Even seeing my beloved Jade again isn't really worth the trouble.
Our own Neal Ronaghan was incredibly psyched about Ubisoft's Academy of Champions at E3 2009, but was crushed and heartbroken when the game released. So disappointed was our hero that he relegated the review copy to yours truly, lamenting that he was too crestfallen to review it with an open mind. After playing it on and off for the last few weeks, I can safely say that Academy of Champions is not horrible, but it's not that great, either.
While it's tempting to immediately think of Academy as Harry Potter with soccer, that's an overly simplistic comparison. There's actually not much Hogwarts to be found here. Instead, it's more like a Tiger Woods game. Because the game takes place at a soccer school, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time talking with your fellow students (literally reading scrolling text) and, bizarrely, taking tests (what does the A button do?). You will also buy useless inside information from the "Shady Kid" and accessorize your players with stat-boosting equipment. What this amounts to is an incredible amount of menu navigation.
Luckily, when you're not listening to irritating Simlish-esque sounds while you read text, you're usually playing experience-boosting minigames. These are usually simple exercises like goal-kicking or tackling. Despite the controls, the mini-games are usually pretty fun. They teach you the finer points of the game and your skills on game days improve based on the experience you get during the mini-games, which. often involve Rabbids. The tackling one is especially fun because you can take out your frustration toward Ubisoft's Rabbid over-saturation on the critters themselves — cathartic!
Sometimes you'll get to actually play soccer. The field takes place on a rotating globe, similarly to Animal Crossing games. Why the developers would choose this perspective over a more traditional Sega Soccer Slam or Mario Super Strikers horizontal perspective is beyond me, but as it stands, you'll be frustrated by unseen opponents stealing the ball out of nowhere and kicking the ball to teammates you can't really see. The perspective is the single most annoying thing during games. Almost as annoying is the single energy bar that's used for all strategic moves on the field. This bar is depleted when you run, dodge, and use special moves. Since it's all dictated by one bar, you'll rarely use special moves because running and dodging are integral to controlling the ball.
Actually maneuvering the ball downfield is an activity fraught with danger from unseen opponents (and you can't pass back, only forward), but when you actually do get the goal in sight, aiming your shot is surprisingly tough. Ideally, this is where the pointer would come in, but no. Instead, you aim with the analog stick—the same analog stick you're using to move your character toward the goal – which is not ideal. You can charge up a shot by holding down the B button, but during the brief period of charge-up, you'll often have the ball stolen from you. Special moves are actually pretty cool, but aren't very practical. For example, one dude turns into a whirlwind and spends about five seconds knocking dudes over. Sadly, the ball doesn't go anywhere, so while flashy, the whirlwind doesn't help move the ball downfield or into the goal.
Thankfully, your opponents are often complete morons who can't make a successful goal to save their lives unless you sit back and let it happen. Because games don't last very long (five minutes is common), it's easy to score a single goal and spend the rest of the game playing keep-away, then come out the winner. Sometimes you'll be treated to an appearance by an Ubisoft all-star, such as the Prince of Persia or Altair, and if you force yourself to play long enough, you'll unlock them for your team.
The graphics aren't poor – in fact, they look quite good. They're vibrant and colorful, with good animation and particle effects. However, the characters are hyper-stylized in a manner that looks vaguely creepy. The only character models that look believable are the Ubisoft all-stars because we're all familiar with them. The music is upbeat, and the sound effects are convincing, but what's with the bizarre Simish-like jibber-jabber that the people are speaking?
Academy of Champions is heavy on Wii accessorizing, but light on delivery. It supports the Wii MotionPlus as a way to deliver high or low shots (tilt the Remote up or down) and the Balance Board to perform a mini-game that's reminiscent of the soccer ball dodging balance game in Wii Fit. For all intents and purposes, though, the game is perfectly functional with a normal Wii Remote and Nunchuck.
So while I don't hate Academy of Champions to the extent that our man Neal did, I sure don't like it. Overly simplistic and surprisingly light on soccer itself, the game never manages to capture my attention or motivate me to keep playing. There are better soccer games out there, including that old GameCube favorite, Sega Soccer Slam.