There's no denying that Football is the world's most popular sport, and there has never been a shortage of games on offer. Ubisoft are looking to move away from the simulation side of the game though, with their new offering, Academy of Champions. The game is fully endorsed by football legend PelÃ©, but is this enough to see Academy of Champions beat the last defender and grab the glory?
The game opens with players selecting a name and gender for their hero. It then introduces them to the idea that they have enrolled at a football academy. However, when they arrive, Pele points out the players invitation is in-fact forged. In a desperate attempt, the hero shows off his "skills" and gets a proper invite to the academy. This is essentially the path the story takes throughout the rest of the game, and although there isn't a great deal of it, what actually occurs is quite random and does have the taste of being an after thought. It's not that it's bad, it just isn't involving at all.
After enrolling at the academy, players are able to access the games features and mini-games through the use of a calendar. There are 20 days to work through for each term and 4 terms in total. However, it essentially boils down to the player having to achieve success in an event to progress to the next week. The rest of the day's events can be failed or done poorly with no real problem as long as the main events are cleared. While it is necessary for earning experience and tokens, being forced to do every day's events does get quite repetitive after a while. There are several various mini-game scenarios based around various aspects of training from tackling to shooting, and dribbling to blocking, but they are far too easy at first and take far too much time away from the player in terms of challenge. They do add multiple choices to what events can be chosen for that day later on, but sometimes it's easy to think about the next match and instead want to skip training in between. Obviously this is counter productive to the whole academy idea, but the lack of it being fulfilling enough to warrant constant repetition doesn't help itself.
From the perspective of controls, Academy of Champions doesn't really use much of the Wii's normal functionality, which is quite strange considering the game is fully compatible with the Wii MotionPlus and the Wii Balance Board. It does add some more variation to the game, allowing players to choose a pass or shot height by the angle the Wii Remote is held, but, alas all this can be done by simple holding or not holding down buttons anyway, which is far easier. The oddest thing is the fact that when near the goal, a target appears on screen to indicate where the shot is placed. However, rather than have the player position the target using the Wii Remote, the game forces players to use the analogue stick they are moving their character with. It just feels strange, and counter-intuitive. The feel is fluid enough and does create the illusion of trying to confuse the keeper as they dart back and forth in front of the goal, but overall it just doesn't feel quite right.
The actual gameplay isn't hampered by this in anyway and it's actually quite enjoyable to play. However, while winning matches it is actually quite easy, the AI players aren't very intelligent and they all tend to run after the ball at all times. This leaves the defence very open and if the opposition has the use of a full talent meter, it is nearly impossible to prevent them from scoring. This is only a minor gripe, but the character select option available in the game doesn't help to alleviate the problem.There are some really unique features to the five aside gameplay featured in the game, and most of these come through the use of talents and quick time events. When a pass is intercepted by two players at the same point, a quick time event occurs for control of the ball, and it must be said this is far too easy to win every time. It also stuns the other player enabling for a pretty open run to the goal. There is a similar fight for headers when a cross is made on goal, but this rarely happens since most times if a player is at the goal they can score. Talents are quite unique for each position, and they can only be used once the team's bar is full. This can be filled based on tackling, passing and shooting successfully. Once full, players can use a special ability, which ranges being able to storm through the field untouched, or having a more powerful shot. However, none of them really aid in actually winning a match for the most part and they actually waste time rather than creating openings.
There are a host of other variations to the usual game of football, like hazards on the pitch such as mines, and the ability to be poisoned by the opposition. They help to spice things up, and it is sometimes amusing to see AI teammates walk into obstacles. The venues are also quite interesting, especially when scoring a goal. Various structures and imagery pop up behind the opposition goal and this keeps happening for every goal scored, it's not particularly important but it's a nice touch.
Graphically the game has a very comic-style appearance. The developers alo tried to add an extra element of appeal, making the characters speak in a cute garbled form. It's sometimes funny to listen to, but it can be equally as irritating. The music also seems to follow the same cute toy box like quality and doesn't really fit half the time and on some stages it's really far too stereotypical. Cutscenes also seem to suffer from slight frame rate issues which is a bit odd since they aren't particularly taxing in terms of presentation.
The game does actually offer a lot from the perspective of replayability. There is a lot of content to unlock and there are a vast amount of team members to recruit, accessories to obtain, items to be bought and training to be had. With an extensive checklist and a set of achievements to accomplish as well, it's safe to say the game isn't void of content. The multiplayer is also quite entertaining, although a little frustrating as there is only a fair few options to tweak to keep 2 players happy enough.
Academy of Champions is far from being a bad game, but it's also not as good as it could be. It's fun and quirky for the most part, but there is far too much forced repetition to make it a fulfilling experience. It portrays the 5-a-side style of football extremely well and the gameplay is fun. there is also a load of content to keep players occupied. It's just a shame that not all of the elements meld together well enough to make it a must-have package.