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ESPN International Winter Sports 2002

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Konami
Publisher:  Konami
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  4-3-02

Those of you who are still jonesing over the Olympics can relax: Konamiís got your fix. Still P.O.ed about the Eastern Bloc countries showing some unexpected solidarity in pairs figure skating? Missing out on your daily dose of close up vomiting athlete action since the end of the biathlon? Amazed at how much time NBC spent on unimpressive cheese like ice dancing and Bob Costasí unfunny fireside chats? Well, hereís your chance to relive it again (and maybe do it right, this time!) with ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 for the Gameboy Advance. Aside from having one of the longest game titles in history, Winter Sports 2002 lets the gamer have a go at a few of the more popular Olympic events. The events consist of Ski Jumping K=90, Ski Jumping K=120, Downhill Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing Moguls, Short Track 500, Figure Skating, Snowboarding G Slalom, Snowboarding Half-pipe, Biathlon, and Luge. First off donít let what appears to be a large number of events fool you. In true Atari style, a number of the "different" events are actually slight variations on each other (i.e. the pairs of ski jumping and snowboarding events), the effect of which leaves the gamer feeling somewhat cheated. Instead of so much duplication, I would have preferred extra and distinct events like curling or hockey Ė and I get the impression Iím hardly alone in this.

There isnít as much control over the events as you might expect. The game decides the moves you perform in certain events based on how well youíre doing at the moment. So in other words, if youíre not moving very well in the moguls, youíll end up performing a lot of Daffys instead of Helicopters and Back Scratchers. This sort of computer-managed gameplay hearkens back to the earliest days of gaming, and comes off hopelessly dated in these days of sophisticated fighting and sports games, where complex series of maneuvers on the part of the player determine which of a range of moves (and levels of force) the onscreen character will perform. If anything, this sort of managed "gameplay" comes off as unnecessarily fascistic (perhaps a sign of the times, all things considered).

Some of the events, such as Figure Skating, move at too fast a pace for you to pay any attention whatsoever to how your character is actually performing. Instead, you find yourself frantically racing to match the buttons and directions when it reaches the step zone, ostensibly similar to Dance Dance Revolution, but actually much closer to a hyperactive version of Space Channel 5. Others, like the Biathlon, are confusingly configured and inadequately explained in the manual. Itís more than a little irritating to have mastered the skiing in one event, only to be faced with a completely different (and in the case of the Biathlon, totally illogical) gameplay paradigm in the next.

Those who are used to performing snowboarding and skateboarding tricks, whether in reality or in such games as Street Skater, Tony Hawk, or Jet Grind Radio, should find themselves rather surprised to discover that the Half-pipe Snowboarding event doesnít allow you to choose what trick youíre going to perform. Instead, you have to hit the A button as a mark moves up and down the colored "Trick Line", ala Brunswick Pro Bowling. The closer you press the button to the end of the line, the more complicated the trick that results. Once the trick is selected, you have to quickly press the control pad and the A and B buttons that match the command on screen to perform the trick.

Interestingly enough, there are few button mashing events in Winter Sports 2002, given that itís put out by the company responsible for the Track and Field series. The only event requiring any button mashing is the Short Track Speed Skating. While the instruction manual claims that in the Luge you have to repeatedly press the A button to gain speed, I found out that just holding down on it achieves the same purpose to better effect.

Another corner-cutting aspect of the game is that you can only choose the country you want to represent, but no specific athlete for each event. The color scheme doesnít always match the country, and there are relatively few countries to choose from (think the Allied countries from WWII, and youíve pretty much covered it, and then some). An international olympics, this is not.

There are only a few modes of play in Winter Sports 2002: Trail Mode, Championship Mode, and "Excite Mode". Trail Mode allows the novice to hone their skills in their event of choice; while Championship Mode lets you compete in all ten events, one after the other. The "Excite Mode" is an overly bombastic retitling of a standard, if Link Cable dependent 2 player mode.

Overall, the game flutters in some hitherto unforeseen nether land betwixt amusing gameplay and wholly inadequate design. Some events, with a little practice, turn out to be great fun; others are so poorly set up itís positively mind-boggling. And the presence of so many duplicate events, while absenting newly popular Winter Olympic events like curling, is an unequivocally unforgivable oversight on the part of Konami, and one that cannot be stressed forcibly enough.

Highs:

  • Some of the events (figure skating, downhill, moguls) are a lot of fun and can become addictive
  • Cute and quirky graphics

Lows:

  • Too many duplicate events
  • Too many potentially fun events (i.e. curling) passed over in favor of said duplicated events
  • High learning curve on some games (i.e. biathlon)
  • Lack of consistency in control setup (i.e. biathlon vs. moguls vs. downhill, etc.)

Final Verdict:

ESPN International Winter Sports 2002, despite its many shortcomings, remains a nice collection of Winter Olympic events in one small package. Variety and consistency of function is noticeably (and frustratingly) absent, but most gamers should find themselves endeared to one or two events, at a minimum. To put it in plain language, it couldía been a damn sight better, but thereís been a helluva lot worse.

Overall Score: 7.0

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