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Sports Champions 

Making tennis fun again! Well, for tennis.

click to enlarge art16013.jpg

This winter, I’m reviewing the whole pack of motion-sensitive games — from Wii Sports to Kinect Sports, I’m testing out the full range of gaming’s latest trend. And since all the games have some version of tennis, I’m calling the event the Pong-Off. May the best Pong win.  

Sports Champions is more than a motion-sensitivity demonstration for the Sony PlayStation Move. Like every other sports game, Sports Champions is a compilation of various sporting events. And since the PlayStation Move is pretty much a grown-up version of the Wii, Sports Champions is like a sophisticated version of Wii Sports, with bocce instead of bowling and table tennis instead of tennis.

Sports Champions isn’t the most sophisticated sports sim around. It’s stocked with the usual avatars-of-various-ethnicities. But it lacks any character-building system beyond unlockable costumes and mini games because, in Sports Champions, the avatar is modeled on my body. When my in-game athlete stretches his arms to draw an arrow in combat, I’m doing the same quasi-yoga pose. And when I battle in gladiator combat, I’m really ducking and jumping and parrying and thrusting.

The PlayStation Move is a very sensitive controller — like the Wii Remote with a liberal arts degree. Angle and poise matter because the Move understands my arms are attached to my body. In table tennis, if the angle of the controller changes, then my on-screen avatar adjusts his stance. Every subtle move of my hand is reflected onscreen.

When I try a backhand shot, the game catches the slight twist of my wrist and I end up hitting the ball off the table. When I approach the ball clean and square, I’m often able to overpower the other side of the table.

When I get good enough to beat the computer in “Table Tennis,” then I know that I’m actually gaining some physical skills, not just accumulating points. And my opponents adjust to my growing degree of skill. Some of them favor rhythm-busting long volleys. Others are up-close powerhouses while some have trick serves. Playing my way through the game’s challenges introduces me to the sophisticated technology behind Sports Champions. As I watch my in-game skills become more graceful and subtle, I watch my real-world actions gain some of the same finesse. I’m not just playing Pong. Pong is playing me.

THE GOOD: The PlayStation Move controller has become my go-to PS3 controller of choice. The simple tilt-and-flick navigation is more intuitive and accurate than the Kinect’s arm-waving and waiting. Sports Champions demonstrates there’s still a lot of potential in motion sensitivity. We may not need to abandon our controllers if we can just make them better.

THE BAD: I understand this game isn’t about unlocking character statistics. But it would have been nice if there were more character costumes, funny props, color schemes, etc. The designs and details of Sports Champions are too generic. Earlier this year, ModNation Racers demonstrated that the more customization a game offers players, the merrier it is to play.

THE BOTTOM LINE: In the lineup of motion-sensitive sports variety games, Sports Champions is victorious.

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