"Who Will Be Number One In The World?"
So says the announcer at the beginning of every event. Yes, its the 1998 Winter Olympics and Konami intends with this title to take the gamer directly to all the action in Nagano, Japan. Nearly every event is represented, from speed skating to curling, and the player is allowed to represent most of the major participating nations.
Essentially, this is a very ambitious game, and you have to respect the designers for this fact. The goal seems to be a total recreation of the Olympic experience, with 13 separate events in which to compete. The nice thing about this is simply the sheer depth involved. Even if you hate the Luge and like everything else, this game is still for you. If you are not interested in any of the other events, and just want a good session of electronic downhill skiing, you will still be satisfied with Nagano '98.
Probably the most significant asset of this game is the realism. The athletes are bit-mapped polygons, which gives them very realistic motions. Likewise, each of the various stadiums, arenas, and outdoor courses at Nagano are fully rendered to replicate the real thing. The crowds will cheer for everybody, roar if a record is being broken, and even snicker a little if you do something worthy of an Olympic "Hall Of Shame." Of course, an emphasis is made on the graphics being a cross between reality and television. During the bobsled event, for instance, you can see the clock displayed at all times (no pun intended), while the on-site announcer makes short broadcasts over the local public address system.
But this game is not all that it could be. While the game's marketability may be insured only so long after the 1998 Winter Olympics have ended, the game's playability may have even a shorter life span. For one thing, the events are fairly simple. The goal is simply to practice at each event until you figure out the trick that makes the skier jump higher or makes that thing in "Curling" go, well, farther. Figure out the one thing that is needed to maximize performance on each event, and you win the gold medal.
Nevertheless, there are some rather unique features to each event. Take the Free Style Aerials for instance. For each set of stunts, a long series of button combinations appears at the bottom of the screen. As the skier takes flight, this button series lights up, much like the lyrics on a Karaoke video. You then have to rush through the button combination as fast as you can, before the skier loses the altitude and comes back down. If the full combination is performed, the skier will perform a great show and then land in a position other than "face first".
What might have made this game better would have been the inclusion of two very important events. The first would have been figure skating. Using the technique described above, a fairly good representation of that sport might have been achieved. That would have been very cool, not to mention extremely innovative. Another idea would have been to add an Ice Hockey event. That would have sent the game into the stratosphere, in my mind. Who can forget the 1980 US Hockey team's "Miracle on Ice?" I might have played this game for that event, and that event alone.
Otherwise, Nagano '98 is a fine souvenir of the Winter Olympics and easily the best game in terms of graphics and realism that has been done for that genre. It lacks a few things, and is overly simplistic at parts, sometimes even lowering itself to the level of gimmickry, but still comes through. The game is a lot of fun, for either one player or many. If Konami can do something similar with the Sydney Summer Games in 2000, we may see an EA Sports type monopoly in the works.