In Sports Champions 2, co-developers Zindagi Games and Sony San Diego are doubling down on local multiplayer with a new Party Play mode and some tweaks to facilitate a fun experience with friends in the home.
In an era in which more and more games have some kind of online multiplayer component, Sports Champions 2 is staying steadfastly local.
The original Sports Champions, which launched with the PlayStation Move in September 2010, had no online multiplayer mode. The sequel still doesn't have online play, although it does offer leaderboards and Facebook integration. Instead, co-developers Zindagi Games and Sony San Diego are doubling down on local multiplayer with a new Party Play mode and some tweaks to facilitate a fun experience with friends in the home.
Sports Champions 2 comes with archery, which was present in the first game, and five new sports: boxing, skiing, golf, tennis, and bowling. It has no compatibility with Sports Champions in terms of importing that game's sports like Rock Band DLC songs; Jeremy Ray, senior producer at Sony San Diego, said that Sports Champions 2 is "meant to be a complement" to the original game, as opposed to a replacement. "If you want to play disc golf, you'll go and pull out [Sports Champions]."
Party Play is the biggest addition to the franchise. Ray told me Sony noticed that Sports Champions got a lot more play as a multiplayer experience than a single-player one, so the developers decided to focus on making it easier for players to set up a local game and keep it going.
Thankfully, they've eliminated the irritating three-point Move controller calibration that Sports Champions required before each game. It often left gamers frustrated, and Ray explained that it existed because the developers finished Sports Champions before Sony finalized the Move software development kit. They didn't know quite how precise the tech would end up being, so they decided to "err on the side of caution." This time around, they know exactly what they're dealing with, so Sports Champions 2 should only need to be calibrated at the start of each play session.
While the single-player mode forces users to play through each sport to unlock new content — for example, you can't access the Silver Cup levels until you've finished the Bronze Cup — Party Play offers everything from the get-go. "We didn't want to force people to play through single-player, especially if they only wanted to play with friends," said Ray. Players can choose sessions of varying length, or customize the playlist with up to nine rounds of their choice: start with boxing's challenge mode, cool off with a downhill race in skiing, and then jump back in the ring for a one-on-one bout.
Party Play is designed to be a fun mode, with just enough of a competitive element to make things interesting. At the start of a session, Sports Champions 2 lets you take photos of each player to be used within the game. As you finish each round, the game awards "party points" depending on your performance, and they contribute to an overall score. The winner of the round gets to use the Move wand to "doodle" on the losers' faces — Ray suggested drawing a fake mustache, but since it's a free-form (albeit time-limited) exercise, you can get more creative and plumb the depths of your mind. The doodles are cumulative over the course of a play session, so by the end, you and your buddies will have anything from detailed museum-worthy portraits to headshots completely obscured by ink.
Once again, every sport can be played with a single PlayStation Move wand, although half of them — boxing, skiing, and archery — are much better experiences with two. I sampled skiing and boxing in a pre-alpha build of Sports Champions 2, and enjoyed the former much more than the latter.
In skiing, you adopt a skier's stance, holding Move wands and pointing your hands at the screen while your arms are bent at the elbow. You crouch (moving the wands downward together) to gain speed; to turn in a direction, you raise that hand's wand above the other. By tilting the controllers after a jump, you can do basic tricks like front- and backflips. On higher difficulty levels, you'll need to tilt in order to properly adjust your skis' landing angle. It's a responsive experience with a natural-feeling control method.
Boxing, however, seemed less accurate. The Move wands represent your hands here: you can bring them in to block, or throw punches wherever and however you want: right hooks, left uppercuts, and body punches are all possible. But it didn't feel like a one-to-one experience. Maybe my fists were flailing too wildly — I certainly wasn't blocking enough — but I lost on the "easy" difficulty by getting knocked down four times in a round, and I wasn't quite sure what I was doing wrong. Granted, the boxing game was rather buggy in my demo, so hopefully those issues will be ironed out in time for launch.
Other new elements include a create-a-player mode, which will allow users to build relatively normal humans as well as more outlandish creatures. It's all part of the developers' desire to let players design their own Sports Champions 2 experience, and make the game a part of their next party.
Sports Champions 2 is due out this fall, exclusively for PlayStation Move.