When games like Decathlon and Track and Field were released back in the '80s, they introduced the thumb-numbing gameplay mechanics that games like ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 are known for. As time went on and video games gradually stepped into 3D, future Olympics-influenced games contained the same button-mashing controls that made said games so popular, but failed to move the genre forward in this respect. Konami's latest take on the genre, ESPN International Winter Sports 2002, has plenty of events, but it makes use of the same gameplay style introduced almost two decades ago and is little more than a trip back in time for all but the most green of video game players.
You begin by choosing to play as either a man or a woman, and you then select from eight imaginary characters from around the globe. If you want to get a feel for the events, you can practice your skills in the trials mode before moving on to the competition, but unwieldy loading times and presentation screens keep this mode from being all it can be. There are 10 events included in International Winter Sports 2002, and two of them are gender-specific. There's downhill, slalom, two different ski jumps, moguls, snowboard half-pipe, speed skating, bobsledding, curling, and figure skating. The ski jumping events are strictly for men, while the figure skating event is for women only. Many of the events require you to tap certain buttons as fast as you possibly can while timing the presses of other buttons. This formula is tried and true, but thankfully Konami has found a few new twists to keep some of the events exciting. While it's impossible to control your skater, the figure skating event plays very similarly to Konami's rhythm game, Dance Dance Revolution. You must enter controller commands in time with the music while your skater flails about according to your accuracy. The snowboard half-pipe event plays very similarly except that you have a specific amount of time to enter a chain of commands before your rider will launch off the lip. Another event that should be mentioned is curling. Not only does it take far too long to complete just one round of this wretched activity, but it's also just not any fun. Hopefully Konami will see the light and cut this shuffleboard-on-ice "sport" from the game for next year's version and include something more interesting like freestyle ski jumping. The slalom skiing events are more difficult than they should be thanks to loose controls and the fact that making it down the mountain without being disqualified is almost entirely dependent upon memorizing the entire course and skiing it perfectly. Playing International Winter Sports 2002 is often a passive yet frustrating experience. You rarely have any sort of control over your athlete, and while this was fine almost 20 years ago, this genre is long overdue for an upgrade. Defeating computer-controlled athletes can be very difficult in some events, and one slight mistake in any of the 10 events will keep you from earning the gold medal. ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 can be quite fun in the multiplayer modes, but playing against the computer can be an exercise in frustration.
It's initially difficult to judge the graphics in International Winter Sports 2002 because players must stare at specific portions of the screen while playing the game and are rarely able to actually watch what the athlete is doing. Of course, playing against a friend will provide ample opportunity to sample what the game has to offer from a visual perspective. Most of the events look fairly good, though anyone who pays close attention will notice a few occasional glitches. The characters and venues included in the game are generally built of too few polygons, and common problems such as texture shimmering are apparent. Other issues include slalom gates that magically appear before your eyes once it's too late to prepare for them and a camera that jerks a bit when skiers go airborne. Conversely, the most impressive aspect of Winter Sports 2002's graphics is the animation. For the wide variety of events included in the game, the animation for each is surprisingly smooth and realistic. Some of the more impressive snowboarding tricks look every bit as good as those found in Konami's ESPN snowboarding game, and when the members of your bobsledding team hop into the sleigh to start going down the track, you'll swear you're watching an Olympic broadcast. But other small issues such as clothes that rattle wildly in the wind after your athlete has stopped moving will remind you that you're simply playing a video game.
The sound in ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 is the game's weakest trait. There is no announcing crew to get you into each event, and athletes' mouths will move as if they are saying something, but nothing can be heard. The sound effects also have a tendency to repeat, so expect to hear the same sound of skates on ice in both the speed skating and figure skating events. Music is basically nonexistent, with the exception of one lead-in song that plays while you're in the navigation menus. The sounds of the crowd are adequate and the public address announcer utters some humorous statements occasionally, but it's obvious that little work went into crafting the aural experience.
ESPN International Winter Sports is a collection of 10 minigames that can be played solo or head-to-head--and little else. Considering 60 minigames isn't enough to keep Mario Party-style games interesting for more than a week, the appeal of ESPN Winter Sports 2002 is extremely limited. If you're having friends over for an Olympics party this winter it's definitely worth a rental, but its frustrating single-player mode, dated gameplay mechanics, and lack of interactivity make it difficult to recommend for a purchase.