Abarcy

Winter Sports 2008

At least visually, Winter Sports 2008 owes nothing whatsoever to Wii Sports and its cutely animated ilk. Instead this game aims for a more realistic look. There are nine main events, with a number of variations on some of them. These can be played in four modes: Competitions, Campaign, Career and Single events.

The first obvious problem is the user interface, which may be pretty but isn't very easy to use. Options and disciplines are all displayed as ice cubes, and you have to hover the pointer over them in order to see what they are for. The option to select your player profile is hard to find. It seems that the easiest way to get the game to remember you is to set up or select a player in Career mode, and then exit. It's all a bit convoluted.

Setting up a profile is a basic matter of choosing a name and nationality. There isn't even a character to choose, because you will be represented by a different one in each sport (although they all tend to have very similar features, like a convention of clones).

Winter Sports 2008 can take a while to load, thanks to fairly detailed graphics and the constant chatter of the commentators. They speak in hushed tones, but they can be quite catty. Nothing but the best performances will prevent them from disparaging your techniques and mocking your failures.

Medal ceremonies take place after each event, and although you can fast forward them they still get in the way of play. It would be better to be able to turn them off altogether.

In Competitions mode you can take part in 7 or 15 events, or a custom competition where you choose the events you want to participate in. Campaign mode presents a series of challenges, such as getting off to a perfect start in certain sports, or positioning a rock in curling. When you complete a challenge new ones may become available. Not all of these challenges take as long as the regular events, but they do provide a lot of variety.

Career mode is different since you rack up experience points rather than high scores. There are four leagues of increasing difficulty, each consisting of a 7-sport and a 15-sport competition. In order to progress you must win the longer one. The experience points improve your athlete in various unspecified ways, and you can distribute them as you like. So if you get 10 points for a gold medal in figure skating you could add them to your experience for the bobsleigh event.

Single Events is self-explanatory, and for this you can gain high scores but not experience points.

Bobsleigh, Luge, and Skeleton

In these events you start by powering up by rotating of shaking the Wii Remote quickly, and then steer to avoid the sides of the run. Cranking it up to full speed is the easy part. Every time you steer badly you lose speed. These sports mix an initial burst of speed with the need for good co-ordination, and they're enjoyable to play.

Alpine Skiing

There are various runs for this event, which is probably the most difficult to master. Just finishing a course without disqualification is one of the challenges in Campaign mode.

Ski Jumping

This event is about timing, balance and precision. You need to steer, take off, steer mid-air and land without crashing.

Speed Skating

Brute force wins out in this extremely simple sport. Just pump the Wii Remote and Nunchuck up and down as fast as possible, and don't forget to steer. This is great exercise for wrists and forearms.

Cross-Country Skiing

This sport lasts longer than Speed Skating, but it's not all that tiring. To get the best time you need to choose when to push your skier and when to glide so that the character regains stamina.

Figure Skating

This is a matter of moving the controllers in time to the music. If you get it right the skater will perform elaborate spins. It's a well-designed control system that makes for relaxing play once you get the hang of it. However this sport would be vastly improved if there were more than just one piece of music to listen to.

Curling

The controls for the curling take some getting used to, and it's very difficult to throw the rock accurately and consistently. The animation that's supposed to explain how this movement works is fairly confusing, and curling probably has the worst game design of all the sports. It's not unplayable, but it's harder to grasp and less responsive than it should be.

Conclusion

In spite of a few flaws, Winter Sports 2008 is one of the better sports games available for the Wii. It's varied, attractive, and on the whole the gameplay is well designed. The activities range from intense to barely more than sedentary, so you won't break much of a sweat unless you concentrate on speed skating. However, once you get past its clunky interface this is an enjoyable game with good potential for longevity.