"As for the actual celebrity roster, it doesn't do the game any favors. About half of them are washed-up athletes that you may or may not recognize, while the other half are generally successful pop and country artists. You've seen better line-ups gathered for VH1 specials making fun of stupid criminals and the 80s. It's so underwhelming that to add some flair, the developers even threw in 'wannabe' celebrities such as Steve (he looks kind of like Elton John with a potbelly hanging out of an Elvis-style jumpsuit), Chad (goth all the way) and Kylie (some girl who runs around in a bunny suit)."
Before you start laughing at the premise behind Celebrity Sports Showdown--a series of rigorous athletic tournaments featuring a handful of celebrities--spend just a moment thinking about what could have been. Imagine LeAnn Rimes and Fergie skiing down a hill, trading insults while music from the Black-Eyed Peas thumps in the background. Or perhaps you'd prefer to think about Nelly Furtado and Avril Lavigne in a grudge match, balanced precariously over a pit of water as they joust with foam pads, determined to knock one another into the water below. As one of them falls in, the camera zooms in dramatically, almost Matrix-style, to depict the well-rendered look of surprise on Avril's face just before she plunges into the icy depths.
That could've been pretty cool.
Unfortunately, Celebrity Sports Showdown isn't really the sort of game that's features such triumphs. Even though you will ski downhill and you will joust with those foam pads, you'll find none of the drama that you might expect. Flair is absent and in its place we get nothing more than uninspired character models that barely look anything like the celebrities that they're supposed to depict.
The artwork devoted to the available characters is sketchy at best. If you've taken a close look at the game's cover, you've noticed renders of big heads fixed on little bodies. Avril Lavigne's arm looks like it's made of paper folded back on itself. Well, expect to see the same sort of stuff in-game. My character of choice--LeAnn Rimes--had more features in common with an old grandma than she did the svelte country singer from America's heartland. The animation depicting her quick dash toward the awards ceremony is cringe-inducing. Honestly, it looks like EA Canada--this game's developer and usually a competent studio by anyone's terms--left everything up to a handful of interns, a case of beer and a balmy weekend.
As for the actual celebrity roster, it doesn't do the game any favors. About half of them are washed-up athletes that you may or may not recognize, while the other half are generally successful pop and country artists. You've seen better line-ups gathered for VH1 specials making fun of stupid criminals and the 80s. It's so underwhelming that to add some flair, the developers even threw in 'wannabe' celebrities such as Steve (he looks kind of like Elton John with a potbelly hanging out of an Elvis-style jumpsuit), Chad (goth all the way) and Kylie (some girl who runs around in a bunny suit). These other characters were given the same attention as the actual celebrities. More, even.
Perhaps such concerns would matter less if the celebrities weren't the bait meant to lure you to the game, or if they were at least utilized in other ways. They're not, though. Nowhere will you find so much as a photo of any given star. Oddly, though several musical performers appear in the lineup, there's not even anything from any of their records included on the soundtrack. EA is known for its stellar use of licensed music in other games. Here, where it would make the most sense to provide that, we're instead left with generic beats so forgettable that I've already forgotten the description I had in mind for them. There are no voice samples, either.
That leaves nothing left to discuss but the games themselves, which can either be played one at a time in 'Free Play' mode (alone or with other folks who owe you a great deal of money and are willing to join you in a few matches in lieu of payment) or in a more structured format as you work through three versions of the 'Tournament' mode. There are 12 unique sports represented here and they range from canoing to rock climbing to archery to volleyball. It's neat that players are provided with something a little out of the ordinary. Not many commercial games feature dodgeball or inner tubing. Still, would it have killed anyone to provide a few more events?
Most of the competitions are pretty simplistic in nature, too. For example, one finds you riding a horse along a race track. You hold the Wii Remote sideways and shake it up and down to build speed while tilting it left or right to turn. Then as you come to obstacles, you can press '2' and leap over them, hopefully without grazing the surface and adding seconds to your running time. There's nothing wrong with this setup, which actually works quite well, but it has no real complexity and the overall package suffers when most of a limited number of diversions play out with a similar lack of depth.
Even those events that complicate matters a little bit still feel fairly simple, like selections from a Mario Party game. Such designs work in that other franchise because there's a lot of activity in between (like item theft and other games of chance). Here, there are just the 12 mildly amusing diversions shuffled in various orders to try to stretch the whole experience into something bigger than it really is. Just completing the batch of tournaments for one of the main characters will take you a few hours and that time is made up entirely of you playing through the same fare repeatedly, with only increasing difficulty providing any variety at all. It gets old long before you're even halfway through.
With a little bit of work (or maybe a lot; let's be realistic here), Celebrity Sports Showdown truly could have been a neat experience. Instead, the art style is so lackluster that even people who appreciate the notion of their favorite celebrities turned into zany cartoon characters and asked to compete against one another in some improbably demanding events will be disappointed. The overall production values are uninspired and make no real use of the featured guests, the mini-games included are neither numerous enough nor complex enough to hold a person's interest for long and the overall product feels like it was rushed out the door just so that the team could make it go away and work on something that was actually worthwhile. Unless you like to vote with your wallet for something that could have been, you should probably elect to play something else instead.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 12, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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