When it comes to Wii U games I have been on a roll; Black Ops 2, Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition and Zombi U are all strong launch titles I have been fortunate enough to play and review. My impressions of the Wii U and its games have been pretty positive thus far. Well my successful run has come to a grinding halt. ESPN Sports Connection is my most disappointing Wii U experience by a long shot which is truly unfortunate considering I am a big sports fan craving to play an enjoyable sports game on my shiny black Wii U console.
So what is ESPN Sports Connection besides a game you should avoid this holiday season? Well, it is a collection of mini-games that takes six core sports (Tennis, Soccer, Football, Baseball, Racing, and Golf) and strips them down into basic versions of the sports. Sure you can play full-length games with 4 quarters, 2 halves or 18-holes, but they are so stripped-down and flawed they are hardly enjoyable. If you are expected a “Wii Sports” type of experience you will not find it here. It is similar to Wii Sports on some levels but the enjoyment you had when playing the Nintendo’s original sports compilation on the Wii is simply not here this time around.
Before I start to pile-on ESPN Sports Connection, I should mention although you play a good chunk of the game with the GamePad you also need a Wii Remote. In fact many of the games use both the GamePad and Wii Remote simultaneously. You can also use the Motion Plus accessory; but regardless, you cannot take full advantage of the game unless you have the Wii Remote and/or Motion Plus accessory. So for many this game may just cost a little bit more on top of the already hefty price tag for such a less than stellar experience. Yet if you are one of the many who still owns a Wii you likely have one or two Wii Remotes still kicking around.
My first stop on the ESPN Sports Connection circuit was the Racing game. This racing game is a kart experience. Right from the get-go I could not wait to quickly accelerate to the finish line. Before you launch into a game there are a few tracks to choose from and a glut of avatars, but soon enough you are off racing. You use the GamePad’s motion controls as a steering wheel. The result is pure awkwardness as the controls are not as responsive as I would have liked them to be. Far too often I would be all over the track as I wrestled with the GamePad in an effort to keep my kart on the track. Eventually I learned to compensate for some of the issues and in no time flat during the first race I blew by the other AI racers. At the end of the race I found that I really didn’t want to go back again as any sense of enjoyment was just not there.
My next stop was Football, which is one of my beloved sports. My first thought was surely a game with the ESPN name could nail a pigskin game, but alas it did not. You use the GamePad for the majority of the games functions like selecting plays and controlling players. You then have to use the Wii Remote to throw the ball. So you constantly have to go back and forth between the GamePad to the Wii Remote unless you are playing with two people. It was cumbersome, annoying and not fun at all.
I headed into some Baseball. It also employs the Wii Remote but this time it is used to swing the bat while the GamePad’s touchscreen is used to pitch the ball. The most noticeable issue is the responsiveness when swinging the Wii Remote. At times I would swing and it was bang-on but other times it was not. Throwing pitches was really a matter of trial and error too as the speed of your ‘touchscreen swipe’ impacts the resulting velocity and quality of the pitch. There were occasions where I would swipe quickly and the ball would zip towards the plate while other times I would swipe just as quick and the ball would just float on down to the plate ever so slowly.
Much like Baseball, Tennis involves swinging the Wii Remote but this time it is to swing your virtual racket and hit the ball, but just like when you play Baseball the responsiveness is hit and miss. Tennis offers up a multiplayer component where one player fires balls at the other using the GamePad. This mode was mildly entertaining but in the end the responsiveness again really hampered the experience. You cannot help but think all these mini-games were rushed in order to be ready for the Wii U launch as they are not nearly as refined as they could be and they lack any real polish.
The developers should have absolutely nailed the Soccer aspects of ESPN Sports Connection but the bland visuals and players that do not react as they should just kills the experience. It feels broken. Goalies would mysteriously not follow the ball on the field and there were instances where I was attempting to shoot towards the net and all of the sudden my kick would go in the opposite direction. Needless to say, there were many “WTF” moments. As for Golf, well much like the other games it is plagued by unresponsive controls and makes no use of the GamePad whatsoever.
Visually ESPN Sports Connection is best described as uninspired. I was taken back with how poor the game looked. Sure it is bright and colourful but it seriously lacks any real detail, depth or substance. It does not take advantage of the Wii U hardware and is graphically disappointing to say the least. In terms of the sound, other than the ESPN jingle when you first load the game, the audio in ESPN Sports Connection is mostly forgettable.
At the end of the day ESPN Sports Connection for the Wii U is game you really should avoid this holiday season. Heck you should even avoid it when it hits bargain bins in the near future. Even the most casual gamers will find little in the way of redeeming qualities with this mish-mash of mini-games.