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Wii U Review: ESPN Sports Connection

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Quick: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name, “ESPN?” If you said kart racing, you’re probably a UbiSoft employee.

It’s unclear why ESPN’s logo is part of this title, short of two corporate behemoths banding together to sell their wares. With the exception of the Sportscenter theme present when selecting an Avatar (not a Mii) and advertisements for networks scattered around playing fields, this is the furthest from ESPN you can get.

Out of the six mini-games included (football, tennis, karting, golf, soccer, baseball), all of which are attempting to capitalize on the absence of Wii Sports on the Wii U, only two are tolerable. Golf functions as simply as it can scrape by with Wii Motion Plus – a required accessory to play, and baseball, which however lacks basic functionality to represent the sport.

On a curve, you could include soccer due to its leniency with motion or touch screen controls. The game is impossibly static though, so basic there are titles on the NES more complex and involved. They also have better frame rates.

The lack of polish will connect all six mini-games, beginning with a rigid feel, down to a dodgy frame rate, and then lackluster responsiveness. In a soccer shootout, the goalie would regularly jump for a save without any motion being applied. Bear in mind, this is after excessive calibration. In golf, you’ll need to set the WiiMote down between every hole, and good luck trying to keep your wrists straight regardless.

With the exception of pretty HD grass and a touch screen, nothing here directly needs the Game Pad. Any of these sub-games are sufficiently simple enough to be directed exclusively by the WiiMote, and most offer that as an option. The touch screen doesn’t serve up much in the way of logic, used to swing in tennis (!) but not in golf (?). For defensive play in football, players must trace routes in real time to prevent passes, and that system was created with the assumption that Avatars would respond. They don’t. Most run forward two extra steps before considering running the routes they were told.

Baseball’s implementation of the touch screen is admirable, if broken in context. You’ll swipe the stylus to create hilariously winding pitches, and it doesn’t matter if the catcher grabs it or not. Pitches that hit the backstop still count as clean strikes without runner advancement. The sole motion control for the Pad comes in here, with players picking up the controller to point at the screen to the ball’s location. For pop flys, it works fine. For line drives, most are muffed. This also eliminates the need to throw to specific bases. Where the ball lands or how far it is hit determines base position.

Each of the six games has multiplayer support, bringing this to a grand total of five possible people. Modes max out at two for each game, nothing in depth mind you. A football tournament is extravagant, and the caddy play in golf is utterly baffling. After multiple sessions, it didn’t seem to have any effect on play despite promises of setting up shots.

But, maybe you’re here for drift-happy kart racing, and you’ll find it to be as unpolished as anything. Surprisingly, it comes with 11 courses, all seemingly designed with a stock editor that limits their length and potential thrills. AI won’t put up much of a fight either, easily lapped on anything other than the hardest difficulty. Gained boost only means being disoriented when stepping on the gas by the choppy frame rate.

Kids might have some fun goofing around, but we need Wii Sports U, not ESPN licensed shovelware.

ESPN Sports Connection is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.