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ESPN International Winter Sports 2002

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Konami
Publisher:  Konami
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  2-20-02

For almost as long as there have been home video game consoles, there have been Olympic games to go along with them. While this isn’t technically the official Olympic game (Eidos secured that license for Salt Lake City 2002 for PS2/PC/GBA), it does a better job of recapturing the games than any other winter Olympic game has done in several years.

The game is broken down into several gameplay modes, including Trial Mode, Competition Mode, and Championship Mode (Men or Women). Trial Mode can only be played by one player, and basically serves as a practice mode to hone your skills in. Competition Mode is the multiplayer mode, although sadly it’s limited to only two players (either simultaneous or alternating depending on the event). Championship Mode lets one or two players compete in a three-day multiple event competition. Upon completion of this mode you’re given a password, which can then be entered on the Internet to register your overall ranking against players from around the world. Since most Olympic events basically translate into mini-games, I’ll go over the mechanics of each of the ten events separately.

Downhill Alpine Skiing – Control here is limited to steering left or right, pushing forward to accelerate and "A" to edge/brake.

Slalom Alpine Skiing – Same as above.

K90 Ski Jumping – This event starts out with the player pressing L + R at just the right time to check the wind against a waving flag. Then you proceed to hold down the L + R buttons to build up speed, releasing them at the end of the ramp to jump. The L + R buttons are then used in combination with up and down to balance the skier in the air, and "A" is used to execute a successful landing.

K120 Ski Jumping – Here "A" is used to check the wind, alternating the A and B buttons is used to increase speed, and the L button is used to jump and land.

Freestyle Mogul Skiing – Guided by a meter at the top of the screen, the L + R buttons need to be pressed alternately to turn through the moguls. After hitting a ramp, the control stick and the C stick are used in conjunction to perform a variety of tricks.

Half-pipe Snowboarding – Surprisingly, the player has no control over where their boarder goes during this event. Instead, when approaching each side of the pipe A, B, X, or Y must be pressed to select the trick type, which is then followed by entering the proper direction combinations in the allotted time to pull off the trick.

Speed Skating – In the spirit of button-mashing Olympic games of the past, simply press A + B as fast as possible to win.

Bobsleigh – Alternately tap A+ B at the start to gain speed, then hit the L button at the right times to make each of your teammates jump into the sled in time. If one doesn’t make it, it’s an automatic DQ.

Curling – Basically a slow and plodding version of bowling, curling involves trying to deliver your stone into the target while blocking the opposition. B sets the rotation of the stone, the control stick controls delivery force, A makes the delivery, and alternating A + B sweep in front of the stone as it’s delivered.

Figure Skating – Hmm…a game filled with mini-games from Konami…think they’d find a way to put a DDR-type game in here somewhere? Figure skating (females only) involves choosing from one of three songs (easy, normal, and expert difficulties), and then pressing the correct button when it reaches the Step Zone. Not terribly original, but who cares?

Almost universally, each mini-game is fairly difficult to master, and will require a good bit of practice before the player can finish near the top with consistency. However, the button mashers (Speed skating, K120 Ski Jumping, and Curling) require incredible button-mashing speed that will test even old-school shooter fans (like myself). Surprisingly, I found Curling to be one of my favorite events. Not only does it require a good deal of thought before each shot (lining it up, setting the proper amount of force, accounting for other stones in the way, altering the spin direction), but it also incorporates good old button-mashing into the sweeping part. The Figure Skating is also quite enjoyable (as you’d expect from an DDR-inspired game), as are the Bobsleigh and Half-pipe Snowboarding.

Regardless of the event, choosing the right athlete to use is critical to success. There are a total of 16 athletes (8 female and 8 male), and each can participate in any event with the exception of males in figure skating. It is disappointing that Konami wasn’t able to include the real athletes, but since these are generally lesser known it doesn’t hurt the enjoyment of the game like it would with a football or baseball game. Each has his/her own set of attributes, and they really come into play with each event. Speed guys generally don’t do that well in the Slalom Alpine Skiing (which requires a lot of braking and cornering), while they’re much easier to use in the Speed Skating. As you can imagine, this makes picking the right one to use in Championship Mode especially important, since the events cover a wide range of required skills.

The graphics aren’t too shabby, but it’s not a stunner. While the character models are very nice with tons of polygons and excellent texturing, the environments come off as rather flat and drab. Granted there’s not a whole lot of variety in real life when everything is covered in snow, but for example the bobsleigh event looks about as barren as the tracks in F-Zero X. The advantage here is that the events that require speed move really fast. The snow effects are pretty average as well, but get the job done.

The sound effects are pretty average, and neither stand out nor offend. The soundtrack on the other hand is the best of both worlds, with some awesome music during the Figure Skating event but mostly terrible menu music. The rest is just filler and neither adds nor subtracts from the experience.

Highs:

  • Above average graphics and a solid framerate at all times.
  • Nice selection of events, and Curling turned out to be much more fun than I thought it’d be.
  • Good variety of gameplay, from straight button-mashers to DDR-inspired controls.

Lows:

  • No official Olympic license hurts the overall experience, as the gamer isn’t able to emulate the success of their real-life hero(ine).
  • It’s not really the game’s fault, but the overall graphic package is hurt by some pretty bland settings.

Final Verdict:

Overall, ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 is a solid sports game that, despite the lack of a license, manages to capture the games better than any other. As long as you don’t mind generic characters and a high learning curve, ESPNIWS2002 (ugh) makes a great addition to your GameCube library.

Overall Score: 8.1

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