Academy of Champions Preview

Expectations are a funny thing. They can make a great game feel terrible and transform a mediocre game into something amazing. So, that’s why after checking out Ubisoft’s Academy of Champions for the Wii -, I was forced to take a step back and make sure that it was in fact the real deal – and it was; a solid-looking soccer game for the Wii.

First off, how does it work? Well, players create their own cartoony-looking footballing youngster, and then enlist them into soccer superstar Pelé’s soccer academy. Each day they’ll progress through training drills, matches and even some socializing. Players will have their own life within the game, and there will be strong rivalries to negotiate with the soccer stars from other academies.

The matches themselves are appreciably easy to pick up and play, the controls not relying on any motion gimmicks. Using five-a-side play keeps the games simple, quick and enjoyable. The additional element is a meter at the top of the screen that fills up with every completed pass. When full, it grants the player a “special move”. These moves can be offensive or defensive, and are suitably fun, acrobatic and ridiculous, providing much of the game’s excitement. The strategy depends on ensuring your opponent can’t access these moves as much as obtaining them yourself, as more often than not they’ll lead to a goal either way.

The mini-games are extremely varied and help to broaden the experience. Some help you hone skills for upcoming games, and others offer a different side of play. For example, there are tackling drills where players chase down other players and try to retrieve the ball, much like they’ll need to do in the game. On the other end of the spectrum is the goalie drill, since the goalie is not actually playable in the matches, but it does allow players to take on that role and see how it feels. All the minigames are points-based, offering up some longevity to them.

Maybe the most interesting feature within Academy of Champions is the ability to play as classic Ubisoft characters, such as Sam Fisher, Altair, Rayman, the Prince of Persia, and the Rabbids. Each of these characters has tailored special moves, ensuring they do feel integrated within rather than superimposed upon the matches. For example, Sam Fisher can turn the pitch dark and then use his night vision goggles to get a quick, uncontested goal. It might not be a huge aspect of the game, but it’s a good addition that keeps the game ostensibly fun, which is clearly the focus of this title.

Pelé and Ubisoft’s Academy of Champions is a game that looks like it should be on Wii owner’s radars with its fun and fast-paced action for both children and parents alike. It hits stores on December 31, 2009.

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