Sports compilations are what motion controllers were made for, if you believe the Wii and Kinect catalogues, both of which heave with representations of all manner of bats, balls and beyond. After two leading efforts from Rare and middling efforts from other developers, Activision's Big League Sports takes to the field in the hopes of leaving victorious.
As it happens, the game barely makes it out of the amateur leagues. Despite offering three exercises based on six sports — baseball, soccer, American football, golf, basketball and ice hockey — there's nowhere near enough variety to keep you going, with most sports feeling the same and very little to satisfy.
Each discipline is split into three areas: two mini games and a stripped-down version of the real sport. Take soccer, for example: you can kick penalties, save shots or play on the pitch. In hockey you can take slap shots, save shots or play on the ice. Basketball? Take shots, block shots or play on the court. There's a regrettable lack of imagination here that turns six of the most well-known and popular sports on the planet into little more than re-skins.
Motion controls exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem: if you take to the field in any sport you're essentially taking part in a series of quick time events that do little to represent the sport chosen. You'll run on the spot or pretend to dribble, wait for a defender to approach and then jump/sidestep/dribble/duck or do whatever the game tells you to: there's no freedom of expression, a point not helped by the fact you have no teammates. There aren't any turnovers either — get it wrong and you just get up and try again. There's no cut-and-thrust, no sense of opposition, just you and a series of pre-scripted encounters.
There's no real sense of progression in any of the sports either; whereas even titles as old as Wii Sports give you new opponents as you improve, BLS does nothing of the sort. Your main reward for playing well is entering 'pro mode', which removes on-screen icons telling you what to do next. The aim in each mini game is to rack up as many points as possible, which are turned into skill points at the end. These add up to earn you a bronze, silver or gold trophy part: complete a trophy and well done, you get an Achievement.
While most of the big ball sports play the same, baseball and golf are a little harder to pin down. Baseball is essentially the same template as laid out by Wii Sports — you pitch, they hit and everything else is automatic. You can add swerve to your pitches by waving your arms around like a plane — a mechanic that also applies to golf — but there's no real strategy to getting an out: you just throw and hope for the best. Batting is even more hit and miss; while an on-screen arrow shows where your shot should go, it almost always seems to go into the hands of a fielder, while your opponents' shots tend to sail into the stands. You might be awarded skill points, but they don't equate to any real skill.
Golf is marginally better, mainly due to it being the only non-competitive sport included. An arrow shows where your shot should go; start a swing and wait for the power bar to reach its desired level, then swing away. It's pleasingly sedate, and while it doesn't come close to Kinect Sports: Season Two's fairways, it's not a bad effort.
In fact, that's the overriding feeling we get from Big League Sports: it's not fist-chewingly terrible, it just misses the mark in lots of small ways. For instance, why do you play as a generic Avatar instead of your own? The fun of Avatars is seeing yourself on-screen, not controlling a nondescript mannequin.
Big League Sports is a disappointing collection of sports that does little to distinguish them from each other — side-stepping a lunging side tackle feels just like dribbling around a lithe point guard, and that's a crucial mistake to make. With two cracking Kinect Sports titles out already, there's little to recommend this limp effort.