(Wii)

Game Review

Academy of Champions Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by James Newton

A drab 0-0 draw

Over the years there have been some really enjoyable and innovative takes on the game of football (or soccer to our overseas chums) – Nintendo brought us the Mario Strikers series of course and Sega released the stereotype-laden but still enjoyable Sega Soccer Slam on Gamecube. Now Ubisoft are after a piece of the half-time meat pie with Academy of Champions Football, but does it play a blinder or should it be left on the bench?

First of all, in case it isn’t obvious from the screenshots, it’s worth saying this is not really a straightforward football game: there’s three players a side, the ball never goes out of play and you’ve got a whole range of special moves that would make David Beckham’s brain explode. Using the standard Remote and Nunchuk setup (with options for MotionPlus we’ll go over later) you press (A) to pass, (B) to shoot, switch players with (C) and dodge or sprint with (Z). By passing the ball well, intercepting balls and tackling opponents you build up a charge meter, which when full allows you to use each character’s unique “Talent”, ranging from super-strong banana shots to a whirlwind tackle that takes out any opponents in its path. As you’d expect these skills can often change the course of a game, but your opponents have access to them as well and there’s nothing more frustrating than an opposing defender mowing down all your players with a whirlwind move.

The camera system is also unconventional, following as it does the ball and player in possession rather than taking a zoomed-out, end-to-end approach as most football games do. With no view of the entire pitch or radar you’d think it’d be difficult to find your players to pass to, but at your player’s feet is a circle holding arrows pointing at each player that helpfully flash white when a player is in space and calling for the ball. A full pitch view would probably still have worked better, but the view as it stands isn’t that bad.

If you want to make use of your MotionPlus add-on, you can plug it in and make long passes and chipped shots by aiming the Remote up, or low passes and shots by pointing it down. It’s hardly a tremendous use of the accessory’s power, but then again, there’s little scope to use it in a football game. Similarly the game’s use of the Balance Board is extremely underwhelming – you stand on the board for a ball juggling minigame where leaning in different directions opens up various tricks, but it’s so unresponsive that by the time you’ve leaned far enough to activate a trick your character has decided he wants to fall over, and promptly does so. Thankfully the actual proper football controls work fine, although support for a Gamecube pad or Classic Controller wouldn’t have hurt.

The main meat and drink of the game is its Story mode, where you play a talented young player accepted into Pelé’s academy. Once there you learn about football, the importance of education and fair play, with a calendar for each term detailing whether you’ll play a match, training game or be able to scout for new talent, improve your players’ abilities or simply spend your dough in the Rabbid-run shop. There’s usually something different to do each day, which is both a blessing and a curse – you’re always doing something new, but very little of that is actually playing football; there’s dedicated periods for gossiping and chatting, where Pelé or your teammates reveal hitherto untold gems such as how to pass better and whether local rivals Scythemore are out to get you or not. The plot has a real Harry Potter feel to it, but it’s harmless enough and joins the days together reasonably well.

When you do get a match, it’s a frustratingly hit-and-miss affair. You’ll likely fly past most teams with hardly a bother, but some of the teams boasting star players (including the Prince of Persia and a very angry Rabbid) can provide a stern challenge. Every so often you’ll see a day on your calendar marked in red – these are “roadblock” matches that must be won to progress in the game. If you lose one, you can replay it immediately or choose to replay any of the week’s training matches to improve your skills, which is a nice way of giving you some ammunition against some of the stronger teams. Passing can be irritatingly unresponsive and inaccurate at times, with a noticeable pause between pushing (A) and your player actually kicking the ball, and the one-touch passing is just as slow. With goal kicks, corners, throw-ins or even fouls, the intention was obviously on keeping the pace up, but sadly the sloppy passing results in a slower game than you would like.

Slowing the game down even further is the jostle system, essentially a Quick Time Event presented to you whenever a defender and attacker contest a ball. As you’ll know if you’ve ever seen a game of football, this happens a lot, and so do jostles. Cropping up too often completely spoils the game’s flow – you’ll be planning a match-winning shot when the play stops and your players dance about for thirty seconds before you shove your opponent away and automatically take a few steps forward, often straight into the path of another defender or goalkeeper. Unlike the slow-motion moments in Madden NFL 10, for example, they don’t add any drama or interest to the matches, only serving to stop you actually enjoying the football.

When you do get to take a shot, the aiming system is flawed too, sadly. When you get close to goal a set of crosshairs appear which you aim with the (STICK) - yes, the same (STICK) you’re using to control your character. This means by the time you’ve aimed your shot where you want it to go you’ve often led your character a merry dance all over the pitch, either resulting in you losing the angle or getting intercepted before you even get to shoot. Even if you do get a shot off, with huge goalkeepers guarding tiny goals and a button-mashing header system, it’s more down to luck than skill whether you hit the back of the net or have to wait until your next jostle to try again.

In fact, the game as a whole is a bit slapdash. The caricatured players are all limbs and banana grins, contrasting with the arenas surrounded by monster trucks, stone columns and gurning bulls. The Ubisoft characters are a welcome touch of class to the character designs, and although it’s undoubtedly odd to see Sam Fisher and Altair take to the football pitch it’s also undeniably satisfying. You can also buy various Rabbids toys in-game, including one dressed as Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, earning at least another star from this particular BG&E fan.

Conclusion

Academy of Champions Football is by no means a disaster, but it rarely rises above the adequate. Once you’ve played a few matches and recruited some better players it begins to take shape as a decent kickabout, but the overuse of the jostle system, inaccurate passing and sloppy shooting prevent it from being a worthy rival to Mario Strikers Charged Football. The MotionPlus and Balance Board segments feel as though they were conceived and coded in a quiet afternoon in the office, and the art style is similarly unappealing.

If you’re really after a quick knockabout and want to take up your only chance to play as Altair and Jade on Wii, you’ll find some enjoyment in Academy of Champions, but be prepared for plenty of frustration mixed in with your pie and Bovril.

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User Comments (19)

JayArr

#1

JayArr said:

I guess you could judge this one by the cover. If you're going to rip off Mario Strikers at least do it right.

Hoffkage

#3

Hoffkage said:

I think the art style is quite interesting but I guess ol' good Mario playing FOOTBALL is a better option anyways.

bro2dragons

#4

bro2dragons said:

haha... i saw, "gurning bulls" and for some reason thought "burning gulls"... i LOVE spoonerisms! and i hate seagulls. ick. nasty creatures. anyway, if you're looking for a fantastic soccer (or... "football") game, get Sega Soccer Slam for the gamecube. better than Mario Strikers, in my opinion.

Metang

#5

Metang said:

Mario Strikers Charged>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>this.

mjc0961

#7

mjc0961 said:

Another mediocre release from Ubisoft... What else is new? Next they will be whining about Wii sales dropping off like they did for the DS, never stopping to think that maybe it's because they always make games that could be reviewed in one word: "meh".

odd69

#8

odd69 said:

Ubisoft should try another fps,i really liked Farcry on the wii.Which by the way no one liked but me.

Betagam7

#11

Betagam7 said:

Thank you for calling it football (the name its known as worldwide, excluding the USA) and leaving 'soccer' to the parenthesis where it rightly belongs.

OldBoy

#12

OldBoy said:

Well having won this game in Nintedolife's competition I've had it a while now and I would probably give it a 5 (but then I'm not a massive BG&E fan ;) ).It's ok but it ain't football. I think there was probably 50% football and 50% waffle,maybe this game would be better for younger players who won't notice the huge flaws as much (maybe!). Having just got Fifa 10 for Xbox let's just say there's only one football game being played in my house. I have a feeling that my copy of AoC might end up on EBay shortly :D

LEGEND_MARIOID

#13

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

I love football, but don't tend to like football video games....except Mario Strikers. Think I'll steer clear of this one.

Kelvin

#14

Kelvin said:

Not a lot of love for Pro Evo in the comments; did people not enjoy the Wii version? I thought it was ace, and this is coming from someone who's very critical of any footie game that isn't Sensible Soccer! ;)

James

#15

James said:

@Kelvin - you're not alone there, I loved the Wii version and still hold it above practically all other football games ever!

OldBoy

#16

OldBoy said:

Ahh Sensible Soccer. Why oh why can't we have a Wiiware remake or VC release???? Sorry off topic but I love Sensible Soccer

Dru192

#17

Dru192 said:

@mjc0961 - Aww don't be so harsh towards old Ubi, at least they are one of the few publishers out there building games from the ground up for the Wii, this title was never going to be world changing, it was a "B" title at best and we must remember that its selling at "budget title" price. I enjoyed my copy and think its definitely worth a rent or bargain bin pick up. Some games are groundbreaking, world changing efforts e.g. Zelda, M.G.S etc whereas some games are just what they are cheap and cheerful little distractions and I think this title is one of them :)

James

#18

James said:

I absolutely agree Dru - it's hardly a big-budget title but I was at least expecting the football action to be quick, simple and satisfying, but it had enough frustrating elements to put me off. A good start to build on but a few tweaks would have earned it another point or two.

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