Remember Wii Sports? The game with simplified sports rulesets meant to show off the capabilities of the Nintendo Wii’s at-the-time revolutionary motion-sensor controller? The one that’s super accessible to all players, even those who have never played video games before? You know, the fourth best-selling video game of all time?
Sports Scramble is a lot like Wii Sports, with a twist. Sports Scramble is a collection of three sports—tennis, bowling, and baseball—with simplified gameplay that’s accessible by anyone who’s new to virtual reality. If you thought Wii Sports was fun, you’ll be blown away by Sports Scramble, and I haven’t even mentioned what the twist is yet!
Disclaimer: My copy of Sports Scramble was provided by Armature Studio. However, my opinions in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced by Armature Studio in any way.
The main conceit of Sports Scramble is that various aspects of the sport you’re playing can be scrambled with elements from other sports. What can get scrambled?
- The ball
- The equipment
- The court
For example, in tennis, your racket could turn into a golf club or a pool noodle, the ball could turn into a basketball or a frisbee disc, and the court’s net could grow in height. In bowling, you might have to bowl a pineapple down a mine-infested lane. In baseball, you could pitch a ping pong ball or bat using a tennis racket. Hence the name, “sports scramble.”
It’s novel and it’s fun, at least for a while. Fortunately, when you get sick of it—which you invariably will—you can choose to turn off one or more of the scrambling aspects in each of the sports, resulting in normal (but still simplified) gameplay for that respective sport.
My thoughts on the individual sports in Sports Scramble:
Tennis is easily my favorite sport in the game. The gameplay is smooth and it feels the most true-to-life of the three, although I wish there was one more difficulty level above Hard. You can play it stationary (with a small Guardian) or by running around (with a large Guardian), but I recommend the latter if you can. It’s a lot more fun when you have to run along the entire baseline.
Bowling is my second favorite sport in the game. I love that they included a spin mechanic, which closely resembles how you’d actually spin a bowling ball in real life (my preferred technique). The sounds are perfect, and there’s nothing more satisfying than landing a strike.
Baseball is fun, but my least favorite of the three. The gameplay design is pretty good, but the simplification takes away a lot of control from the player so that it feels like the least skillful sport in Sports Scramble. My favorite part are the little details, like manually catching balls with the trigger and being able to catch line-drives if they pass by you.
All of the sports have a Training mode that walks you through the rules and gameplay mechanics, a Challenge mode where you can test your skill in the various aspects of the sport, and a Quick Play mode for when you just want to play the sport itself against an AI.
All of the sports also have Traditional modes, which do away with all of the scrambled gameplay and use the “real” rules for scoring that sport. For example, scrambled tennis uses 1 point per rally and first to 7 wins a game, whereas traditional tennis uses the 15-30-40 points system with deuces and advantages. Similarly, scrambled bowling uses a flat 100 points per pin struck, whereas traditional bowling uses the frame-over-frame system and incorporates strikes and spares.
You can also dip into the sport options and switch from Standard to Pro, which eliminates most of the hand-holding aspects and requires a bit more skill and coordination when swinging rackets, pitching balls, etc. This is actually my favorite way to play Sports Scramble.
After a while, it becomes clear that the scrambled gameplay is merely a gimmick. These days, I never play with scrambling turned on in any of the sports; the only ones I’d even consider trying again are scrambled lanes in bowling and scrambled pitching in baseball. The rest are ultimately more frustrating than fun to play with.
But my primary complaint with Sports Scramble is the lack of consistency and fidelity when it comes to racket hits, bowling spins, and bat strikes. Even when playing in Pro mode, the game holds your hand a little too much. True, there’s some semblance of skill involved, but there were times when I hit things unintentionally and it ruined the immersion.
The batting in baseball is the most wonky and worst offender. One time I purposely moved my bat away from a pitch because I knew it would miss the strike zone, yet ended up hitting it anyway—and it was a homerun. And it’s not just the hitboxes that are too forgiving. As far as I can tell, the distance of the ball doesn’t correlate to how hard you swing; you can bunt a pitch and it’ll go flying. That’s not what I’d expect in Pro mode.
I also don’t like how the outfielders work in baseball. Long story short, they’re all AI-controlled and they run in a direct line to wherever you hit the ball. If one is standing under the ball when it lands, it counts as an out—unless, by chance, it happens to be dropped or errored. I don’t like this random element and would much prefer if the player was involved in the outcome somehow.
Another area of inconsistency: the spin mechanic in bowling. I understand the concept of how the spin works—you twist the controller just before you release the ball—but the game’s tracking of the twist needs to improve. I can throw the ball the same exact way ten times and get ten wildly different results. I always spin the ball to the left, but sometimes it comes out spinning to the right. That’s not user error; that’s either a flaw in tracking or a flaw in how the game calculates twist.
Finally, while Sports Scramble does support online multiplayer, there aren’t many players online. I was only able to match up a few times before I gave up on it entirely. Note that online tennis is slightly imbalanced, in that players using small Guardians have an advantage over those using large Guardians because they don’t need to run around the court.
Overall, Sports Scramble is fun in the same way that a game like Mario Tennis is fun. Don’t go into it expecting a true-to-life simulation of tennis, bowling, and baseball. It’s close, but not entirely. Rather, think of it as an arcade-style take on each sport, with just enough of a skill component in each sport to pose a challenge and remain replayable for quite some time. It’s usually the game I turn to when I want to move around but don’t want to sweat.
The Oculus Quest comes with a demo of Sports Scramble, where you can play the scrambled version of tennis and get a feel for what the game is like. There’s a lot more to it beyond the demo, but you should still give it a try—if you like the demo, you’ll probably love the full game.
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