Reviewed: January 22, 2010
Released: November 12, 2009
I have had a certain fondness for arcade style soccer games ever since I stumbled upon the classic Sega Soccer Slam way back in 2002. Even seven years later (has it really been that long?) Soccer Slam is one of a handful of original-Xbox titles that has a permanent spot in my library of backwards-compatible titles for the Xbox 360. But having a fondness for arcade-style soccer really does not require much investment, as releases are few and far between. Other than a couple of FIFA Street titles, Soccer Slam has gone relatively unchallenged – until now.
Ubisoft’s Academy of Champion’s: Soccer combines the enjoyable over-the-top goofiness of Sega Soccer Slam with RPG-like character development – then wraps it up in a Harry Potter flavored story mode that follows the gamer from soccer whiz to soccer wizard at the prestigious Brightfield Soccer Academy. Along the way, gamers get to meet the school’s headmaster, Pele, instructor, Mia Hamm, and a handful of cameo Ubisoft characters like a team of Raving Rabbids, Rayman, Assassin’s Creed’s Altair, Prince of Persia’s er…Prince, and even Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher.
The on-field gameplay is straight out of the school of Soccer Slam – everything from the turbo-heavy special moves to the wacked-out thematic fields (or pitches) comes across like a direct rehash of the seven-year-old Sega title. I would even argue that the quality of the graphics and audio are really no better than the aged classic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the formula works, and the Wii was in desperate need of a soccer game that didn’t feature Mario and friends.
The Hogwarts-inspired story mode definitely adds a new dimension to the standard sports game, and the results are generally enjoyable. The game follows a calendar that serves up daily activities, pick-up games, challenges, and league play. As the gamer builds stats, opportunities to recruit new players present themselves – each with their own attributes.
The control is really the weak link in Academy of Champions. While the game does feature motion control, as well as support for Wii Motion Plus and the Wii Balance Board, these features come across as little more than gesture gimmicks that have been added to justify the game’s existence on the Wii, and do nothing to add to the experience. Add that to the awkward and asymmetrical button layout of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and the controls are hardly intuitive. The awkwardness can be overcome, but I always felt like I would have enjoyed the game more with a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller.
As I said, the visuals would have looked great in 2002, but they definitely look dated by today’s standards. Still, the muddy textures and bland colors don’t detract too much from the enjoyable gameplay and by now we are becoming accustomed to substandard visuals on the Wii, so we won’t hold a grudge against Academy. The character models are a bit goofy and overblown – punky-looking chicks, wiry forwards, and bumbling behemoths are all the rage at Brightfield Academy, and all have a cartoon-like ambiance. The Ubisoft cameo characters break the overt goofiness, and look a bit out-of-place on the pitch, but as you can imagine, it is a hoot playing as a night-goggled Sam Fisher. On a positive note, the ever-evolving backgrounds are really quite a visual treat as they add elements in response to on-field scoring.
The audio quality is likewise lackluster – rife with generic sound effects, gaudy music, and lazy Peanuts-style voice “acting” – tat is if you consider unintelligible sounds as some form of communication. I understand that with a game of this sort – where gamers control discussions with dialog selections – voiceovers can be a nightmare. However, with a kid-friendly console like the Wii, and with a “E” rated game like Academy, intelligible voice acting would at least give parents of non-readers a break during the Brightfield segments.
Still, I do not want to come down too hard on Academy of Champions: Soccer, because the game has delivered a great deal of enjoyment over the past few weeks regardless of the poor controls, dumpy visuals, and boring audio. The on-field action is where it counts, and Academy delivers in spades.