This accessible snow-sports game doesn't improve on its predecessor as meaningfully as it might have, but is a lot of fun nonetheless.
- Excellent Mii integration
- Loads of varied challenges to complete
- Great, uncomplicated controls
- Fun unlockables.
- Limited balance-board support
- Lackluster audio
- Snowboards add nothing new to gameplay.
Less than a year after We Ski successfully opened its slopes for business, the aptly named We Ski & Snowboard remedies its predecessor's lack of snowboarding and also offers two brand-new mountains for you to play on. Snowboards don't change the game the way they should, and there aren't many new features to be found on the slopes, but there's plenty of fun to be had here for players of all ages.
After opting to play as either a Mii or one of the game's customizable characters, your first move from the main menu will likely be to attend the snow school. It's a slow process to play through the numerous lessons, each of which cover only a single move, but by the end you'll have mastered the mostly uncomplicated controls for everything from stopping and turning to landing huge jumps and performing spectacular tricks. New ground tricks that can be used to be string together high-scoring combos are a welcome addition, and they're easy enough to perform that, even when they're necessary to complete challenges, the difficulty level doesn't ramp up too significantly.
There are separate lessons for skiing and snowboarding at the school, but if you go there expecting the two disciplines to offer different gameplay experiences, you're in for a disappointment. The animation and the names of the moves and tricks are different, but the controls and the performance are not. In fact, the only noteworthy difference is that if you choose to play using the Balance Board, you need to rotate the peripheral 90 degrees from its regular orientation when you use it for snowboarding. Regardless of how you choose to go downhill, the Balance Board's functionality is again limited to shifting your weight to steer left and right. It works just fine, but it's disappointing that you can't control your speed or tricks in the same way.
After settling on a control scheme and learning how to play with it, you can choose to enter races, slaloms, and various trick-related contests directly from the main menu or to explore one of the mountains and participate in those events when you find them. The Jamboree Snow Resort is a lot like We Ski's Happy Snow Resort, but its busy slopes offer more varied challenges than those in last year's game. Artificial ramps, halfpipes, and grinding rails that look like the remains of roller coasters appear alongside mogul runs and winding slalom courses, and an impressive network of lifts transports you between slopes if you want to take in the view rather than use a map to move around the resort instantly. Relatively speaking, Mount Angrio is an untamed wilderness where challenges come in the form of wooded areas, rocky outcrops, huge drops from cliff faces, and even avalanches in a couple of spots. The only way up the mountain is inside a helicopter or UFO, and the only way down is on your skis or board.
In We Ski, you needed to explore the resort to find characters with challenges for you, but in We Ski & Snowboard the vast majority of them are waiting for you at the bottom of each mountain. As a result, exploration is a little less compelling this time around, but there are still photo opportunities, hidden runs, and secret characters to find if you take the time to search for them. On the flipside, not having to search for challenges means that it's much easier, for example, to play through all of a mountain's 10 races back-to-back if that suits your interest.
Races that pit you against a handful of other characters are among the most enjoyable challenges to complete in We Ski & Snowboard. Longer races that span multiple slopes are the most interesting because you often need to figure out the fastest route through certain areas before you can succeed. Other challenges include trick competitions on halfpipes, moguls, and slopes littered with ramps and rails, as well as various delivery missions that give you hints on where on the mountain you can find your target and then give you a time limit to do so. Slalom events and missions in which you have to collect items on your way down a slope are the most challenging, considering that they invariably require some trial and error while you memorize the locations of both the slalom gates and of the items you're aiming for. Overall, We Ski & Snowboard is a more challenging game than its predecessor, but it's rarely frustrating, and your progress is well rewarded with amusing unlockable costumes and equipment.
It's not possible to go online with We Ski & Snowboard, but you can show off your dinosaur-bone skis, your flying-carpet snowboard, or your samurai snow in split-screen mode at home with up to three friends who, as you explore the mountains together, are sure to be impressed by your unlockable outfit. Split-screen play doesn't suffer from the slowdown that it did in the first game, but when your peripheral vision is limited by the size of your screen area, it can be tough to keep track of challenge objectives and of each other if you're trying to go downhill as a group. The quality of the simplistic though charming visuals isn't adversely affected when you play in split-screen, though choosing to ski at night further compounds the lack of visibility.
We Ski & Snowboard's audio is functional but lacks the charm of the visuals. Sound effects, in conjunction with subtle controller vibration, do a great job of giving you feedback when you're skiing on different surfaces or pushing the limits of how sharply you can turn, but they're not enough to make the sound design interesting. You occasionally hear conversations between other skiers as you pass them, and resort announcements break up the monotony of the elevator music anytime you're near a lift station or anywhere else on the mountain that there are speakers. The soundtrack lacks the theme tunes from other Namco Bandai games that were present in the first game, which is a shame given that the Katamari Damacy music in particular rarely fails to raise a smile.
If you already own We Ski, it's difficult to justify the purchase of We Ski & Snowboard. The new mountains are fun to explore and there are plenty of challenges to keep you busy, but the introduction of snowboarding amounts to little more than a new set of animations and trick names. On the other hand, if you've yet to sample the delights of We Ski, this is undoubtedly the better game of the two.