Sports has always been a particularly lucrative market for the video games industry. Year after year, both EA and Konami rack up millions of sales with their annual updates of FIFA and PES, while Take-Two and THQ thrive on the success of their basketball, hockey and wrestling titles.
It is odd, then, that some publishers are less active in this area, particularly such industry giants as Activision and Ubisoft. The latter, however, now seeks to rectify this matter with the release of Academy Of Champions, a football title developed exclusively for Wii and designed to stand out from rival titles when it hits shelves this September.
Academy Of Champions shies away from the premiership pitches and international leagues of its competitors, instead inviting players to experience the very roots of the sport. Footy fans take on the role of students at a fictional football academy, where they will learn all the skills of the Beautiful Game.
Of course, unlike Mr Beckham's educational institute, the esteemed Brightfield Academy is not just some glorified warehouse at the side of the Thames. It is an outlandish environment, built with the level of imagination you would expect from a Wii game. In addition to more traditional pitches, you'll find wilder arenas where the goals are the gaping maws of monsters and medieval castles look down on the action from either side.
It’s a creative art style that is perfectly in keeping with the Wii's audience and carries across to the character design. All of the students from Brightfield Academy and the various other schools they face off against have a cartoonish look that makes the game instantly appealing to younger gamers and gives Academy Of Champions its own personality.
Ubisoft has even dipped into its back catalogue and introduced more familiar characters, redesigning them to fit in with the game’s artistry. So when they’re not running round the pitch as a bunch of plucky young child prodigies, players can fill the boots of Assassin’s Creed’s Altair, Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher, Beyond Good And Evil’s Jade, Rayman and, of course, those notorious Raving Rabbids.
Further distancing Academy Of Champions from more serious football simulations, all of the students have a range of special moves that can give them an advantage. These are a mixture of both offensive and defensive and range from the more mundane, such as speed boosts and the ability to glide past the defence, to more acrobatic moves that include bending the ball around the keeper and a spinning tackle that knocks everyone flying.
THEY'VE GOT THE MOVES
Even the Ubisoft characters have special moves that play on their antics in their own video games. So, Sam and Altair have stealth attacks while Jade can stun the enemy team with her camera flash and the Rabbids can fire plungers that deliver the ball straight to the back of the net.
With celebrity endorsement very much the norm in sports games these days, it is to be expected that most of the game’s special skills are passed on from the true star of Academy Of Champions. Legendary Brazilian football star Pelé serves as the Academy’s headmaster. He teaches players everything there is to know about not only playing the game, but mastering it.
The majority of the gameplay takes place in five-a-side tournaments. Gamers must use every trick available to overcome the opposing team, progressing through the single-player mode’s storyline. As they advance through each match, they earn money to buy new equipment and upgrade their abilities.
Alternatively, there are 12 football-related mini-games to entertain players, challenging them to show off their skills at goalkeeping, shooting, passing, tackles and more. There is also a range of multiplayer modes supporting up to four players that allows friends to enjoy Academy Of Champions together.
As Ubisoft’s first major football title, Academy Of Champions has all the ingredients to make it a stand-out title, both in its genre and on the Wii. It’s wide appeal, fresh take on the sport and accessibility make it a strong contender for chart success when it arrives on shelves this September.