ESPN International Winter Sports 2002
With the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City this year, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement. As athletes who trained hard for years finally get to show what they're made of, they'll meet the cream of the crop, battling the best in the world for a chance to stand out and be recognized. Attempting to grab a piece of that excitement, Konami has put together a group of the more popular competitions from the Winter Olympics. With ten possible events to compete in, one might wonder how solid the gameplay for each event could be and that speculation is well placed.
Similar to the Track and Field games released by Konami in the past, ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube doesn't offer much innovation in gameplay. Basically, it has almost the exact game structure consisting mainly of button smashing that made Track and Field games so famous. Times have changed however and gamers want more out of a game besides smashing buttons as fast as possible. Although some events are based on other gameplay tactics, as you'll see, the entertainment value is generally low and the gameplay uninspiring.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
To interface the ten different events, there are four selectable modes. To start, there is the trial mode where one of the ten events is selected and an attempt can be made to win a medal. There is a competition mode, which is basically a multiplayer option and also championship modes with separate men and women's options. The reason for this is there is no women's curling event and the men don't figure skate.
The first place to start is the trial mode. This is where familiarity with the different events can be gained and medals of gold, silver, or bronze can be won. Before starting however, either the men or women's events must be selected. After that there are eight selectable athletes all from different countries, each having strengths and weaknesses measured by their attributes. Deciding which athlete to select is definitely a factor as the attributes vary quite dramatically. Each of the five attributes, power, speed, jump, technique, and quick are spread across the different athletes keeping the field rounded evenly.
One other point before going into the events is the quick tutorial given before each competition. It not only shows what buttons need to be pushed but it also shows a trial run of the event corresponding to the buttons or other maneuvers that need to be pushed. The nice thing here is that if you haven't played an event for some time, you don't have to get the instruction manual out if you can't remember exactly in what order to push the buttons.
While in the trial mode, all ten events are selectable which include slalom alpine skiing, K90 individual ski jumping, K120 individual ski jumping, moguls freestyle skiing, half-pipe snowboarding, speed skating 500m, bobsleigh, curling, and figure skating. As you might expect some events have much better gameplay qualities then others but the general feel is a sub-par standard across the board. It's even questionable why some events were included as they appear quite similar to another event. For instance, the downhill and slalom skiing events not only have similar control structures with the control stick used for steering and acceleration while the A button is used for cutting and breaking, but there isn't a noticeable difference in perceivable speed either. With the downhill event causing a much greater increase in speed for the athlete than the slalom event, it would be nice to have a better sense of the actual speed the skier is traveling at.
Other events like the K90 and K120 ski jumps where uniformity would also be expected have much different approaches. The K90 takes a third person view of the jump starting with a wind check using the L and R buttons to set the wind direction. To begin the jump the L and R buttons are pressed and held until the end of the ramp when the buttons are released causing the skier to jump. The real trick here is in the air where a gauge over each ski shows the level of the ski and the L and R buttons are pressed to match the falling height lines. To land, the A button is pressed when the height lines hit the bottom of the gauge and must be timed perfectly or it's wipeout city. The K120 is a complete different gameplay structure taking a side view of the skier. Basically after setting the wind direction, the A and B buttons are rapidly pressed to increase speed down the ramp with either button causing the jump at the end of the ramp. While in the air the A and B buttons are again rapidly pressed to increase the distance of the jump with the L button causing a landing. This is where the gameplay quality difference stands out more dramatically. The K90, although not great gameplay, at least designed some original ideas like balancing each ski while in the air, but the K120 reverted to simple button mashing to essentially achieve the same goal.
Through the rest of the events, it'll either be hit or miss depending on personal tastes. Some like the snowboarding were more difficult to swallow after great games like SSX Tricky left such a mark. Others like speed skating and bobsleigh had such simple gameplay structures they become boring quite quickly. The curling did provide some entertainment however as the incredibly slow pace of the sport was mildly comical.
If the trial mode isn't challenging enough, the championship mode may create more interest. Although the events don't change, different events are performed over a three day period. This requires a solid skill over various events to place well and does create a more competitive atmosphere than the trial mode.
Visually, the majority of the game does present enough detail to show some of the graphical abilities of the GameCube. The backdrops for instance held their own with mountains and trees lining most of the outside courses. Inside, they also fared well, creating a realistic atmosphere for each related event. Where there could have been significant improvement is on the athletes' animation sequences. Basically, each athlete would have the same reaction or wipeout independent of what caused it. For instance, when downhill skiing, the same stumbling sequence is used no matter if the netting is hit or a flag is tripped over.
The word bland probably best describes the sound quality, as it's generally uninspiring. The sound effects themselves don't capture the essence of most of the events, leaving much to desire. There of course isn't a great amount of sound effects to ski jumping for instance, but maybe the sound of wind rushing by while in the air would have been something. To make it worse, the announcers are extremely static, often with only a few phrases that are repeated over and over
With the excitement of the Olympics upon us, games like ESPN International Winter Sports 2002 could really be another way to enjoy it. The only problem is finding a quality title can be a difficult endeavor. This attempt to recreate various Olympic events on one game achieved one goal of fitting ten events in, but the gameplay suffered dramatically. Even the graphics and sound capabilities left a great deal of room for improvements, showing that more time could have been spent there too. There are some fans of the old Track and Field games however, who may enjoy that gameplay structure and this game would fall in that genre. If that doesn't impress you however, you may want to shop around and see what else is available.
Download ESPN International Winter Sports 2002
ESPN the Games has released quite a few PS2 sports titles, highlighting all of the many winter sports competitions occurring in 2002. Among them are the X Winter Games, but even better are the various Olympic and non-olympic competitions around the globe. In an attempt to provide a quality experience that gives you a variety of different sporting events, ESPN and Konami have teamed up to create International Winter Sports 2002, which showcases ten different winter sports.
Among the featured sports are the slalom and speed alpine competitions, the K90 and K120 ski jump, curling, bobsledding, speed skating, mogul freestyle skiing, half-pipe snowboarding, and figure skating. With ten different events, this game has a long-lasting gameplay that is surprisingly robust for a sports game of its nature. With a focus on so many events, there are several different control styles you'll need to get used to, but aside from a few problems, they're remarkably easy to pick up. Also, some recurring themes, like using rapid button presses to speed up, make it easier to pickup the overall feel of the way the game moves.
Trial mode introduces you to the events, giving you a short tutorial before placing you in a single player event. You can choose from sixteen different competitors, although I'm not sure if any of them are actual celebrity athletes, as nowhere does the manual provide a list of the athletes or even a clue as to who they all are. Still, trial mode is pretty good for getting your feet wet, and I actually spent most of my time in this mode experimenting with the different events.
Competition is a two person head to head mode that lets you take on your friend in any of the competitions. The Championship mode (for Men or Women) is a single player, three-day event that lets you compete for a high score, and then compare that score to other players online through the ESPN games website. All in all, these features give you a lot to play, if not with great variety in the games themselves.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Each game mode has a different control scheme, which usually involves a very simplistic use of one analog control, and a couple of the game buttons. For instance, in Curling, you'll use X to launch the stone, and as it glides down the track, you alternate hitting the X and O buttons to sweep the ice in front of the stone. All of the games have a similar control style, with some of the alpine skiing modes relying on the alternating button press to provide speed as you're racing down hill. Although these controls are very easy to learn, such that all you need do is play on the trial mode a few times to learn them, some of them can be very annoying. For one thing, hitting the alternating X and O buttons doesn't work very well, purely for the fact that the game doesn't recognize the button presses unless you hit them in a certain rhythm. Sure, it's difficult, but I thought I gave up that sort of crap when I stopped playing Track & Field years ago.
The interface for each game is one of the parts of the game that I enjoy the most. If you've ever seen an ESPN sports coverage show, you'll recognize their traditional white/red/black banner layout, which is reproduced exactly in the game interface. Surprisingly, not only did it look good, but it was also easy to use because they kept the layout simple and self-explanatory.
Although the games themselves were varied, I found them to be a little boring after having played for a while. Many of the games rely on your performance to supply the variety, as things like the half-pipe and curling arena are the same each time you play, no variation. With this in mind, I thought having the ten different events to participate in was important, given how little gameplay you can get out of some of the events.
Like many new PS2 games, Winter Sports has enough polish to look quite impressive off of the box. It offers not only a large amount of character models for the different athletes you can represent, but they also have a lot of different areas in which to observe the players. The curling ring, speed skating arena, and alpine course all have their own goodly amount of detail within the game. I was quite disappointed to see the rather high amount of graphical defects during the game, especially if you managed to deviate from the alpine courses. The fact that curling weights were apparently completely insubstantial to your team as they curled down the track wasn't what I'd call a high point in this games graphics.
There's scarcely a moment in the game that's filled with sound, so the only thing I can really say is that the developers have done a good job of producing accurate sounds. The scrape of the skates on the ice, the whisper of wind and snow on the alpine track, and the strangely satisfying curling brush sounds gave me plenty to listen to during the game. Mind you, after a few minutes, I'd suggest turning on your favorite cd to listen to.
This isn't as solid a game as I'd have hoped. There's a significant amount of enjoyment to be had here, if you're of the mind to find it, but the more annoying events (those with poor control) really bring the rest of the title down for me. It's put together well enough to be worth playing a few times, but unfortunately, this is another title that I couldn't keep in my normal rotation for long, as it just got too boring to play. Definitely not what I'd call a mediocre title, but it isn't a really good one either.
Something just seems wrong about taking control of athletes who spend their lives training to shave a half second off their downhill ski times, and crashing them into an orange safety fence five seconds into the run. Truly, hitting L1 at just the right time or tapping X and 0 alternately doesn't approximate the Olympic experience, nor is it really that fun as a video game. Winter Sports is more like being the hot-dog vendor at the Olympic park. You get to watch all the events, but don't really have all that much fun being there. I did, however, finally find out what the hell curling is and had some fun beating the European tar out of the old Austrian dude once I got the hang of it. Ski jumping was the other event I found to involve some actual skill beyond just pressing a button at the appointed time. But a clumsy menu system and lack of event variety just added to my overall apathy toward this game. It would have been more fun if it let you skip a curling stone out of the arena once in a while or fling a snowboarder into a scotch pine...maybe next year.