Live by the bird, die by the bird. These are the words you are given when you go through each loading screen of the unusual party game known only as Sportsball. Despite having the word “sport” in the title, this is very far from a typical sport. Yes, a ball is involved, and there is a scoring system in place, but this game has an odd concept that makes one wonder how the title came to be. The game has players choose one of four teams, each team having four different birds to pick from. Yes, birds, each mounted by a human character. The game has a pretty cool and colorful art style to compliment its fitting soundtrack and unusual concept, but that may be one of the only real highlights here.
The game takes place on one of several arenas around the world, though how those locations relate to the real world location is never fully realized. The Seattle arena shows no signs of the Space Needle or any other iconic Seattle scenery, so it might as well be a generic stage. Each stage has slightly different setups, a goal post placed on the field, and players spawning from giant bird cages. This is where a sort of retro feeling comes up, as the stages resemble something out of an older game like Joust or Balloon Fight. As the cages are lifted, players are free to flap their wings and move about the stage, moving off screen to the right as they reappear on the left side, flying around as their player carries a lance. Balls will spawn on the stage and players will fight to obtain them, trying to take them to the goalpost. This takes quite a bit of skill, as Sportsball has a very difficult play style, not making it very accessible for players.
Each bird moves at different speeds and has different stats that make them unique. Combine this with the unusual controls, and you have a game that takes quite a bit of practice to become good at. Players move their bird around, using one button to ascend, the other to descend, as well as small little advanced techniques like quick-turns and dives. It takes a lot of skill to have full control of the ball, and even more to guide it to the goalpost while other players are attacking you from all sides. Each bird has a particular attack and defense setup, some being vulnerable from behind, some from above, and some so strong that their speed disadvantage might not make a difference. It can take a lot of time to find the right bird that works, but this comes up to one of the problems of the game: the single-player content.
The game is a party game, multiplayer being the obvious focus. Unfortunately for solo players, the content is lacking quite a bit, only giving players a practice mode by themselves. The game lacks any sort of bots or computer controlled players, so the practice mode doesn’t do much to help against getting destroyed by other players and how to avoid them. Aside from the actual content, another issue with playing the game alone came down to a more Wii U specific feature. The game does support off-TV gameplay on the Gamepad, but for some reason or another there is no audio from the Gamepad. This makes it a bit of a boring experience and makes it almost pointless to play it on the Gamepad when someone else needs to watch TV.
Sportsball isn’t what one would typically play when there are so many other great local play options available for the Wii U, and for $9.99 on the eShop, it isn’t exactly giving players any value, especially if they are playing alone where the game becomes pretty much a wasted purchase. The game has it’s moments, but some features like online play, a fleshed out single-player mode, and a tutorial to help players learn the controls easier would’ve helped this game a lot.
Final Score: 5 out of 10