Oh, skiing. The appeal of strapping my feet to two sticks, and then pushing myself down a big hill never really got my motor running. Sitting around a fireplace in a lodge enjoying some Swiss Miss was always more up my alley. Anyhow, I was given the dubious honor of reviewing Namco Bandai’s We Ski and Snowboard, the sequel to a game that received average reviews, but didn’t do much in the way of standing out, despite being the first balance board compatible game. In spite of the previous effort, I was hoping this game would provide the spark to interest me in the real deal. Instead, I got the feeling that riding a NordicTrack for a few hours would have been a more authentic experience.
I understand video games aren’t meant to be an acceptable replacement for an actual activity. Playing NBA Live in no way prepares you for bump and grind of an actual basketball game. With the Nintendo Wii, things were supposed to be different. There was supposed to be a level of interactivity to better represent the actual real life activity. Games like Wii Fit, and to a lesser degree, Wii Sports, gave gamers a much more true to life representation of boxing, aerobics, golf, and so on than many of us had ever seen before. I never expected We Ski and Snowboard to give me a real “on the mountain” feeling, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it to try.
Gameplay in We Ski and Snowboard boils down to (you guessed it) making your way from the top of the mountain to the bottom. There are some NPCs to converse with, and the occasional objective, but since all the courses are unlocked from the start, the only incentives are some new clothes and ski/board designs. If you’re like me, you’ll just spend your time aimlessly cascading down the mountain, basking in the awe of how ridiculous you look trying to fake ski in your living room. Like many other Wii games, there are several different control schemes you can use, none of which are any more satisfying than the next. When skiing without the balance board, the nunchuck analog stick controls your movement. If you’re using the balance board, that’s how you’ll be directing yourself around the simulated powder. Either way you’ll generate forward momentum by using the nunchuck and controller as your ski poles. Snowboarding works almost the exact same way, but instead of using the controllers for poles, you’ll be using the remote to help pull tricks. Snowboarding controls infinitely better, but the balance board is so sensitive that you’ll spend more of your time recalibrating the board than you will riding it.
No matter which option you choose, there’s zero sense of speed when playing, and despite the other issues I have with the game, that might be my biggest gripe. There’s certainly no sense of motion in your living room, so the player relies on the images on screen to provide them with the illusion of traveling downhill at breakneck speeds. We Ski and Snowboard provides no such thing, and you’re left feeling like you’re standing in place. Now I could understand that if the game had some truly amazing views the developers wanted gamers to witness, but it doesn’t. That’s not to say the stylized look of We Ski and Snowboard is bad, it’s just not all that interesting. Not one aspect of the game stands out visually, with many of the courses looking virtually identical, and the whole production feels much more bland than it should. The game allows you to integrate your Mii if you’re not too keen on using the Namco knockoffs, and there’s plenty of customization for anybody who’s into that sort of thing. Again, nothing here is eye catching, and there’s discernibly no difference in the clothing other than their aesthetic value.
If you were hoping multiplayer was the saving grace, and you might be able to get some fun out of We Ski and Snowboard at a party, you were wrong. Even though up to four people can play at a time, the game is only compatible with one balance board at a time. That’s a bit surprising considering nearly everyone who bought a Wii has managed to grab a copy of Wii Fit, so the idea of four people having balance boards isn’t completely out of the question. One other knock the multiplayer has on it is that if any of the other players stop to talk to one of the NPCs, or have to recalibrate the balance board, everyone’s game is paused. I don’t really understand why this has to happen, but then again, I don’t understand why if you were playing with a few friends, one of them would stop to chat with one of the characters in the game. At the end of the day, the multiplayer is just as satisfying as the single player, which is to say, it’s not very satisfying at all.
I can’t help but think that my time playing this game would have been better spent watching Better Off Dead a few times. Namco Bandai had a real chance to improve upon their first effort in the series, but instead they end up treading water, hoping fans of the real sport will grab the title on impulse. The controls aren’t bad, but that doesn’t mean they’re good. The graphics aren’t terrible, but that doesn’t mean they’re great. After playing this game, I actually have less of a desire to go to a real ski resort. With no true competition for the title, there’s no real reason for them to step it up when the eventual third sequel starts development other than personal pride. And that’s a shame because gamers deserve better than another mediocre effort.