Lasting First Impressions of ESPN Sports Connection
Developed by Ubisoft
» When Nintendo Wii launched in 2006, the included game that showcased the system’s capabilities and quickly became a favourite in many households was Wii Sports. Wii Sports was a simple collection of sports games that everyone could enjoy. When the Wii U launched this year, a new version of Wii Sports was nowhere to be found. In this absence, Ubisoft stepped in with their ESPN Sports Connection in an attempt to fill this fun sporting event hole. Unfortunately, Ubisoft will have to try much harder than this game to fill that void.
ESPN Sports Connection is a collection of six sports that showcase different uses of the new Gamepad and Wii Remote combination. In many of the games, the player can choose to use either the Gamepad or Wii Remote, while in other games, the gameplay forces the players to swap controllers as required. Each of these six games (Tennis, Karting, Football, Baseball, Golf, and Soccer) are just bite sized chunks of a whole and only seem to feel like a demo of something more to come.
Graphically, ESPN Sports Connection goes the way of a silly cartoon reminiscent of games like Hot Shot Golf, complete with big headed avatars outfitted for each sport. As a launch title for this new console, I would have hoped for something a little more polished or realistic attached to the ESPN name. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with this particular art direction and it works for what it is supposed to be: a fun co-op sports game in the vein of Wii Sports.
Where the game falls apart, however, is in the actual gameplay. Several of the games simply failed to register the Wii Remote controls at all. During a game of Football the player is supposed to hold the Wii Remote like a football over their shoulder and then throw it with a twisting motion to the player they want to pass to. Every time I did this, nothing would happen and I was tackled immediately. In Soccer, as the goalie, the player is instructed to swing the Wii Remote in the direction of the kicker’s ball in order to stop it, but the timing is so far off it is nearly impossible to ever stop the ball. For Golf, the controls are never explained properly and I was unable to figure out how to even aim my shot before swinging. The shot swing is also just a matter of how far back you swing the Wii Remote with no other factors taken into consideration like angle of shot or how you hold the controller (like a real club).
Not all the games in ESPN Sports Connection are bad, however, and where the game shines is in Karting, Baseball, and Tennis, though neither of these shine big enough to warrant any kind of excitement. In baseball, players take turns swinging the bat with the Wii Remote or selecting a pitch by swiping a ball line on the GamePad from the pitcher to the catcher. As the pitcher, if a player hits the ball, the Gamepad is used to find the ball and attempt to catch it. I thought this was a unique new gameplay style but ultimately there never seemed to be enough time to switch from being a pitcher to a catcher and find the ball before it hit the ground. As a result, every hit was met with a missed catch. Tennis is fairly straight forward with swinging the Wii Remote like a tennis racket but not much else there. The Gamepad or the Wii Remote can be used to steer the Kart in much the same fashion as any Karting game and this is probably the best implemented game on the disc. If Ubisoft took the Kart racing espect of ESPN Sports Connection and expanded it into a full title, they’d have a winner.
Overall, however, ESPN Sports Connection just doesn’t contain enough excitement to be much of anything. The sports presented are promising but fall short of being anything more than a tech demo. Ubisoft had a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the lack of a new Wii Sports game and make ESPN Sports Connection become the must have family sports title for the Wii U. Unfortunately, the unresponsive controls, lackluster graphics, and underwhelming gameplay only make for a game that is much less than it could be.
Ubisoft, I gave you an hour and I am NOT IMPRESSED.