From the moment the animated snowflakes start falling, there's no doubt We Ski (surprisingly not Wii Skii) is not Grand Theft Auto: Bunny Slope. Using the sickeningly adorable Mii characters (or in-game created characters, if you please) and a cutie-patootie mountain lodge design style, the game's look just screams "casual gamer" or, more precisely, family-friendly. While more hardcore gamers may turn up their nose at this game (and truthfully the Wii as a whole) they are missing out on a sandbox-style game with some addictive aspects and a unique control scheme.
Up to four players can take the slopes at the same time, with the screen split up to give you a third-person perspective of your avatar. The game has a variety of customization options in the ski store for your character, including outfits, gloves, boots, poles and, naturally, skis. You get a handful of choices to start with, including a styling pimp-worthy set of gear, with many more (over 200) waiting to be unlocked by advancing in the game. There doesn't seem to be any advantage to changing your clothes or equipment, but it helps change things up a bit when you're coming back for more. I know I was more interested once my Mii was suited up in a teddy bear outfit, letting me play out my secret furries fantasies. Unlocking additional choices doesn't take much, though they are spaced out enough to prevent you from knocking them all out off the bat. Once you are ready to hit the slopes, there's a lengthy ski school area available, which will walk you through tutorials of all the basic moves in the game. It's a bit excessive, but would certainly help younger players catch on. About halfway through, you wonder, what the heck else is there to learn, but it keeps going, through the various turns and adjustments that can be made.
When school lets out, you have a choice of two gameplay styles, freestyle and events. We'll get back to freestyle, the main way to play, and cover the events, which have three types: racing, slalom and moguls. The racing is straightforward, as you battle a computer-controlled skier, and any fellow players you join you in the game. First one down the mountain wins. Slalom requires both speed and control, as you ski between sets of poles as you motor down the slope, while the moguls ask you to master a specific technique to get back small patches of snow piles. There are 25 courses available, and you can jump around as desired, though the difficulty increases as you move along. Unfortunately, nothing you do here has any affect on the game, as you get no rewards, other than the satisfaction with a job well done.
The freestyle portion of the game will be more interesting to most players, as it combines the events with the ability to ski all over the Happy Ski resort, going wherever you please, taking on missions as you desire by stopping to talk to skiers with icons over their heads. You can choose to help them out with tasks like recovering lost ski poles, unburying trapped skiers or finding lost children, and if you successfully complete a mission, you get star points that unlock options in the ski store. You can also gain star points by playing "mini-games" like racing against computer players on the mountain, stopping on a specific spot or learning new jump tricks from friendly pros throughout the resort. There are 160 star points available in the game, and it will take some time to get them all, with some larger events, like the orienteering game, taking place all over the mountain.
Like mentioned previously, the freestyle portion also allows you to just ski the variety of ski slopes and challenge yourself to increase the grades you're given based on speed, balance and abilities. Moving around the mountain, aside from the large amount of "pedestrians" you can run into, has been kept incredibly simple, as you can either grab a lift at the bottom of a mountain back to the top, or you can change slopes at any point by accessing a course map and just picking a starting point. It may be a bit of a cheat, but it makes the game highly accessible to anyone, and will keep you jumping from course to course, instead of dragging yourself all over the mountain.
At certain points in the game, you'll run into an effeminate photographer who is willing to take your picture. You get a few seconds to choose a pose from a silly selection of 100 positions, before he snaps the shot, which you can save to your in-game album. You can also set up photoshoots at various locations on the mountain, with backgrounds that are unlocked as you progress through the game. These can be sent to your Wii Message Board and then emailed to your friends. Based on the odd poses, I could see myself shipping out a few pictures of my Mii, but this isn't going to be one of the more utilized features in this game.
Bandai-Namco must be taking notes from the Wii's first-party titles, as the controls for We Ski are probably the best implementation for the system in a game not made by Nintendo. Positioning the two-handed nunchuk and remote as the ski poles in your hands, you use them to gain speed, lean into turns, stop and do tricks. The buttons on the two controllers act more as modifiers than action buttons, while the thumbstick is simply for a hard stop and for turning when standing still, giving this game almost a pure motion-control scheme, the first title since Wii Sports to basically demand you play standing up. You could possibly get away with sitting on the front edge of the couch, but it won't be easy, especially during the rapid mogul turns, which make you feel like you're doing The Twist.
The controls are surprisingly accurate, making the ability to crouch and tuck your "poles" for speed work perfectly, though some of the jump tricks don't fire quite right, especially when you need to lift the remotes up. The turning controls, which are highly important for turning on the moguls and slalom courses, are even better, feeling natural as you try to negotiate spaces and speed. I don't think I've ever felt such appropriate turning controls in any game. I'll be curious to see how that changes when playing with the Balance Board (compatible with the game, but not available for this review), which handles the turning via your shifting weight.
The anamorphic widescreen, 480p video on We Ski looks pretty nice for the Wii, with big vast snow-scapes of the mountain unfolding in front of you, and good-looking textures for ice and snow, along with spray when cutting tight turns. If you've ever been to a resort, you'll recognize the setting, though seeing ski lifts appear and disappear due their thin lines is a bit of a distraction. The Miis look like they do anywhere else, with fun, goofy movement in both body and face, but the animation overall is very crisp, never noticeably stuttering or slowing, even when navigating particularly fast terrain. If you really want to see some pretty images, select to ski at night, which you can do when starting a gameplay session. The shadows and darker colors, as well as the ambient lighting added throughout the course, are all beautiful, and really add to the game. The team also did a nice job with loading the game, as the only noticeable lag in progression happens when you first start. Load screens pop up and out quickly when moving between slopes.
The Dolby Digital Pro Logic II soundtrack is one of the best parts of the game, as the music is bouncy and fun, and spreads out nicely on a home-theater system, giving the sound some real power, filling the room. Annoyingly, there's no localization on the voices, a trend on the Wii, so you get characters speaking by beeping and humming. There's only so much dialogue here...would it have hurt to have the staff voice the lines, especially since you hear English voices on the public-address system throughout the mountain? On the plus side, the sound is loaded with treats for video-game fans, as you'll find yourself noticing Muzak versions of famous Namcotheme music floating throughout.
And in the End... Most older players won't get an extended life out of We Ski, as the game play can get a bit repetitive, and starts out very easy, though for families looking to play together, it's worth every penny. It all depends what kind of player you are. If you're into bettering your past play, then the many opportunities to improve your skiing and beating your past scores can become addictive, especially any of the downhill races. But if you like a game that has a clearly defined storyline, this one will probably only satisfy for a short while. You can only do snow plow turns so many times before wondering what else is out there.