Academy of Champions: Soccer Review (Wii)
Two recent sports games fall into the budget category, but they have decidedly different approaches in the way they function, look and treat kids. These games are Backyard Football 10 and Academy of Champions: Soccer.
Each game features real-life sports stars, arcade action and a price tag of around $30 for Wii owners. Beyond these three main similarities, both games are worlds apart.
Since we have already reviewed Backyard Football 10, Academy of Champions: Soccer for the Wii is on the hot seat today.
If you took the most commonly known elements of Harry Potter and soccer and rolled them into one, you would get something that resembles Academy of Champions: Soccer.
The Academy, hosted by Pele and Mia Hamm, is a secret soccer school for kids. It requires a special invitation to attend and crazy transportation to get there. Inside its castle-like headquarters you will find multiple schools, headmasters and animated paintings. Because things are handled with a fair amount of style and charm, the fact that it is a totally ripped from the pages of Harry Potter is not as offensive as you might think. Sure, it is not original, but at least what is here is done well contextually speaking.
School Is in Session
The career mode story begins with your character (with limited customization options) receiving an invitation to the prestigious Academy. But all is not what it seems, and a "dark" side to this story plays out behind the scenes while you are busy playing soccer.
The "soccer" here is five on five arcade soccer, not too dissimilar to the old SEGA Soccer Slam on Xbox/PS2. There is one turbo bar that is expended on dodging or speed burst (which is restricted to defense). If you fill up the meter, your players can pull off different "talent" moves, which are over the top actions designed to temporarily give your team a big advantage.
There are a few control options, but I like the standard controller/Nunchuk combo. This is also a game that actually makes use of the Wii MotionPlus add-on to open up a new layer of control options. All told, the standard combo with MotionPlus was a pretty good way to play, which is unusual for Wii sports games.
Tests, Training and Tutorials
The career mode here plays out in terms, broken down into calendar days -- each day then contains up to three separate events. Some events are basically tutorials or mini-games. You will also occasionally recruit new students for your team. You may even have to take an exam. In addition, there is also the training and the actual matches.
Training is the process of upgrading your team. There are three types of currency in this game: XP, Points, and Talent Stars. XP is used to upgrade your players’ skills (power, speed, etc.). Points are like money, used to buy stat-changing accessories or even cheats from a "shady" kid. Talent Stars let you unlock new talent moves.
Matches unfold against other schools -- some even feature classic Ubisoft characters. Sprinkled throughout the game are mini-events that resolve actions like jostling and heading. These are quick events and do not feel too overdone.
That said, the games themselves are not quite enough on their own to keep you coming back. It is a kind of "vanilla" soccer game -- pretty basic, even for arcade soccer. But it is not poorly designed soccer game, it is just not very deep (at least on the pitch). I had as much fun with the mini-games and team management screens as I did in-game.
Graphically, this game looks a like cartoon, heavily stylized and caricatured with plenty of charm. The field has a unique shape, almost like it is on a small planet. This uniqueness changes how the camera rotates around the field, but for the most part it is an effective way to visually distinguish this game. The style in this game is a classic example of being creative with the limitations of the hardware.
Speaking of creative, the options in this game serve as a stark contrast when compared to the simplified options in games like Backyard Football. While both games are aimed at kids, I like how Academy gives players options that are both varied and lasting. For instance, some days ask you to choose between two events, Risky and Easy -- there is no going back after you choose.
And while you recruit kids to play for your team, only five can play at once. It is up to you to determine who is going to suit up, and who will be the recipient of the XP upgrades. The options in the store are wide, ranging from "looks" only additions to accessories that change the gameplay.
A quick list of criticisms: Gameplay can get repetitive, but the quick pace will alleviate some of that. There is not so many mini-games or training events that they will always feel fresh. There are some occasional AI problems -- players sometimes feel out of position, and enemy goal-keepers make some (very) incredible saves.
But for a game aimed at kids, there is plenty to like here. It guides you through the career mode without being insulting, has a good sense of character and makes for a pretty decent multiplayer game.
On The Pitch: It is a basic arcade soccer game that is heightened by its atmosphere, style and character. The actual gameplay could be more exciting, but everything moves at a fun and fast pace.
Graphics: Style over fine detail, which plays well on the console.
Sound Design: Pretty nondescript music; no commentary or voice work to speak of.
Entertainment Value: A long career mode, as well as mini-games and multiplayer. There is also plenty to collect -- all for around $30.
Learning Curve: This game does a great job of introducing (and even testing to see if you remember) the controls.
Score: 7.5 (Good)