Danish developer Die Gute Fabrik’s Kickstarter-funded Sportsfriends makes its way to PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 with a quartet of mini-games for local multiplayer fun in the form of J.S. Joust, Hokra, Super Pole Riders, and Barabariball. Yes, you read that right. Sportsfriends is strictly local multiplayer, so there are no non-player AIs to battle, nor are there any options for online play. Either you have a friend to play with, or you don’t play. This also means that gamers who only own a single controller need not bother.
No online. No single-player. No exceptions. Still with me? On to the games…
Of the four minigames, J.S. (Johann Sebastian) Joust is the simplest. Between two and seven people face off with controllers in hand. And I mean “face off” in the literal sense. All focus in the game is on the people around you. The goal is to make the other players move their controller without moving your own. Once a player moves their controller, they are eliminated. The last person remaining wins. The amount of movement allowed is governed by the accompanying music (thus, the Bach reference). The threshold of movement coincides with the tempo of the music so as the music quickens, the amount of movement allowed increases. The end result is a game of pushing and shoving while posturing your controller away from others. This gets old quick–after just a few matches, my cohorts and I were ready to move on. The game encourages the use of PlayStation Move, which DOES work better than the DualShock 3 or 4, but the gamepads work fine as well. But frankly, this mini-game is the worst of the bunch.
Meanwhile, two sets of two players (2v2) are required to play Hokra, a football-styled game where small square blocks on the screen represent each player. In the center of the screen is a ball. Grab the ball by colliding with it and move it into the area of the screen that corresponds to your color. The goal is to keep the ball in your area for as long as possible while staying away from your opponent who will try and steal the ball away. Players can dash and pass while avoiding opponents and obstacles deployed in the selection of eight venues. Since the game requires four players, the designers employed a unique control-sharing scheme since many do not have four controllers on-hand. Each controller is divided into halves. One person uses the right analog stick and the shape button, while the other uses the left and the directionals. It is a clever idea and can take some getting used to, but ultimately it does work and provides some fun times.
The same controller-sharing setup is available in Super Pole Riders, although Pole Riders does allow for one-on-one gameplay as well. This game requires the player to move a ball suspended on a rope across to your opponent’s goal while they try to do the same. To do this, each player employs gigantic poles with which to knock the ball across or pole-vault up to give the ball a swift kick. The player with a height advantage at any given time can attack their opponent and remove them from the game temporarily. The game is fun, but frustrating at times. The poles are as hard to control as one would think a giant pole would be, and often times the contest reverts to a defensive battle with little scoring. Super Pole Riders isn’t the star for Sportsfriends, but that isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable. The Sudden Death match at the end of regulation brings out giant mallets instead of poles, which are even more of a treat.
Finally, Barabariball is the game my cohorts and I found ourselves playing the most. Like Hokra, the purpose of the game is to get a ball into a goal, but this time the goals are pools of water on opposite sides of the screen. To score a point, the player must carry the ball, jump across various platforms, and finally throw or dunk the ball into the water. The player also has attacks, which come alongside the chosen character, that can knock-out a would-be scorer. The characters have a limited number of mid-air jumps, which regenerate, that allow the player to cover the screen fairly quickly to grab a loose ball or unleash assaults. The mixture of Smash Brothers-esque platforming with a simple ball game makes for some quick, satisfying fun.
As much as Sportsfriends encourages living-room gaming, the lack of the always-available online opponent is disappointing. For everything except J.S. Joust, it’s an unnecessary absence. Granted, playing with a person in the same room is definitely going to be more fun with this particular set of mini-games, but fans of the game will be frustrated when no one else is around to play.
Sportsfriends is a mixed bag as a collection of mini-games. Barabariball shines as the best of the quartet while Hokra and Super Pole Rider are fun changes of pace. J.S. Joust is clever, but frankly, not much fun. It redirects the focus from the screen to a face-to-face contest, which falls into a physical poke-, push-, and grab-fest where the game is simply an impartial judge. As a collection, Sportsfriends isn’t bad, but it isn’t going to be the life of any party.