When it comes to winter sports compilations, Winter Heat blows away the recent competition on every platform - but that's not saying a lot, since the only competition is the pathetic Nagano Winter Olympics '98. Nonetheless, Winter Heat provides eleven solid sporting events, some of which are even fun to play.
Despite the fact that the controls are different from competition to competition, they're all relatively easy to pick up and won't cause a lot of headaches. Plus, before the start of each event an optional onscreen tutorial clearly outlines the controls. About half of the games are real button mashers, so keep a bottle of ibuprofen handy. Some of these are a little too straightforward. Many don't require use of the D-pad at all. Speed skiing and speed skating are essentially updated versions of the '80s arcade hit Track & Field, since all you do is push the speed buttons (A and C) as fast as you can. No steering, no nothing. Just keep hitting those buttons. If I could just find a short enough pencil....
In the bantamweight strategy category we have slalom, bobsled, and skeleton. Slalom is more button mashing with the added component of tapping the action button to swat away gates as you approach them. Yes, that's right, a slalom skiing event with no D-pad requirement. Sure, you're turning through dozens of gates, but the actual steering is accomplished by the CPU. Go figure. Skeleton, for the uninitiated, is the face-first luge. Extreme! In both it and the bobsled competition, once you're up to speed, all you've got to do is use the D-pad to keep from flipping over - and if you do, you can get back on, unlike in Nagano, where you're instantly disqualified. Bored thumbs rejoice!
Thankfully, some of the games are a little more compelling. Aerial ski jumping is fairly odd. You select tricks in advance by watching the fluctuating difficulty meter rapidly cycle from easy to hard and back. Hit the action button to select the difficulty you want as it goes by. That's right - even selecting what tricks you want is a test of skill. This meter remains onscreen for the event, because the remaining task at hand is to build up enough speed, jumping power, and aerial finesse to match the difficulty of the trick. How do you accomplish this? More button mashing, of course. As you approach the jump, you pound the speed buttons as fast as you can. Under the difficulty meter, your speed is shown in blue. On the jump, you pound the action button as fast as you can. Jumping power is shown in green and is added to your final speed rating. In the air, pound the speed buttons again to increase your finesse, now shown in yellow. If the combined total of all three is higher than the difficulty rating, you pull off the trick. Of course, while you're busy watching these various meters, there is an animated skier onscreen performing tricks, but that seems to be less important in the designers' eyes than this odd interface. Whatever happened to combos? Who knows.
The thing that Winter Heat has going for it is the graphics. Nothing too fancy, but they're solid, and the racers all feel fast. Unlike the competition, Sega has observed that hurtling down an icy mountain with your feet tied to logs is scary and should feel as life threatening as it really is. The bobsled and skeleton events are especially intense, and the sensation of speed in them is undeniable. They're also pretty choppy, but what the heck, an onboard camera would be too. Graphically simple, but effective, Winter Heat produces some nice polygons.
Despite its simplicity and the immediate potential for carpal tunnel syndrome, Winter Heat succeeds at providing a fun and varied batch of snowy competitions. It does this by employing fairly consistent controls through a varied series of games. The speed button remains the speed button throughout, and so on. As a result, it's not such a headache to go from one competition to the next, and the package is tied together better than the competition's. It's a fairly fluid transition from one event to the next. In fact, the game is best played in the 11 Event Heat mode, one event after the other. Taken as a whole, the difference between the games makes Winter Heat more than the sum of its parts.