We Ski & Snowboard

We Ski & Snowboard

Last year, we reviewed We Ski, which was the first game to take advantage of the Wii Balance Board accessory. Now, nearly a year later, We Ski & Snowboard (the pseudo-sequel to last year’s title) is still something like the fifth game to (optionally) use it—heh. Either way, there’s no denying the board’s appeal as a skiing/snowboarding simulation peripheral, and thus it’s once again put to good use in this update to We Ski.

So what’s new? (And what’s not)

It might be a bit generous to call We Ski & Snowboard a full-blown sequel, as in many ways it’s the same game as the first. The biggest difference between the two isn’t even the fact that it includes snowboarding (which in reality is precisely the same thing as skiing except you’re turned perpendicular to the television), but instead that it includes two entirely new environments, both of which are more interesting and varied than We Ski’s Happy Ski Resort (which is not included in this version).

The first of those two is the Jamboree Ski Resort, which is very similar to the Happy Ski Resort (even if it is all-new). It’s a bustling network of decorated slopes and lifts filled with other skiers and people with whom you can “socialize.” While the slopes are all labeled and mapped, it’s also possible to venture off the beaten path in a few areas and discover “hidden courses”, something that makes for a fun explorative venture until you’ve found all five in the game (across both new environments). In addition to roaming around and simply skiing, you’ll also find people at the resort who challenge you to races, stunt competitions, and other various tasks (delivering food, finding lost friends, etc.). This is all stuff we saw in We Ski before, but one nice change this time around is that most of these people are consolidated to a single common location at the base of the resort; so you don’t have to go hunting for them like you did in We Ski when you want to try your hand at a particular challenge. Plus, there are some new ideas, as well, such as a tour guide you can follow in a mini-game of sorts—so that’s cool.

Playing at night on the mountain makes for some attractive pastels

Apart from that, however, one other thing that hasn’t changed at all in We Ski & Snowboard is the complete lack of goals and associated rewards. You’re still going to spend most of your time hanging out and wandering around the environments, in search of places to shred some snow and the occasional hidden discovery. There are some secret objectives along the way as well, but all you get for finding and completing them is a thumbs-up icon for your records book. Those main challenges you do bother undertaking won’t earn you anything beyond clothing accessories and new photo locations (where you can snap in-game pictures of your character posing creatively and post them to the Wii Message Board—again, like in We Ski). That means it’s unlikely you’ll be spending a lot of time addicted to the process of conquering objectives—and thus you’re likely to tire of the experience rather quickly. Nevertheless, players who are simply looking for a truly casual experience will find that the laid-back nature of We Ski & Snowboard’s presentation suits them quite well.

Exploration and relaxation is the name of the game, with a healthy amount of real estate at the center of the experience—and convenient access to all of it. You can either take a ski lift or gondola to the top of the resort, helicopter lift to the top of the mountain, or simply pull up your map and point to your destination to be instantly transported there. It’s good that it’s so easy to travel distances, as working from the top of the slopes downhill to reach a specific desired point would be tedious.

All tricked out

Something entirely new to the game this go-round is the tricks system. There are plenty of different stunts to pull off whether you’re sporting a board or skis (and that’s actually one of the few things that differs according to your choice of equipment). Each trick is performed via some combination of button presses and Wii-mote/nunchuk waggling, a system which works decently but honestly can get to be pretty annoying (as it’s hardly dependable). In order to better accommodate the addition of this new set of features, the environments now teem with ramps, rails, ledges, and other items which provide the opportunity to strut your stuff. (One of the courses, in fact, is actually entirely intended as a stunt course, featuring decorative obstacles—such as a giant donut—and some really crazy rail work.) While it’s a worthwhile addition, chances are you won’t be focusing on this aspect of the experience most of the time, thanks to a lack of emphasis on completing the various challenges and thus very little reason to bother with pulling off complicated stunts.

Bud Light goes down smooth, like this guy

As for the rest of the controls, things are pretty much the same as last time. Everything’s streamlined in We Ski & Snowboard (there’s less aimless waggling this time around), but changes are very minor. Something we really wished we had seen last time is some way to control your speed by leaning forward/backward on the balance board (as in Wii Fit and then Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip later on), but there’s nothing of the sort to be found here. You’re still stuck having to plod your way forward by frantically swinging the Wii-mote/nunchuk until you’re up to satisfactory speed, after which you turn your arms outward to tuck and speed up further… and this doesn’t feel as intuitive as the alternative has proven to be in other games. It would have been nice to at least see an option to enable a balance board-based tuck/brake feature.

Death Mountain

Something I still haven’t touched on is the other environment in the game: Mt. Angrio. This is quite the opposite of the Jamboree Ski Resort in that it’s entirely untouched, wild terrain that often borders on treacherous. It’s also considerably less populated, which as far as I’m concerned is a good thing (as the other skiers merely serve as obstacles). The courses here are significantly more challenging than those in the resort, also, so if you’re looking for more of an edge, you’ll find plenty of them here (pun intended). In general, it’s just an all-natural hazard-fest, and it’s easily my favorite part of the game (you can even choose to play it after dark).

Another major benefit of the mountain is the increased sense of speed. In We Ski, I complained about how slow even the steepest of hills felt, and the Jamboree Ski Resort doesn’t do much to rectify that matter. Mt. Angrio, on the other hand, features of plenty of downhill action, some of which actually gets to be rather brisk. It also plays home to the coolest hidden area in the game, so that’s always a plus, too.

Oooh… pretty.  Mt. Angrio is the best part of the game.

Snow thing to write home about

In addition to the issues you read about earlier (the lack of goals and unlockables, mildly-improved control scheme, and mediocre tricks system), some other unwelcome aspects return from the first game. For starters, getting around in your equipment can prove to be quite a pain. Thanks in part to the fact that the Wii waggle controls aren’t perfect, you’ll find yourself sometimes gesturing for an action just that doesn’t materialize. This seems to happen most often when you’re attempting to tuck/crouch, in which case it’s only mildly annoying. But it also affects the walking, hopping, and sliding maneuvers in that you have to gesture pretty convincingly to get it to work on a consistent basis. This frustration is exacerbated by the fact that inching your way uphill takes forever and always seems to continue for a few steps beyond where your motions meant to take you.

Another annoyance is the constant warning (probably mandated by Nintendo) which interrupts gameplay when you take too much of your weight off the balance board. The warning chastises you for jumping while on the balance board even if you didn’t even come close to doing so, and everything stops to accommodate it. Seeing as executing a jump maneuver in the game is meant to be performed by straightening your legs abruptly on top of the board, you would think it’d be a little less forgiving about the matter.

Finally, though you might be interested in the multiplayer component, it’s really nothing special. It’s split-screen only, and that already makes it hard enough to see (especially with four players). But the biggest problem is if anything at all interrupts the regular gameplay—say, a player begins a challenge or “jumps” off the balance board (which, as previously mentioned, happens far too often)—all the other players’ gameplay stops immediately to make way for the repercussions. Regardless, four players can go at it (three if you’re using a balance board), so the option is available.