Review: Deca Sports Extreme (3DS)

Sixth time the charm?

When we first played Wii Sports back in 2006, it woke us up to the potential of sports compilations to provide simple yet rich entertainment. When it was at its best, it boiled down a game to its essence, then refined that to make something truly special. Since then, countless titles have attempted to reproduce the formula, and the Deca Sports series is one that's tried time and time again but never accomplished anything above a mediocre product. Now we're faced with the newest iteration, Deca Sports Extreme. After five swing-and-misses, can this entry finally get it right?

Sadly, the answer is still largely no. The game isn't without its positive aspects, but overall this is a very middle-of-the-road product. The problem is that rather than focusing on and emphasising the foundation of why each included sport is fun, the game's simplified versions handle inconsistently from one to the next.

The players who will get the most out of Deca Sports Extreme are those who have friends with 3DS consoles of their own. The game supports both multi-card play and a somewhat simplified Download Play option – you're limited here to one-match competitions and non-user created teams, but the straightforward nature of the title means that most are easy to pick up and play with little difficulty and thus great options for quick, arcade-style on-the-go entertainment.

Not all of the sports are handled quite so well, however, though there are still some selections that come off decently. A video tutorial precedes each, and none are difficult to grasp control-wise, though a few will give you some pause at first. Basketball is a simple three-on-three affair, though without a run button it's a slow-paced one at that. Soccer (or football, for all you Sports Island residents) is another three-on-three scrimmage, but we found the rhythm of play here quite odd – stealing, shooting and having the ball stolen from you all pause the player's motion and feel somewhat jarring. Tennis works fairly well with little technique and few frills, though you can play either singles or doubles matches. You control all of these using the buttons exclusively.

Bowling is another simplified selection that can provide some fun, and it's pointer-controlled, having you pull back and flick the stylus to aim and charge your shot, and you can curve the path to pull off spin moves as well. Another option that utilises both the pen and the Circle Pad is three-on-three Ice Hockey, which has you flick to pass, and hold, then flick to shoot. Having to pause your motion to do this is cumbersome to get the hang of, but once you're there it provides another decent but simple take on the sport.

Sumo Wrestling is essentially a four-move fighting game (left hit, right hit, thrust and grapple). This probably suffers the most from its simplification, and if you're looking for combat action, there are plenty of better options on the console already. Then there's Snowmobile Racing, with its uncomplicated take on the drift/ acceleration-centred competition, and Snowball Fight, providing bare-bones third-person projectile combat match mixed with capture the flag. Trampoline has you press buttons at the correct time to perform tricks and aim with the Circle Pad to land, and we found this rather fun, though it too suffers heavily from never reaching a very satisfying level of complexity.

Finally, Sport Blowgun, a take on archery, combines gyroscope aiming with the magic of blowing into your microphone. The windy gimmick at its centre doesn't leave much room for technique as you'll simply have to blow as hard as you can every time, giving us quite an opportunity for uncouth jokes. It can provide some fun, however, as you can distance yourself a ways from the target and fight against the wind as you line up your shot. All in all makes for a pretty decent solo mini-game.

Each of these includes a few options for customisation, such as the number of frames in Bowling or the time on the clock, and you can play each in an exhibition-type mode, a bracket-style tournament or a championship in which yourself, the opposing team and the computer will select a sport for a best out of three challenge. Here you'll receive a ranking and work your way up to the top spot, saving and coming back to continue with a different selection of sports, and that sense of progress can make all the difference when it comes to your desire to return to the game. Your players will also decrease in stamina between matches, forcing you to rotate some in and others out, which adds a sense of dynamism to the mix. Achievements lend more replay value to the package, and the team customisation feature isn't bad at all, allowing you to earn experience points to divide up amongst each group's four members in power, technique and speed. You're allowed to create two teams per cart as well. You'll also unlock plenty of venues, character components, special moves and more along the way, a great addition to the package.

Super Play serves as perhaps the most valuable factor in keeping this barebones package from straying too far into tedium territory, allowing you to designate a special move to each player on your team that they can whip out during matches with a press of the L button. You'll have to collect balls of energy to utilise these, and some are more effective than others, but the complexity of obtaining these and unleashing your move at the right time can add a lot to a match. Of course, you're allowed to turn them off if you favor a more traditional approach. Unfortunately, they have quite the adverse effect on Soccer as they pop out of opponents' chests and look an awful lot like the ball itself, creating quite the confusing effect.

The biggest deterrent to an enjoyable single-player experience is the AI, which is a mixed bag all around. Hockey is about the only sport that provides a decent challenge, though even here it's not difficult to learn the trick of winning. Most sports don't provide much competition, and with each it's not hard to learn exactly what to do to outsmart your opponents repeatedly. The exception is Soccer, which features fierce opposition coupled with some of the worst AI we've seen for your own goalie. Add in the halting rhythm and difficulty in telling energy orbs apart from soccer balls and you've got a rather subpar experience.

The graphics get the job done well and sometimes feature decent use of the 3D effect, though it's never very dramatic. The music is cheery and sporty, fitting the action well. One complaint we had was with the character animations, however – your team performs a few actions before and after matches, and too often all of our players did the exact same move, resembling a bizarre chorus line. Still, they make plenty of cute faces and dance around when they score, adding a nice touch of personality to the mix. We also took issue with the camera in Hockey – when serving the puck back to your team as the goalie, your CPU-controlled teammates often run off-screen, making it difficult to figure out where to pass.

Conclusion

Deca Sports Extreme provides a simple take on ten sports, some which come off decent and others to which you'll rarely return. Cumbersome controls, poor AI and a few other clunky features get in the way, though some selections can still provide some uncomplicated on-the-go fun. The strongest feature here is multiplayer, allowing you to play with three of your friends over local wireless with only one game cart. The arcade style action translates well here, but otherwise, there's little of note in this average and unmemorable compilation.

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