Join the ranks of
world class athletes as they gather from around
the world to compete. Bring thermal underwear.
The 2002 Winter Olympics
may be long over, but you can still attempt
to reclaim some of the glory.
Winter sports have always
gotten the short end of the stick when it
comes to videogames. It really isn't until
the last few years that snowboarding videogames
have become popular, and even then, most
other winter sports elude digital recreation
on a regular basis if at all.
Konami answered the call
of gamers wanting to tackle sports other
than the "big 4" (football, baseball, basketball,
soccer) and brought forth ESPN International
Winter Sports 2002. This game on the surface
may look like a cheap attempt to cash in
on the Olympics. After playing the game for
a number of hours, you may actually forget
about the Olympics, and become immersed in
Konami's vision of global competition.
The game is divided into 10 sports:
Downhill Alpine Skiing
Slalom Alpine Skiing
K90 Individual Ski Jumping
K120 Individual Ski Jumping
Freestyle Skiing - Moguls
Snowboarding - Halfpipe
500 Meter Speed Skating
Each of these events has its own unique set of controls,
yes, even the two versions of Ski Jumping. This takes quite a bit of
getting used to, particularly when competing in Championship Mode.
Championship Mode is the heart of the game. It is here
where players take their athlete of choice and take him or her through
multiple events, vying for the highest ranking overall throughout the
virtual competition. It is also here that one can receive a password
(after obtaining the ranking) and use that password to post the overall
score on the internet.
Other modes of play include Trial Mode, where a single
player takes an athlete to the playing field to get the glory (and the
gold medal). Competition Mode allows for two players to compete, though
it took some time to get used to the absence of split-screen. When you
understand that Ski Jumping is done "in turn" you'll understand why you
have to pass off the controller.
There are 16 athletes in ESPN International Winter Sports
(8 of each sex). Each of these naturally come from different countries,
and have different attributes (speed, technique, etc.) that come in useful
for various events. What is disappointing is the lack of create-a-player
in the game. Many players would enjoy creating their own virtual athlete
hailing from the country of their choosing. I sincerely hope that further
entries in the series include this feature, which is quickly becoming
The graphics of ESPN International Winter Sports 2002
don't tax the Xbox by any stretch of the imagination, but, neither to
they appear to be rushed. Audio isn't at fortunate, as the announcer
only has a certain few phrases for each event. I got very tired very
quickly of hearing the announcement "He's coming into a great curve now."
Gameplay is varied as you would expect in a game of this
sort. What is surprising is just how different events play out from each
other. Even the two Ski Jumping events have different control schemes
and sequences. In the K90, while the athlete is in the air, the left
and right triggers are used to keep balance. In the K120, rapidly pressing
the "A" and "B" buttons will keep you in the air.
The Figure Skating event is more of a rhythm game than
anything else. There are three songs to choose from, each having their
own nuances to master. Scores are awarded for how well you do, and that
translates into how well you do in the standings.
The Downhill and Slalom Skiing events are pretty straightforward
- go fast, stay in the gates. The Speed Skating is a button masher in
the strictest sense - alternate "A" and "B" taps will get your athlete
moving across the ice. Another button masher, at least initially, is
the Bobsleigh. At the beginning, you need to press those buttons as quickly
as possible to build up speed. After that it becomes a matter of steering
the sled so that it doesn't hit the walls.
The Freestyle Moguls was a surprise in how much fun it
was, with a combination of hypnotic rhythmic trigger pressing and tricks
pulled off using the left and right thumbsticks. Another (albeit predictably)
enjoyable event was the Halfpipe Snowboarding. While not as deep as many
snowboarding games go, it's a blast to compete against a friend.
The most surprisingly deep and fun game of them all was
Curling. This event takes up more time and is much quieter and lower
on the radar than all the other high profile events. Yet this single
event will provide the patient gamer with many hours of enjoyment.
Some events are button mashers, some require strategy,
some simply require you to steer really well. Overall, the combination
of controller and arcade stick is a great investment for a game such
as this. Playing the Freestyle Moguls is impossible on an arcade stick,
but almost a necessity when playing the Speed Skating.
There are plenty of other Winter sports that are ripe
for inclusion in future incarnations of what is hopefully a continuing
franchise. Hopefully Konami will be able to incorporate some of them
in future releases. The duplication of the Ski Jumping, even with the
difference in controls, is a little repetitive.
Overall, the game is a fin diversion for the sports enthusiast.
There is something here for everybody in one form or another.
Daniel "monk" Pelfrey
Suffered from frostbite while performing the Figure Skating.
ESPN International Winter Sports 2002:
The lack of Create-A-Player is rather disturbing, as
is the lack of more than 2 player support. The idea of
posting your rankings on the internet is a great idea,
and for the most part, it works. The variety in gameplay
is great, something for virtually everybody. Here's hoping
there's more to come.