If the wait for the 2010 Winter Olympics is killing you, this ho-hum collection won't make time go by any quicker.
- Genuinely amusing (though repetitive) announcers
- Some events offer decent motion controls.
- Most controls are boring, broken, or outright bizarre
- Bland, uninteresting gameplay
- Totally skimps on visual and audio details
- Nine unique events are actually just seven.
If you were to look at Winter Sports: The Ultimate Challenge and see it as a shoddy attempt to capitalize on the Wii's overwhelming popularity with a substandard sports compilation, you'd be right--but only half right. As you'll see, it's also directly based on the underwhelming Torino 2006, which was itself a shoddy attempt to capitalize on the last Winter Olympics. Diminishing returns is the name of the game with Winter Sports, and its failure to do anything interesting with the Wii's motion controls keeps it from rising above the mediocre legacy of its similar predecessor.
The action is spread across nine different events. You've got downhill racing (alpine skiing, bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge), plus the level-terrain variety (speed skating and cross-country skiing), and a grab bag of ski jumping, curling, and figure skating. Several of these offer additional disciplines, but the differences are pretty minimal; for example, there are more laps in speed skating, and you launch from a bigger ramp in ski jumping. Among the events featured in the game, the alpine-skiing category makes the best use of the Wii's motion controls. You race downhill with remote and Nunchuk held flat, twist them from side to side to weave in and out of the flags, and pull them back to slow down. It works decently enough, but doesn't really offer any advantage beyond the analog-stick steering of old.
Sadly, "decent" describes the level of quality where the controls reach their peak. The rest of the sports are substantially worse. In the level-terrain racing events, you'll find yourself simply pushing the remote and Nunchuk back and forth either as frantically as humanly possible (speed skating) or in a sleep-inducing rhythm (cross-country). Bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton require you to hold the remote sideways and use it to simply avoid hitting the wall too hard. Furthermore, ski jumping has you flicking the controllers up to jump, down to land, and using an oddly placed mechanism to keep yourself balanced, as if there were some magically invisible rail from Tony Hawk that you were trying to grind. At best, these robotically simple controls do little to engross you in the sports they're trying to mimic; at worst, they'll lull you into a deep sleep.
Figure skating is a beast of a whole different nature. Maybe they should have called it "Air Drumming to a Cheesy '80s Metal Song," because that's more or less what you're doing here. You just swing the remote and Nunchuk, like drumsticks, in sync with whatever beat is accompanying the sizzling guitar solo you're hearing. If you do it right, your onscreen avatar will land her trick; if not, she'll tumble to the ice. Its inclusion is strange, but nowhere nearly as strange as curling. We say this because the curling game is quite simply broken. You can perform the same precise stone-throwing motion 10 times, and 10 different releases (or nonreleases) will happen on screen. What's more, you can't even see a close-up of the house (target) when you're setting up a shot. You have to figure out your throwing and sweeping strategy from all the way down the lane, which is no small task given the terrible visuals of the game. Even a diehard curling fan able to tell you the winner of the 1983 Tournament of Hearts wouldn't enjoy this shell of a simulation.
Considering the poor overall performance of the events themselves, there's a lot of pressure on the gameplay modes to spice things up. They don't. There's a campaign mode that's basically a series of high-score challenges, and your reward is increased difficulty levels and new arenas that don't look terribly different from the default ones. Then there's career mode, which has you unlock skill points throughout several lengthy series of competitions. The odd part with career mode is that although you don't feel like you're getting better, the judges suddenly become a whole lot more lenient with their scores, and meanwhile the opposition's skill falls off the map. This robs the sense of accomplishment that career mode might offer. In the end, you'll most likely find yourself bypassing campaign and career altogether, in favor of using the single-event option to play the sports you can tolerate the most.
If the game features one bright spot, it's the announcer commentary. In the booth are the odd-couple voices of an American and an Englishman. They frequently venture into bizarre tangents ranging from Greek cuisine to stingy East German judges. Although often repeated, these non sequiturs are usually good for a few chuckles. The pair also manages to tear you apart in a humorously dry style when you find yourself doing poorly in a particular event. Actual sound effects are few and far between, but this off-the-wall banter provides a decent overall audio experience. Unfortunately, the presentation as a whole is significantly bogged down by the blurry textures and jerky animation, which seem to have been pulled directly from the aforementioned Torino 2006.
Altogether, Winter Sports does manage to get a few things right, but these occasional moments of clarity end up buried by long stretches of boredom. This is a game that will leave you feeling cold, though certainly not in the way a real winter-sports enthusiast would prefer.