The Ultimate Challenge? Enjoying this game.
The Wii is a lot like a cheerleader. She acts like anyone can get into her pants, but she’s really only interested in the captain of the football team. Nintendo’s internal development teams have succeeded admirably on the console, while third-party developers are having a hell of a time getting the Wii to “put out” for them. But after playing a game like Winter Sports: The Ultimate Challenge, I can understand why. Winter Sports is the smelly, prematurely balding high-schooler drooling at the feet of Miss Wii.
Lucky for him, he might be just her type.
[image1]Leaving my overwrought analogy aside for now, it’s worth acknowledging that this is precisely the sort of game that ends up selling reasonably well despite what we game reviewers say about it. With a few very notable exceptions like Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo’s new console has done a fantastic job of spitting in the face of game reviewers by giving a huge sales boost to what those in the gaming industry like to call “crap”. The casual gaming revolution is in full swing and shovelware is ruling the streets, taking a baseball bat to the sales of its more respectable brethren (and sistren).
But Winter Sports: The Ultimate Challenge isn’t a horrible game. It’s just not a very good one. Most of the ingredients of solid casual gaming are here: Multiplayer. An assortment of game types. Motion controls. Unfortunately, Winter Sports falls short in nearly all of them. Multiplayer is lacking in competitive spirit. The individual sports offered are hit-and-miss in their gameplay. Universally intuitive play mechanics, the hallmark of all good mini-game collections, are also missing
Back in the days of the Commodore 64, Summer Games hit the high note for all subsequent Olympic game collections. Every Olympic-style game in the over twenty years since then has relied on the exact same basic gameplay mechanic: tap really fast on some buttons, but not too fast or your stamina meter will wear out. Obviously, the genre’s in need of a serious makeover.
In Winter Sports, speed skating, sled events, and cross-country skiing all use the stale “push buttons really fast but not too fast” mechanic. The game does try to mix things up a bit, but in doing so, it only digs its hole deeper. Figure skating is an absolute disaster. In it, you play a basic rhythm game where you swing either the nunchuck or the Wii remote in time to musical cues. Needless to say, you’ll never come across any unusual rhythms or difficult sequences. It’s almost as much fun as repeatedly pushing the power button on a remote control to a TV you sold two years ago.
[image2]Curling seems like it would be a perfect fit for the console. The mechanics seem to be nearly identical to those of Wii Sports bowling, but don’t be fooled. Not only are the curling controls unnecessarily confusing, but they’re also horribly inconsistent and uncooperative. I suggest leaving curling to the experts.
The sled events are pretty meaningless. After you apply the “push buttons really fast” mechanic to get your sled moving down the course, you’re expected to steer the thing. Trouble is, steering doesn’t do a whole lot. Once the sled starts heading down hill, you may as well set the controller down and just watch.
However, this lumpy piece of shovelware does have a silver lining. The skiing events are impressive. There aren’t a lot of courses, and they aren’t much to look at, but the controls work surprisingly well. In the downhill skiing events, you hold the nunchuck and remote like a pair of skis, rotating them on their axes to the left or right in order to turn as though you’re shifting edges on a real pair of skis. The controls feel smooth and responsive, and the ski jump events are similarly well-designed. If this game had instead focused solely on skiing, there would be much to recommend this game. With the release of the Wii Balance Board just around the corner, this game missed its true calling.
[image3]Unlike most other mini-game collections, multiplayer seems like an afterthought instead of a primary focus. You can either play by taking turns or via a split-screen, for most of the events However, split-screen is misleading since you’re not actually ever on the same course at the same time. Factor in the fact that there are no online capabilities, and multiplayer adds up to a complete bust.
If you can ignore the other events on offer, the skiing portions may be worth your time. The non-skiing events are pretty shallow, and in the case of figure skating, are downright skeletal. Curling, though great in concept, is painfully awkward in its execution, and the sledding gameplay is more passive than Switzerland. Everything else is an exercise in speed-waggling. In this strange casual-dominated market, the unlikeliest of men may have won over the cheerleader, but all is not lost for the rest of us. She may have a sluttier sister waiting in the wings.