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ESPN International Winter Sports 2002




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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
Figure 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 standard.

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 Scores













The Final Word:  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.

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