We Ski and Snowboard
Apparently, Namco's We Ski, one of the first Wii titles to utilize the Balance Board outside of Wii Fit (in fact preceding it,) did well in sales, as they've cranked out a sequel in less than a year, adding the ability to snowboard to the original's skiing. Like We Ski, you get to travel all over the mountain (with two new slopes to check out) while once again meeting people, taking on challenges and participating in races. But whereas the first game had the market for Wii winter skiing mostly to itself, this new title follows the release of Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, which set an impressive standard for Balance Board interaction. Was the limited time in development enough to make it a better game?
Have you played We Ski? If yes, this game is virtually the same, so you can skip to the next paragraph. If no, keep reading: the game is all about skiing (and snowboarding, but that's not much different.) You can travel all over the resort, taking on a number of courses, while running into various people who either want to race you or challenge you to quests. Complete these parts successfully and you can unlock various goodies (like skis, clothes and accessories) that you can use to outfit your character (which can be your Mii avatar if you so desire.) Other than that, you're free to do what you like and explore the snow-covered terrain, skiing around by yourself or with three others (unless you use the Balance Board, which limits you to just three players.)
OK, now that we're all caught up, let's talk about what's new in this game. The majority of the differences between the first game and this release are found in the addition of the snowboard, some minor control tweaks, new courses and some tightening of the gameplay all around. The only major difference, aside from the snowboard-influenced inclusion of halfpipes, is the addition of Mount Angrio, a massive, untamed mountain that offers twists and turns along an epic mountain. Flying around the ridges and passes is probably as close to breathtaking as a videogame could get, with a pace that doesn't forgive a wrong move. But other than that, it's pretty much the same game, a mix of aimless exploration, racing and tricks. Thankfully, the game makes it easy for you to do just what you want to do, with freestyle, race and trick modes available from the main menu, while the skiers offering in-resort challenges are all mainly at the bottom of the slopes, making it easier to find them.
The challenges are mostly the same, with control mastery and memorization being key to winning the races, and repeated play important to the downhill challenges. The slalom courses are often ridiculous, with gates being so far apart they are invisible from one to another, and when you need to find items or deliver them, it's almost impossible you'll discover the correct locations on one trip downhill. As a result, you'll spend multiple attempts to complete a challenge, only to find the reward was hardly worth the effort. In playing through this title, there was a lot of deja vu as far as the challenges go, to the point where it was far more enjoyable to just ski casually on Mount Angrio and check out the sights, or travel a course at night, watching the fireworks and trying not to crash in the darkness. If there was a way to work more of an exercise angle into this, it could be more engaging than anything WiiFit has to offer, but on its own, it's just doesn't enough to encourage repeat playing (though for kids addicted to unlocking customizations, it might be candy-coated video crack.)
Multiplayer is hardly the best implemented element of this game, as it's actually disruptive to the play. If you're skiing around doing your thing in split-screen, and a playmate decides to enter a conversation with one of the resorts' denizens, your route is done. You instantly join your pal in his part of the game, entering a race or taking on a challenge, when all you wanted to do was take a funny picture on the mountain. While it's probably unrealistic to think you could play two separate, distinct versions of the game at the same time, especially when changing from course to course, or to a separate challenge requires loading time, but there has to be a better way to do multiplayer like this.
The skiing controls are the same as last time, utilizing the Wii-mote and nunchuk as ski poles, while you can optionally use the balance board to introduce a more "realistic" turning system. Whereas the first game felt almost revolutionary in its control implementation, a year later, it feels just standard, and after Shaun White Snowboarding, the Balance Board usage is underwelming, as all you can do is turn and do slight jumps. The addition of some new tricks, especially the grinds that let you build combos for bonus points, freshens things up a bit, but combining direction pad presses, button pushes and controller movements is hardly the most natural way to pull off tricks. Carried over from the first titles are the extensive lessons (one set for each ride) to help newcomers get accustomed to the game. Even if you played the first one, going through the many aspects of the control scheme with the helpful tutorials is suggested, because it's easy to forget how many different moves are available. (Another helpful carry-over is the transport system, as you can use a map or ski-lifts (as well as helicopters) to bounce around the game's settings, instead of forcing you to slog throughout the resort.) Only one annoyance remains from the first game, and that's the need to pump your "poles" to get moving, which has the unfortunate side effect of slapping the cord between the controllers into your thighs (or worse.) The option to use a button for this would have been appreciated.
The anamorphic widescreen, 480p video on We Ski looked really nice, and nothing has changed about that positive element here. If anything, things have gotten better, with the new Mount Angrio looking incredible as you fly through the trees, ice, snow and mountains, especially at night, which looks so good, with great shadows and colors, I rarely wanted to play in a daytime setting. The game also gets little details down well, like the spray from turns and the ridges of snow spread by your skis, and the use of Miis is once again solid, though the in-game characters fit into the game a bit better. The only real graphical annoyance, other than the slight slowdown when playing in more than two player mode, is the seeming increase in icons above fellow skiers' heads, which clutter up what's an otherwise beautiful landscape.
While the Dolby Digital Pro Logic II soundtrack was one of the best parts of the first game, it doesn't feel as fun this time around, with the classic video-game Musak seemingly eliminated, though the other atmospheric elements, like the PA announcements and passing conversations remain in place, and the sound effects are solid, like the whooshing of wind and sound of grinding on rails. Like last time, the characters speak by beeping and humming, an annoyingly common trait of Wii games, which, after a few lessons or some meet-ups on the slopes, will make you go slightly mental.
And in the End...
With such little development time between titles, it should be no surprise that there's not much difference between We Ski and We Ski & Snowboard, but that doesn't stop it from being a disappointment, since Shaun White Snowboarding raised the bar since that first release. Just adding the snowboard, but not making it a completely different experience, wasn't enough to justify a second title, though the addition of a new massive mountain was a nice touch. If you never touched the first one though, and are looking for a family-friendly skiing or snowboard simulation, it's not a bad choice. Just don't expect much in the way of gaming.