports Champions' largest flaw.
While that flat feeling makes Sports Champions feel more like a technology demo than the sort of thing you want to dig out anytime anyone comes over to your house for a visit, the package is solid and mostly satisfying. It's the perfect game to bundle with the hardware, since it gives you enough gameplay and variety to keep you engaged long enough for Sony to cook up something else compelling to do with your Move controller.