|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft Vancouver||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
The Wii is full of soulless, kid-friendly, peripheral-intense, bargain-bin mini-game compilations. Though the cover art and title may convey mediocrity, Academy of Champions: Soccer (AoC:S) from Ubisoft Vancouver is not one of these. While the actual game of soccer on offer here is extremely basic, the entire package is an enjoyable bit of gaming that takes advantage of all the Wii's capabilities - it's a complete package that aims to please and establish itself as a full-fledged franchise.
The game is made for youngsters, and I expect boys and girls of the appropriate age group will find lots to enjoy. Keeping that in mind, don't expect anyone over 12 years old to fall in love with it. AoC:S is a sports title and collection of mini-games targeted at soccer-loving kiddies - if you plan on gifting this game to a loved one this holiday season, be sure they fall into both of these categories.
AoC:S captures the whimsy and feel of Harry Potter. This is especially true in the game's main mode of play: Story. After being unintentionally invited to Pelé's fictional soccer boarding school, Brightfield Academy, but proving your worth nonetheless, you embark upon long school days full of intrigue, gossip, training, adventure, and sporting competition. Truly, Brightfield Academy is extremely reminiscent of Hogwarts, and the soccer matches mimic Quidditch (without the whole flying broom thing). Brightfield Academy is even pit against a rival school called Scythemore Academy - an obvious analog to Slytherin. While children won't find as engrossing a narrative as those spun by J.K. Rowling, a compelling enough plot is woven throughout the endless training sessions, pick-up matches, and roadblock ties to keep young players engaged.
Throughout the story, players will continually unlock, recruit, and improve players for their team. Within each academy, teams of varying skill and reputation become available to play against, and it is your job to bring together a collection of players and improve their skills to make them the top team. By performing well in training sessions - which are soccer-based mini-games covering dribbling, shooting, tackling, sprinting, freestyle, and goalkeeping - you'll accrue in-game currency, talent stars, and experience points to purchase accessories and gear, learn super-powered skills, and improve the overall abilities of your characters, respectively. These bonuses can also be accrued by performing well in matches and even by learning and gleaning tidbits of information during conversation. Acquiring new players, building up their skills, gaining and maintaining your reputation, and beating the competition on the field combine to make AoC:S more than just your typical, kid-friendly, third-party Wii title.
Unfortunately, the actual brand of soccer played on the themed stadiums is not particularly engaging - the five-on-five matches are too basic. While the developers undoubtedly are trying to cater to a specific demographic and decided to continue the Harry Potter feeling onto the pitch, the resulting game is somewhat dull and dumbed down. While I like the idea of an arcade approach, as it will undoubtedly make things more accessible for its target audience, it teaches nothing to kids about how the game of soccer should be played.
I was present during the Ubisoft media event during E3 2009 when Pelé stepped out on to the stage. From what I understood from his comments, Academy of Champions: Soccer was supposed to be a learning tool for children. Disappointingly, it is just a soccer-themed way to pass the time. This seems like a missed opportunity. The mini-games are decent, but no real tactical lessons are conferred upon gamers. Also, powered-up dodge mechanics, unstoppable shots, and a glut of diving tackles during matches don't resemble a real game of soccer. For me it seems like Ubisoft decided to bring the world's favorite sport and themes from the most popular children's fantasy together along with Pelé and Mia Hamm in order to make a powerful formula for sales. While I love to see quality companies making money, I wish Ubisoft would have also included more instruction in their game to help distinguish this IP from the crowd.