Well, spring is upon us and soon summer will be too. Still, it’s not too late to revel in a little bit of winter fun, so I decided to try out ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 (Winter Sports) by Konami. Assembling a medley of sports into one game, Konami attempts to recapture the spirit of their previous track and field games. This is Konami’s second entry into the winter genre this year. Their previous effort of X-Games Winter Snowboarding was somewhat average. Still, Winter Sports has its high points and offers a good variety for the dedicated winter athlete.
Winter Sports features a fairly good graphics engine that has its high and low points. The majority of the character models are well done and ski slopes, halfpipes and other venues are well designed and modeled. There are a fair amount of details, such as snow in the bobsled run and mini-trees on the downhill slopes, which help create a sense of realism throughout the game. Other real-time effects, such as ice scratches, snow grooves and solid lighting effects, help to support the realism and I felt that this was much more of a simulation than other winter games such as SSX Tricky. Animations are smooth and composed, with the figure skating being a very good example. Skaters move with conviction and there is some real beauty there. Anti-aliasing could be a little better and it’s disappointing to see so many jaggies after the excellent job Konami did with Metal Gear Solid 2. Overall, the graphics in Winter Sports fit the game well but I would have liked to see a little bit more detail throughout.
Well, it’s a winter sports game and that doesn’t leave much room for innovation. However, the sound in Winter Sports is pretty decent and does have a couple of bright spots. Most notably is the commentary, which offers pretty good play by play that responds to your performance throughout the event. Unfortunately, there is not as much commentary as I would like and it seems to be triggered at pre-defined points instead of being truly responsive to the events occurring within the game. Sound effects are minimal but well produced. My biggest complaint falls with the music. It all seems to be the same and is very boring and repetitive. I ended up just turning it off so I could concentrate on the events instead of my frustration. Overall, the poor music and generic sound is a real weak point for Winter Sports.
This is a hard game to review as far as gameplay goes because there are so many events. However, I have decided to lump them together and highlight the events that were able to capture my interest more than others. The downhill events are challenging but not very exciting. Control is lackluster and there are camera problems that make skiing even more frustrating. I expected more from this department as there are multiple skiing events and they are normally the bread and butter of any winter sports games. Bobsledding is a nice addition but control is so terrible that it is really not worth playing seriously. Also, there is only one track and once you have mastered it, there is really not that much replay value. Your bobsled seems to jerk around the track and it is very difficult to learn how to properly maneuver your sled down the course.
With all of that said, it’s time to move on to some of the more entertaining events. Figure skating is surprisingly fun as it is implemented in a beat game style. Similar to Dance Dance Revolution, you must hit -deprived players like myself, but I was able to get a grasp on it after a few tries. Unfortunately, there are only three songs so once you have mastered them all, there is not much more to do. Snowboarding is also quite fun, with a unique control scheme that is unlike any snowboarding game I have ever played. You must hit buttons on queue and directions quickly in order to score high, and it is fairly difficult. I did dozens of runs until I got a perfect one, but was very satisfied once I did. Now, finally, the king of winter sports: Curling. Curling is a blast and very relaxing. I really enjoyed watching curling during the Winter Olympics and I feel that Winter Sports did a superb job of simulating the excitement of this intoxicating sport.
There are three modes in Winter Sports: Trial, Multiplayer, and Championship mode. Trial mode allows you to play one sport at a time and is great for learning the events and practicing. Championship mode challenges you to take one character through all of the events in your quest for gold. I preferred Trial mode since I could skip all of the events that I didn’t care to play. After all, being crowned winter champion didn’t mean that much to me in the end. Multiplayer mode is a fair amount of fun but once again, it is really dependent on the events that you choose.
Winter Sports is a decent game that falls short in some areas and rises in others. I liked the overall feel but didn’t find it as exciting as I had hoped. The few good events are not good enough to really justify playing this game for an extended period of time and the low replay value is discouraging. Pick this one up if you are a winter sports nut but otherwise, it might not be worth the price of admission.