I get the same dismissive response time-and-time again when pitching games like Towerfall to my friends and family, even though, after playing the game they always leave the room enjoying the time they spent. Sportsfriends, which is made up of Hokra, Super Pole Riders, BaraBariBall, and Johann Sebastian Joust, was no different; the games’ excellent presentations, easy to learn mechanics, and inventive use of DualShock technology made an everlasting impression on everyone who played them.
First, I wanna start by talking about the obvious elephant in the room, Johann Sebastian Joust. What’s special about Johann Sebastian Joust is how you play it; using a move controller, or a DualShock, players create a circle and try to jostle one another, disturbing their opponents gyroscope inside of the DualShock controller. A beautiful song is playing while this is happening, and once it swells players can move more liberally while trying to bump other players. It results in a slow ever-turning circle with four individuals taking safe swipes at each others controllers until the music speeds up, and all hell breaks loose.
The game, also, has substantial customization options, which allow you to tailor the experience to the crowd you are playing with. A score tally makes the games a bit more competitive, and invincibility (making players invincible to other players bumps by pressing a combination of buttons), or freeze (requiring all players to stand completely still when the music stops) add an extra layer of strategy. Some issues did arise while playing, unfortunately. For instance, I was limited to using DualShock 4s, and the sensitivity seemed to be really intense in some cases — I even lost a game standing completely still once. Albeit, Johann Sebastian Joust is an excellent use of the DualShock 4, and the most inventive game I’ve played in quite some time, and it doesn’t even use the first word in “video game.”
Hokra is the minimal hockey/soccer/football darling of the bunch. Four square players (teams of two) must pass a square ball around an arena, which is made up of endzone sections that match the color of each team in order to score points — points are awkwardly represented by the endzones subtly changing a different shade of the player’s color. Each of the fields have unique end zone layouts, in addition to more than one end zone being in the arena. Essentially it is a game of keeping away; players must use teamwork to ensure that the ball stays within their end zone, while the opposing team attempts to tackle them or intercept the ball. Players without the ball also move faster than those in possession of the ball. Gates that slow the speed of all players and the ball are scattered throughout some of the arenas.
Hokra is a game that didn’t make a great first impression, not because it was difficult to understand, but because no one got the appeal of the game. It took several tries of the group playing it for the minimalistic game to click. Despite that, it ended up being the most competitive game of the night. There’s an abundance of strategy and teamwork necessary for a game that only requires squares to keep a ball inside of a designated area. Additionally, Hokra has a very impressive arena creation toolkit.
Super Pole Riders is the most hilarious of the bunch — also a bit phallic. As the name may imply, the players are pole riders. The point is to use an unwieldy pole to knock a ball attached to a string above the playing field into your opponents goal at the opposite end. Super Pole Riders, unlike the other games in the collection, is a bit difficult to grasp at first. The controls are simple enough, but the riders have very peculiar physics. It takes a while to realize the importance of momentum, or understanding how to position your stick so that it causes your rider to kick the proper direction. This confusion with the controls leads to several instances where players would be pushing the balls in the directions of their own goal. It’s an issue that does indeed lead to some QWOP-esque comedy, but the joke runs thin when your little brother is yelling “get worked” in your ear.
Lastly, is BaraBariBall, the one that would be a worthwhile standalone game. That is in no way a slight against the other three excellent games, BaraBariBall is just that good. The game is played by players kicking, punching, dashing across a platform, and trying to throw a ball into the opponent’s goal, which happens to be made up of water. Matches are played for a set amount of time, or until a set amount of goals are scored. The game gives you tools to do this, in addition to several characters with unique play styles that are reflected in everything from their movement speed to how hard they hit. Jumping is also an essential mechanic in BaraBariBall. Each character has a set amount of jumps that they can perform.
The jumps can be done in a row, but once depleted, the player has to land on a solid surface in order for the jumps to regenerate. Jumping is the most precious resource in BaraBariBall given it’s the only way for a player to save a ball from plummeting to the depths of their goal. But, and this is a pretty big but, if players run out of jumps in the water, they die, and dying leads to the loss of a point. All these things create some very chaotic matches that consist of broken hearts and boasting victors. There are also a myriad of customization options for BaraBariBall. Wanna punish a spam jumper? Crank the penalty for ‘ringing out’ from one to two; you can enable an option that allows players to choose the amount of jumps they have — I strongly advise against messing with any of this, because the game is perfect as it is.
There is one glaring issue I have failed to mention so far in this review: Sportsfriends requires people and controllers to play. Most of the games can be played with just two people, and Hokra is the only game that requires four players. Sportsfriends takes into account how expensive controllers are by allowing some games to be played with one DualShock; both Hokra and Super Pole Riders are playable like this. It’s a neat feature, but is not a practical, nor enjoyable, way to experience either of those games, although comical.
We’ve had two Sportsfriends sessions at the House of Edwards, and I get texts daily about when we are going to play it again. Each game in the Sporstfriends collection brings something enjoyable to the couch co-op experience. All the games are tight, polished, and aesthetically beautiful, making Sportsfriends the quintessential party game for all PlayStation platform owners.
[+Every game in the collection is fun and easy to learn] [+Johann Sebastian Joust uses the DualShock in an inventive way] [+Charming soundtrack] [+BaraBariBall is just, like, the best thing ever] [+Great art direction] [-Requires a bunch of controllers]
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