Get Back On That Couch
Wii Sports will go down in history as the game that got gamers—and everyone else—off the couch and jumping, swinging and throwing their way to actual exercise during gameplay. ESPN Sports Connection, by taking advantage of the new GamePad controller, nullifies that noble intention and puts players right back on the couch for some tablet swipin’ action that won’t make you sweat, but if you’re lucky you’ll have some rug burn on your finger as proof of your exertions.
Swipe Your Way To Victory
As with the Wii, Ubisoft is now inundating the Wii U with an overdose of games in every genre imaginable, taking the less surgical but more encompassing “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to capitalism. In the now mandatory party mini-game department, Ubisoft Barcelona brings in the ESPN license with a mini-game collection that lets players participate in six sports; Baseball, Football, Tennis, Golf, Soccer and Karting.
Even though the Wii U is now firmly in the high definition camp,ESPN Sports Connection still thinks it’s a Wii title. The use of Miis and the now signature low poly, simplified visuals of so many Wii party games are still in full effect here, as is a lacklustre sound presentation. It’s pretty obvious that the brunt of Ubisoft Barcelona’s efforts was put into designing around the new controller, not taking advantage of the new processing power the Wii U offers. On the other hand, this means absolute rock solid performance that doesn’t suffer from Unreal Engine glitches or any of the other numerous technical gaffes we’ve come to expect from games with AAA production values. So it doesn’t look great, but how does it play?
This is where things start to feel at odds with Wii Sports. Ubisoft Barcelona was given the understandable goal of showing off various applications of the GamePad as a tablet enhanced interface. So for baseball, swiping the screen determines the direction of your pitches, while for tennis, swiping the screen at correctly timed intervals determines your success at returning lobs. Football has you using the screen to pick defensive plays or—what a surprise!—swipe at the screen to throw the ball and so on and so forth.
In essence, all of these games take the simple joy of mimicking actual physical movement that the original Wii-mote control system popularized and turns most of these sports into variations of Angry Birds. There’s still some physical activity that can be done, if you so choose; golf for example, still lets you perform a swing with a Wii-mote if you want, while football also lets you emulate the physical act of throwing if you don’t’ want to do everything on the GamePad.
The end result is a hybrid game that tries to bridge the gap between the new Age of Swiping that the Wii U heralds with the old Age of Waggling that senior citizens and non-gamer family members got on board with back in 2006. Unfortunately it’s an uneven alliance. The single-touch, pressure sensitive nature of the Wii U doesn’t lend itself well to the precision that swiping occasionally demands, and it’s easy to mess up pitches in baseball or even simple returns in tennis because the tablet is incorrectly reading your swipes due to insufficient pressure, inaccurate reading of finger placement and other issues.
As it stands, ESPN Sports Connection fills a mandatory space in the expected collection of party games for a console of the Wii persuasion. That doesn’t mean it’s a good collection, but at this early juncture, beggars can’t be choosers. If you need something to show off your new system other than Nintendoland, you don’t have a lot of options. This is one of them.