Sportsfriends (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
Publisher: Die Gute Fabrik
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Sportsfriends is an offline-only multiplayer-only game featuring four events. First up is Barabariball, which is basically a minimalistic fighting game mixed with volleyball. There are multiple characters to choose from (light, medium, and heavy), as well as different special attacks that can be charged by holding down the Square button. The object is to smack or throw a ball into your opponent's goal, which happens to be a giant color-coded ocean that the ball has to sink through.
There's a decent amount of variety here with Barabariball, as it features the aforementioned three characters and seven levels. I was surprised at the depth as well, since jumps are limited by a power bar, so you can't just go willy-nilly -- you have to strategically time them. Even so, its appeal is limited. After 10 or so games it started to feel far too similar despite said depth, mostly because the levels aren't really all that different, and there aren't many variations of the same exact event. This game needs at least two controllers, with support for up to four players.
Super Pole Riders is the next part of the package, and it's my clear-cut least favorite game. It's centered around pole vaulting, with separate controls for each vaulter and the actual stick they are carrying. Using hardcore pole physics, you'll have to get a ball (attached to a horizontal string) to your opponent's side by leading it with your pole or jump kicking it with a sweet pole vault. It's a very similar concept to Barabari, but a lot less fun since there's no real "fighting" element in addition to the sport itself -- or anything to make it feel unique, really.
The concept of waving your pole around feels inherently slower, but not any more complex than handling a fighter in Barabariball, and the four levels blend together even more here than anywhere else. It makes sense that it's from the creator of QWOP, but where that game was more of a novelty that you could play for a few minutes for free, you're expected to actually pay for Pole Riders. It supports four players by way of teams, and thankfully you can share a controller with someone else -- which allows two players to game on one controller, or four players to play on two controllers.
Hokra is the last "traditional videogame" of the lot, and functions as a minimalist pixelated version of soccer (sort of). You control a tiny pixel (think of them as soccer players) as you attempt to grab a neutral ball and "hold" it in your goal for a certain period of time -- once your score is at a certain level, you win. As you can imagine, other players are attempting to stop you at all times, and by bumping another pixel, you can steal the ball.
The boards look like the classic Atari game Warlords, and the strategy is mostly a variation of "keep away," and "king of the hill" as you attempt to pass the ball to your partner and away from your opponents. I had a decent amount of fun through Hokra's eight levels, mostly because you can create more using a level editor if you get bored of what it has to offer -- this is something that would have come in handy with the above two events. With Hokra, you need four players, but like Super Pole Riders you can share controllers.
All in all these three games are good fun with the right company, but really, you're going to want to buy this for the incredibly famous Johann Sebastian Joust. If you haven't heard, Joust is a very non-traditional game, and it's been taking nearly every convention across the world by storm. Using either a Dualshock or a Move controller, you'll stand with a number of people in a circle (yes, in real life). Once the game starts, it's your job to jostle your opponent's controller -- if the game senses too much movement, they're "out." It's kind of like a physical game of tag, in a sense, and it's a ton of fun.
Sportsfriends' version of Joust happens to be completely decked out, offering up more options than all of the other games combined. You can queue up different announcer voices for the game like its creator, the creators of the other Sportsfriends games, or even the Stanley Parable announcer and Rucks -- the voice of Bastion. There are extra cheat code options, speed-ups, freezes, teams, invincibility options (you press L2/R2 to use a power-up on a timer), extra life options, resurrection powers, and a whole lot more.
You can even allow eliminated players to control and conduct the music. It's by far the most interesting and complex game on offer here, and it's a wonderful party game in general. Joust supports up to seven players on the PS3, but due to a hardware limitation, only four are supported on the PS4. Playing with a Move is ideal, since the light goes out when you're eliminated, which makes things easier. If you're using a Dualshock, it'll rumble heavily to let you know you're out.
One thing you may have picked up about Sportsfriends by now -- you cannot play any of them by yourself or online. Destructoid's policy is to review what's actually in a game (and thus, not subtracting points for what's not in it), but it's something to keep in mind -- especially when you realize that Hokra requires four players at a minimum.
While I understand indie developers often work with less resources, and lag can often ruin online experiences, it's not like the three digital events are that complex or competitive, to the point where people couldn't enjoy them online in some capacity -- even with lag. Other games like Samurai Gunn also offer some form of concession for solo players, even if it's a limited AI mode, so a complete lack of anything single player related feels like a missed opportunity.
Despite the fact that I don't think I'll be playing Barabariball or Super Pole Riders for very long, Hokra's level editor gives it legs, and Johann Sebastian Joust shouldn't be missed by anyone who enjoys having company over. It's a very uneven package in the sense that there could have either been a few more games and a few could have been better, but honestly -- $15 isn't a terrible price just for Joust alone.
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