If you’re the type of person who frequently gets together with friends for local multiplayer game nights, you should definitely be aware of Sportsfriends. The game is a package that consists of four separate titles, each designed by a different developer. There’s a nice visual theme that links each game, and a chronological theme that suggests that each game type takes place during different eras. Aside from that, there’s not much else to mention about the framework of Sportsfriends, so let’s talk about the games themselves.
BaraBariBall feels a bit like Super Smash Bros mixed with volleyball and basketball. The game can be played player vs. player, or with two teams of two. Players are given a point whenever they can successfully hit or drop the ball into the water on their opponent’s side of the level, but lose a point if they end up falling into the water and past the bottom of the screen. Each player also has a certain amount of times that they can repeatedly jump in mid air – which is represented by little spheres that circle each character – but your jumps quickly recharge once back on solid ground.
It’s a smart design that lends itself nicely to strategy and technique. When characters lose all of their jumps, they become highly vulnerable and can be hit hard enough to have no hope of recovery. So, do you take the ball into your opponent’s side of the water, and hope that you can make it back to the platform without being attacked and drowning? Or do you keep aggressively hurtling the ball towards the goal, and hope to deplete your opponent’s jumps to the point where they will eventually fail to recover the ball? And when playing in teams, does one of you hang back and defend your goal, or do you both go on the offensive?
Finding your own answers to these questions can be a lot of fun. It also helps that BaraBariBall features a nice assortment of levels and options, including different characters and a selection of character-specific moves.
Super Pole Riders was perhaps my personal favorite of the “standard” games included in the Sportsfriends package, although it sadly lacks the depth of the other titles. Much like BaraBariBall, the object is to move a ball into your opponent’s goal, but the way you go about doing so is strikingly different. The ball in Super Pole Riders is attached to a wire that runs horizontally through the level, with a goal at both ends. Each player attempts to slide the ball along the wire and into the goal.
To accomplish this task, every character is equipped with a long pole that can be used to hit or push the ball, or to vault into it with a mighty and satisfying kick. If they’re unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it, that kick can also remove your opponents from the game for a few moments, which is usually enough time to hit the ball once or twice. Things are entertaining enough when playing one-on-one, but with teams Super Pole Riders becomes considerably less predictable, and the physics can result in some very humorous moments.
Despite enjoying the game, I would have liked to have seen more playable levels, and the options feel a little thin when compared to the other titles that are included. That said, it’s still a lot of fun.
Hokra is easily the most visually sparse game in the package, and its gameplay isn’t very complex either. The game is played from a top-down perspective, with playable characters represented as green and purple squares. Those squares try to get a square “ball” into square goals, and attempt to keep that ball away from their square friends and their square goals. Players can steal the ball by bumping into the player who has the ball, which will also freeze that player’s ability to move for a moment or two.
The most important thing to note with Hokra is that it’s intended to be played with no fewer than four people, making up two teams of two players. Thankfully, both Hokra and Super Pole Riders support a split-controller mode, where two players share the same controller. However, while it’s a great feature to only need two controllers to play a four player game, you still need those three other people.
An alternative – although the game never mentions it – is playing four player split-controller mode with only two players. When doing this, each analogue stick controls a separate character, which can be a bit of a fun mind-twist. This is especially true when the character that you control with the left stick ends up on the right side of your other character, and vice-versa. If Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was a competitive computer game from the 80s, it would feel a lot like playing Hokra with fewer than the recommended amount of players.
While the gameplay and visuals are quite basic, there’s actually a nice amount of variety and options to be found, including a level editor and a fairly large selection of pre-made arenas.
Johann Sebastian Joust is the final game in the collection, and it’s easily the most unique. Before the game begins, players stand up and form a circle. Then, with either a dualshock or move controller in hand, players attempt to make sure their controller doesn’t make any sudden large movements, while simultaneously attempting to disrupt the controllers of their opponents. When a player’s controller is moved too quickly, the controller either vibrates or the light changes color, both of which indicate that they are out of the game.
The title of the game comes from the classical music of Johann Sebastian Bach that plays throughout each match. At seemingly random times, the music either speeds up or slows down. When the music is going slowly, your controller must be moved with even greater care to avoid putting yourself out of the game. On the other hand, when the music speeds up, players are given much more freedom to move around, and each controller needs to be disrupted much more in order to successfully remove a player.
PS3 users have the option to use their own music, which is a great feature that is sadly missing from the PS4 version, due to that system not currently having a way of playing MP3 audio files. Another difference related to system hardware is player count. The PS3 is able to support up to seven players, but the PS4 can only manage up to four. If you have access to the hardware and friends required for larger games, the PS4’s current hardware limitations arguably make the PS3 experience the definitive version of the game. Thankfully, the PS3 version comes with a free copy of the PS4 version, but oddly enough the reverse is not true. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and it’s something that you should keep in mind if you decide to purchase the game.
For many people, the chance to try Johann Sebastian Joust for themselves will be reason enough to pickup Sportsfriends. It’s an interesting twist on the concept of video games when tossing a throw pillow at a friend in the real world can be as effective as throwing a fireball at them in a virtual world. The game is helped even more by including a lot of customization settings, such as different announcers, team play, a temporary invulnerability option, and allowing players removed from the game to control the music speed.
Online gameplay may have been out of the Sportsfriends budget, and a single player campaign would probably feel about as tacked on here as multiplayer does in most campaign driven titles, but the absence of both makes this an extremely situational game. With the controller sharing feature, the game’s designers have done their best to make the most out of the situation, but you’ll still only be able to enjoy Sportsfriends when you gather with friends. And even then, with some games, rounding up enough controllers can prove to be another barrier to entry.
In the end, picking up Sportsfriends is a good idea for anyone who frequently gathers with many of their friends to play video games, but a much less attractive proposition for those who only occasionally play with a friend or two. And while some of the games included don’t have the level of depth required to keep things feeling fresh for an extended length of time, they’re definitely enjoyable and unique enough to justify a purchase. Just don’t forget to hide your breakables before you play Joust.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
If you have the friends and the number of controllers required, Sportsfriends is enjoyable and easy to recommend. Otherwise, you may want to stay away.