Love to ski? Hate to ski? Why not take a visit to the Happy Ski Resort, the Namco Bandai-built digital skiing destination for Miis everywhere?
We Ski is a full game dedicated to skiing and everything related to it. It's in essence a virtual ski resort populated by cartoony, Mii-like individuals and plenty of slopes, mini-game challenges, and other activities in which to partake. It's designed around the Wii motion controls to help bring you into the experience-and in many ways, it succeeds in doing so.
Confusing commercializing puns aside, We Ski is actually fairly one-dimensional. While there are a few different modes of play to select from, for the most part, everything takes place in Freestyle Mode, which is most like an adventure with skis attached to your feet. In it, you'll take to the aforementioned Happy Ski Resort, which features fourteen different ski slopes (including one hidden slope) and a modest expanse of snowy real estate where you can explore and socialize with other skiers. While exploration and fun are central to the experience, your progress in Freestyle Mode is also quantified by a tally of Star Points, which you can collect by completing a number of skiing mini-games and challenges scattered throughout the ski resort.
But before we get into discussing gameplay, let's talk presentation. Graphically, We Ski is nothing to write home about. But in terms of atmosphere, it's actually surprisingly convincing. While it's meant to be lighthearted and cartoony, the game does a pretty good job of maintaining the virtual ski resort theme. One way of getting around is by boarding ski lifts and watching yourself being transported over the hills to your destination. You'll hear unobtrusive yet upbeat techno music echoing in the background through the resort's speakers as you navigate the landscape. There are even occasional announcements by the staff, some of which include courtesy notifications about a vehicle's lights being left on and even lost child alerts. So in spite of its colorful visual style, We Ski feels the part much of the time.
You'll also get to select a Mii to use the entire time and dress him/her up in representative clothing. As you get further into the game, you will unlock more things with which to outfit your Mii. The use of Miis in We Ski is actually quite charming, and while it's hardly an advanced concept, it definitely makes for a more personalized experience.
It's Downhill From There
In terms of gameplay, however, things aren't quite as rosy. This isn't to say that We Ski is thin in the controls department; in fact, it's actually shockingly deep, featuring dozens of techniques, different ways to turn, crouching, and even numerous airborne tricks for special jumps. And the motion controls feel pretty intuitive much of the time, even though the learning curve is relatively steep (there's a full-blown training mode to help teach you how to perform the many different techniques central to success).
To play, you hold the Wii-mote in your right hand and the nunchuk in your left hand. Turning is as simple as swaying your arms from side to side, and it works pretty well. Multiple turning techniques are possible, including snowplow, parallel, and wedeln turns. Parallel turns are default-snowplow turns can be executed by holding down B and Z, and wedelns can only be done while crouching (to crouch, you simply rotate the Wii-mote and nunchuk away from one another on the Z-axis). Finally, braking and stopping is performed by holding down on the analog stick.
That's all well and good, but how do you go? Here's where things get nasty. To skate with your poles, you must alternate the Wii-mote and nunchuk upward repeatedly. Choosing your initial direction consists of first rotating the camera to face your desired path and then beginning the ever-pervasive hand-pumping skating technique. Should you happen to be facing an upward climb, your character will instead begin to slowly shuffle his or her skis sideways at a painstakingly sluggish pace. Otherwise, you will begin traveling downhill with increasing speed for as long as you continue your infernal hand-shuffling.
Alternatively, you can use the Wii Balance Board to ski. While you might remember this working wonderfully in Wii Fit, in We Ski, it's less elegantly implemented. Yes, you can still lean left to right to control your turns, but the most puzzling omission here is the complete lack of fore/aft control. In Wii Fit, the player can lean forward or backward to control his speed. In We Ski, the only way to affect speed is through crouching, turning, and the far less appealing skating technique. So while the inclusion of Wii Balance Board support absolutely improves We Ski, it also serves as an enormous missed opportunity.
Speaking of speed, fast in We Ski is pretty darn slow. Barreling down a hill feels unnaturally inhibited; it's almost as though the speed was toned down to increase the perceived size of the environments. And that would make sense, because the slopes themselves are disappointingly small. You might think that the developers would take the opportunity to construct some truly wild and expansive courses, but everything in We Ski is merely ordinary. The size of the entire ski resort is even rather tiny. The game design instead artificially extends the length of the experience by forcing you to hunt for activities in the form of people to speak to throughout the resort.
Different people offer different challenges, all of which are in the form of mini-games. The assorted types of games include racing, trick challenge, slalom, lost & found, "perfect stop" (where you must stop within a certain indicated area), and various other skiing-themed activities. Each of these activities becomes progressively harder each time you manage to locate and speak to the corresponding person. There are also some side activities available as well, all of which contribute in some fashion to the collection of Star Points-two of these include orienteering (where you must find people hiding throughout the resort based on clues) and the hunt for the mysterious yeti.
This style of play isn't bad, but it does feel rather disconnected, seeing as a significant portion of your time is spent exchanging dialogue with characters on the slopes. At least it's humorous dialogue, though; Namco's localization team has done a great job here. Either way, if you aren't too keen on hunting down challengers, you can always just ski around and earn some Star Points that way as well. Each time you enter a slope, the game signals to you that your performance is being assessed. When you finish, you are assigned a letter grade and rewarded accordingly. The only problem with this system is that the grading rubric is rather goofy; for instance, even if you receive three or four S+ rankings in the categories of Time, Speed, Tricks, and Balance, but you only manage a B in Turning, your overall grade is a B. How'd you like to operate under that type of system in school?