Top critical review
59 people found this helpful
Some innovative use of the GamePad controller, but overall not the most polished game
on November 21, 2012
It was interesting for Nintendo not to launch a sports title to coincide with the Wii U launch, especially given the overwhelming success of Wii Sports with the original Wii. Ubisoft has stepped in with ESPN Sports Connection, which includes some of the sports from Wii Sports (Tennis, Golf, Baseball) and adds a few new ones (Football, Kart Racing, Soccer). I found this game a bit difficult to give a rating to, because there are some part of it that are spectacular, while others don't even rise to the quality of the original Wii Sports.
I'll go through each sport and rate each one.
There are two options here: "Match" or "Cannon Ball". Match works pretty much like WIi Sports tennis, in that you swing your Wii remote to hit the ball, and running is done automatically for you. You also have the option to use the GamePad, in which case you use to touchscreen and stylus to play, similar to tennis games on the DS. I was immediately disappointed by the graphics and the responsiveness, which both seemed to pale in comparison to even Wii Sports. It seemed that the designers couldn't decide whether to be "cartoony" or "realistic", so they ended up creating a world that as a poor combination of both, with gaudy colors and unnecessary background animation. Perhaps for that reason, despite the support of the MotionPlus, hitting the ball felt a little sluggish.
"Cannon Ball" was an interesting concept. It's a 2-player game where one player holds the GamePad and controls where a ball machine serves, while the other player holds the Wii remote and tries to return the serve to a certain part of the court. I'm not sure how much replay value this has, but it was an interesting first look into the possibilities of two-player action using both the GamePad and the TV screens. I'd give the overall tennis experience 2 of 5 stars.
The two options in golf are "Stroke Play" and "Caddie". Stroke play lets up to 4 players play up to 18 holes on a generic golf course. I was impressed that the MotionPlus capabilities of the Wii remote seemed to be used well; when you prepare your swing, the on-screen "swing meter" gives a smooth and accurate representation of your swing angle. But as with most Wii golf games, don't expect this to improve your golf swing.
While the portion of the game you see on the TV was nothing earth-shatteringly new, the use of GamePad was a different story, and really showed the potential of the GamePad. While the main TV shows the court from a golfer's eye view, the GamePad lets you view the course from a birds-eye view, and even zoom in and use the GamePad screen as almost a virtual set of binoculars to have a 360 degree view of any part of the course. In fact, in the "Caddie" option, you can have two players, one setting up the shots and suggesting clubs and angles (something in traditional golf games the system does for you), and the other to execute the golf shots. I found some parts of the GamePad interface confusing, but I did appreciate the innovation here. Overall, I'd give the golf experience about 3.5 of 5 stars.
Baseball is where the game really started to shine for me. You use the GamePad when you're playing defense, and the TV screen and Wii remote when you're playing offense. To pitch, you draw a line from the pitcher's mound to a strike zone at home plate. At first your instinct is to just flick the stylus, but after a while you'll learn to finesse different types of pitches by drawing lines; your catcher will give you "signals" that tell you what kind of line to draw. If the batter makes contact, you'll see the ball coming at you on the GamePad screen, and you'll need to move the GamePad like a virtual glove to catch it. It takes a lot of getting used to (oddly, you're not really moving your glove to catch the ball, but you're moving the entire scene to align your glove with the ball), but I give them an A for effort.
As the batter, you're standing in the batters box and swinging at pitches. Again, I found the use of the MotionPlus capabilities to be impressive. Everything from your bat angle to your bat speed is taken into account, making this a very realistic batting experience. And while it's not exactly like batting against a real pitcher, it is challenging and has a very realistic feel to it. In fact, it may be a bit too realistic--young ones may be a little frustrated that the batting isn't as easy as in Wii Sports.
Overall, I'd give the baseball experience a solid 4 of 5 stars. Again, graphics are not as polished as they could be, but having two screens, one for the pitcher and one for the batter, is an innovation that really shows the potential of the GamePad.
With Soccer, you can have up to 5 players, 4 using Wii remotes and 1 using the GamePad. In this case, motion controls are not used (except to control the goalie's jump); every player holds his or her controller sideways and uses the arrow keys or joystick and buttons to move around. For all I said about subpar graphics on the other sports, I was pretty impressed by the graphics in the game; the main view is an overhead view of the soccer field (like on TV), and if you have five soccer fans in the house it's a pretty realistic experience as each person controls a different player.
The second activity in Soccer is called Penalty Shootout. Again, it uses both screens as one player on offense uses the GamePad and stylus to draw the trajectory of their kick into the goal, while the other player on offense has to anticipate the kick and flick their Wii remote to block the shot. Perhaps this takes a little more getting used to, but I found the Wii remote to be a little sluggish again; even when I was drawing my own kicks and blocking them, my goalie would often be too late or not jumping with the right range. Great idea, spotty execution. Overall the soccer experience seemed like a 3 of 5 stars.
This one is basically a cheap remake of Mario Kart Wii, where up to 5 players can play using the GamePad or Wii remotes. In all cases, as with Mario Kart, you hold your controller like a steering wheel and press a button to accelerate. On the Wii remote, you do have the option to change the steering to use the arrow buttons.
Overall, this didn't even rise to the level of Mario Kart in terms of graphics, responsiveness, or innovation. I'd give it 2 of 5 stars.
Strangely, when I first started up football, my entire WIi U console froze, requiring me to literally unplug the console. Not sure if this is a Ubisoft thing or a Nintendo thing, but it wasn't a great first impression.
As with Baseball, the player on defense holds the GamePad, while the player on offense looks at the TV. On defense, the player chooses a play on the GamePad (you only have three options: short coverage, medium coverage, or long coverage), while the offensive player does the same on the TV using the Wii remote (again, you only have three options: a short pass, a medium pass, or a long pass).
Once the ball is snapped, the defensive player sees the field on the GamePad from a birds-eye view, as if looking down on an animated playbook diagram, complete with Xs and Os. While the play is unfolding, this player has to frantically draw lines to direct his linebackers in covering the receivers.
On the offense, the player with the Wii remote receives the snap by pointing the Wii remote at the screen, and then bends his elbow to the point where he's holding the Wii remote like a football. He can turn to the left or right to find an open receiver, and make a throwing motion to pass the ball.
Overall, I found football to be fun, although because there are so many new concepts here, different players may experience different levels of frustration in trying to get used to them. Overall, football gets a 4 of 5 from me.
Overall, I give Ubisoft an "A" for effort. It's not easy to break new ground, and their innovations with using the "second screen", while not always perfect, do demonstrate the vast potential of this technology. Just the fact that two players can play the same game but see completely different views is a great innovation. I also liked their use of the MotionPlus in making many sports a lot more precise than just flicking the Wii remote.
But looking at the game on its own merits most of the sports seemed limited, as if they were more demonstrations of the technology than attempts to really capture the essence of the sport. I wasn't a fan of the graphics, which had more of a cheap cartoony "shovelware" feel about them than really taking advantage of the Wii U's improved resolution. I see myself taking this off the shelf once in a while to show people what can be done with the GamePad, but not necessarily playing it over and over again. Averaging all the different sports, I'd give it an overall score of a 3. But that said, I still think it's a great start and hope to see Ubisoft and other publishers continuing to innovate and make full use of the Wii U's potential.