Nagano Winter Olympics '98 attempts to provide the definitive winter games sampler. The problem here, as might be expected from any 12-games-in-one package, is that the individual competitions just aren't any good. The gameplay is thin, the control options minimal, and the number of courses... well, there's usually one per event.
You just don't feel involved in what you're doing. In eleven games out of 12, the control is so over-simplified - in several you only use two buttons and don't use the control stick at all - you never really feel like part of the action. Take aerial freestyle skiing, a trick competition where you're expected to perform various stunt combinations. Rather than learning the various moves and the timing required to tie them together in some creative fashion, you just push a power button and watch the CPU do all that for you, with no control over the individual tricks. Here's how it works: Before you make your run, select which set of tricks you want to perform from a list of ten, each with cryptic names like "FTT" and "DFD" (and no decoder offered in the manual or elsewhere). Wait and watch as your skier glides down the slope. Before and while he's in the air, push the A button as fast as you can (to increase his "power"). Watch him perform the tricks you've selected and keep furiously pushing the A button until he's about to land. Push the B button to land him safely. It's difficult to imagine a less involving interface. The whole time he's up there doing double gainers or whatever, you're stuck on the ground hammering away at the A button.
Snowboarding fares slightly better. Again, a roster of tricks is selected in advance of each run. You make eight jumps per run. As you approach the lip of the half-pipe, each subsequent combination appears in your onscreen trick-o-meter. Before you catch any air, you must enter the correct combination of buttons, which is especially easy since you're reading them right off the screen and the key presses flash as you enter them, so there's no guesswork in knowing when you've completed a half-circle or tap. This takes the sense of timing usually required by combo-driven gaming right out of the loop. The oddest part of this whole thing is that each combo must be entered in its entirety before your rider even starts the move. This interface cripples one of the big keys to video game immersion: seeing onscreen results immediately as you, the player, perform actions. Turn-based sports? You might as well be playing Simon Says.
The real dogs are the downhill races, which comprise five of the 12 competitions. The problem is twofold. Game controls are minimal, and courses are scarce. In skiing and snowboarding, you have controls for left and right turning and a brake (edging). There's no acceleration, no leaning forward or back, no tucking for tighter moves, and no real jumps. It's worse with the bobsled and luge. Since they're on rails, you don't even control steering so much as just weight distribution to avoid flipping over in the turns. Either way, each race comes down to just recognizing when you need to slow down or hug the curves. This is compounded by the lack of varied courses. There's one course for each competition. That's it. Win and you go to the awards ceremony. Coupled with the uninvolving level of control, this means that the sum total of each event is memorizing the two moments when you should hit the brakes. The gameplay is about as tough as answering a phone when it rings.
This oversimplified gameplay reigns throughout. Speed skating is performed solely with the L and R buttons controlling each of the skater's legs. The CPU takes care of the curves and the lane changes for you. There is some room for tactics, since timing determines the power of each push off the ice. The faster you go, the more stamina you lose, which can result in an inadvertent slo-mo finish to your race. The most striking divergence from the inanity of most of these games occurs with the fairly occult game of curling, a bizarre form of ice-shuffleboard, which features fairly in-depth control and game logic. Go figure.
Nagano '98 isn't entirely bleak. Though graphically average, some events fare better than others. The luge has a scary first-person perspective, but a crummy frame rate. Skiing is appropriately loud and has realistic edging sound effects. Ski jumping makes interesting use of separate skier angle and wind direction/speed meters, requiring occasional nudging to maintain proper balance and land safely. But it's really a case of too little, too late. Ultimately, this is an unmixed bag of terrible, underdeveloped games whose feeble, undernourished gameplay comes down to timing one or two button taps, not just per race, but per event.