Why only watch the Olympics in Salt Lake City on TV when you can go for the gold yourself? Salt Lake 2002 is the official game of these 2002 Olympic Games but with so many other Olympics games from previous years out there and most of them not very much fun, does this one live up to the Olympic motto of 'Swifter, Higher, Stronger'? Read on, Olympian, and find out.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Salt Lake 2002 consists of six different events: Ski Jumping K120 Individual, Alpine Downhill Skiing, Alpine Skiing Slalom, Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom, Two-man Bobsleigh, and Curling. That's right'curling. That was a bit of a surprise to see, especially considering that no form of ice-skating was included in the game at all and that most people in the United States aren't very familiar with curling. Of course, this presents a perfect opportunity to learn what it's all about, eh?
Aside from the six events, there are several modes in which you can play them. The first is Olympic mode. Select one or more events and compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Next is Tournament mode. You can select one or more events and play a four round competition (each round versus a different country of course). Also featured is the Time Trial mode in which you try to beat your best time in any event and you can even race a ghost of yourself too. Unfortunately it only saves your best times rather than a top five or ten, however. This can also serve as a practice mode. Finally there is Classic mode. In this mode you are given 3 lives to compete in all six events. If you don't beat the posted time or your opponent, you lose a life. Completing all six events will then unlock the next hardest difficulty level and you continue playing until you've either lost all your lives or have unlocked and completed all difficulty levels. Unlocking difficulties in this mode also unlocks them for all other modes too and as you might have guessed, you cannot play any other difficulties until you unlock them. I found the Classic mode kind of draining; it goes on and on and in order to retain any levels you've unlocked you must finish the game one way or another. You cannot quit in the middle and it won't save your progress. While most events fly by pretty fast, a curling match can take some time and by that same token, you generally need to play more than one match in a row in this mode. Depending on which mode you play, you can win medals, trophies, or rosettes'all of which can be displayed in the game's trophy room.
Of the six events, downhill skiing, skiing slalom, and snowboarding all look and play almost identical. These events are shown from a mostly top-down view and scroll down the screen. While waiting to leave the gate at the top of the mountain you can build up a power meter that can enable you to take off faster. Once you get going, the control for all three events is good and feels like you would expect it to. You can tuck for speed, brake to slow down, or make a hard turn left or right. As you turn, there's a pretty cool little kick-up of snow effect behind you. The only main difference between the events is the flags, or lack of them, and the course itself. Downhill skiing is by far the easiest of the three. Once you learn the course you'll be able to make it down fast with no problems at all. The next easiest is the slalom skiing. It's generally pretty easy to tell where the next set of flags will appear and since they're spread apart pretty far it's not hard to get between them. The hardest of the lot (and probably the hardest event in the game) is the snowboard slalom. While it plays almost exactly like the ski slalom, you pass a single flag at a time to one side or the other instead of between two flags. I found that there are some parts of the course where the placement of the flags will confuse you as to which side you should pass on despite the fact that they are color-coded and face the direction you should pass. In the novice difficulty there is an arrow that always points the way to the next flag that helps quite a bit. Despite it being called a parallel slalom, you never see the opponent you're racing against. Too bad there's no half-pipe mode. In both slalom modes you aren't docked any time for missing a flag, but rather if you miss three flags, you'll be disqualified.
The ski jump is one of the easier events to play once you understand how it works. You need to judge when to start down the slope by watching the windsock off to the side. Once you start your run you'll need to balance yourself by keeping a constantly moving dot close to the center of the gauge and when you're about to land, just be sure you tap the B button or else you'll crash. That's about all there is to it'quick and easy.
By far, the easiest event in the game the bobsleigh. All you have to do is keep a dot in line with another dot on a U-shaped curve at the top of the screen. While it's not easy to keep the dot aligned most of the time, the game is fairly lenient about how far off you can be. As you play harder difficulties the game becomes less lenient. The better aligned you remain, the higher speed you'll achieve and if you stray too far for too long you'll crash.
The most interesting and challenging event and the one that takes the longest to play is curling. Simply explained, it's very similar to shuffleboard. You slide a 42-pound stone down ice and try to get it as close to the center of a set of circles as possible. As the stone slides down the ice, there is a sweeper on each side that can influence how fast and in what direction the stone will move. Fortunately the manual explains the basics of the sport including how to play, how to score, etc. After you take your turn, you can then watch the opposing team take their turn if you want. Unfortunately this is the only way to see where their stone has stopped unless it's in the target area. This is a precision game and takes some time to get the hang of, but I found it to be lots of fun once I understood how to play. By that same token I was pleasantly surprised to see it in this game since it's quite different from all the other events.
Salt Lake 2002 also allows you to select which language (and there are several to choose from too) before beginning the game the first time. Before playing you create a profile which really only consists of your name and the country you choose (both can be changed later on if you decide to defect), but it also allows you to save your game. Once you've pledged allegiance to some flag and selected a mode, you're ready to compete! Depending on the mode you play you can win medals, trophies, or rosettes. If you win an event, you'll be treated to a very silent ceremony after which you can check the trophy room to see what medals, trophies, and rosettes you've won for each difficulty. The game is nice enough to save automatically after each event.
Up to four people can play at once on a single Game Boy Advance. No multiplayer cable is required. In fact, you can't even use one with this game. As you might have guessed by now, all players take turns passing the Game Boy. See, just another way the Olympics promotes peace, sharing, and goodwill. Aside from that, gameplay is pretty much the same.
The graphics are impressive all around. All of the backgrounds appear to be photorealistic (I'm not sure if they really are, but they look great nonetheless). The characters also have good detail and are animated nicely, even when you crash or stop at the end of the course. The kick-up of snow when you turn while skiing or snowboarding is a neat effect. Probably the most impressivee graphics in the game are during the bobsleigh run. Your viewpoint is just above and behind the bobsleigh and gives a nice illusion of speed as you barrel down the pipe. It looks just wonderful on this system.
I'm guessing the developers used up the bulk of the cartridge's memory with graphics, as there isn't a whole lot of sound in the game. The only music is on the title screen and menus and while not the Olympic music you hear on TV, it sounds bold and befitting. I was quite disappointed to not even hear a national anthem (or even part of one) during any medal ceremonies. In fact, this game incorporates the most silent medal ceremony of any Olympics I've ever seen (or heard)'there aren't any cheers or anything'just silence. Unfortunately there aren't a whole lot of sound effects in the game either. You'll hear some swooshing while skiing and snowboarding, some sweeping while curling, as well as a few other sounds in different events. The best sound effects are the crowds cheering when you win or 'awww'?ing when you crash.
You aren't going to get too far without reading the manual on this one. While some events are easy to figure out, such as bobsleighing, the others play a little more complicated than you might think. Fortunately the manual clearly states how to play each event and this is a good thing as I'm not sure there are many people in the United States that are aware of how curling is played.
One thing worth mentioning is that there are a couple misprinted instructions. The manual also mentions that if you play all six events at once in the medal mode, you get to watch the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. I was unable to do this so maybe it's a misprint or maybe I just need to unlock it somehow.
Quite simply, I was flabbergasted to find curling in this game. Don't get me wrong'I've always been intrigued by this sport (especially since it isn't regularly seen in the United States) and I was kind of excited to see it as you don't see it often in video games. Likewise, snowboarding is a pretty new event to the Olympics as well so there aren't too many Olympic video games that have incorporated this event, but I expect every one in the future will.
By comparison to some other Olympic video games of past years and on a medal scale this one gets a silver. The gameplay and replayability is limited due to only six events and none of them being any form of ice-skating. On the plus side, curling adds a nice twist not often seen in most Winter Olympics video games. I was disappointed with the lack of sound and music, but this game makes up much of that lost ground with it's beautiful graphics. The control for all of the events has a nice, responsive feel and being able to play with other people on a single Game Boy is a plus too. I would probably only recommend this game to die-hard Olympic fans, curling fans, or someone that wants a fairly simple game with several different types of events which is why I give Salt Lake 2002 a score of 80. If you're looking for compelling gameplay or oodles of events, I'd say hold out another two to four years and see what the next Olympic video game has to offer or go pick up an old Commodore 64 and load up Summer Games or Winter Games.