Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: May 13, 2008
Summer is here, and that means the days are longer, hotter, and far less snowy than the winter months. For some, this is the time of year when they start to long for their favorite winter activity, shushing down a freshly powdered slope with visions of hot cocoa and snow bunnies wafting through their heads as they try to avoid that towering evergreen tree that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. For those people, Namco Bandai offers We Ski, an overly easy yet enjoyable title that makes skiing approachable for everyone.
The first thing that should tip you off that this is not a hardcore ski sim is that the game takes place at the "Happy Ski Resort." The mountain makes up the entire width and breadth of the We Ski experience, with all of your challenges coming from tooling around the slopes and looking for particular individuals with yellow bubbles over their heads. The title takes a totally casual approach to things, never forcing you to do any mission or take on any goals. Indeed, if you are so inclined, you can simply spend your time happily flying down the any of the game's 13 courses (all are available right from the beginning), never even touching a single one of the game's 160 different challenges.
That's right, We Ski offers 160 different events for your powder-covered pleasure, and thankfully, there is enough variety that you won't pull out your hair in boredom. There are standard events like races and slaloms, but there's also more offbeat fare, such as racing to deliver food to hungry patrons or searching a crowded slope for one particular lost student (think of it as "Where's Waldo?" for the upper-middle class). While the objectives are varied and usually over quickly enough that they don't become tedious, they're also a chore to find and offer very little reward. In order to activate an event, you must ski around until you find someone with a mission thought bubble, ski over to him or her, and then accept the challenge after a long, drawn-out conversation. Furthermore, nearly all of the objectives skew toward the easy side, and you'll likely find few to no events that offer a genuine challenge. Finally, your reward for completing these events is paltry at best: new ski clothes that do absolutely nothing to increase your character's attributes.
We Ski's biggest failing is that it's so laid-back that it offers very little incentive to keep playing. Unless you're so obsessive-compulsive that you simply have to complete each challenge and unlock each ski pole simply for the sake of completion, you'll likely have a hard time playing the game for more than a few sessions before you get bored. The title could have been helped immensely by a dedicated career or single-player mode, complete with real objectives and character building, but as it stands now, there's little there that can keep boredom from setting in rather quickly.
Perhaps the most innovative thing about We Ski, and the only thing likely to keep you around for long, is its control scheme. All actions are motion-controlled, from thrusting both the Wiimote and Nunchuk down to dig in your poles and build up speed, to turning them left and right to angle your skis and carve your way down the mountain. Occasionally, the game throws in some button use for specific styles of turns and jump tricks, but every single action in We Ski has some component of motion-control in it. If you love to waggle, this game will get you up off the couch, but if you prefer a more sedentary experience, you'll hate every minute.
Those who happen to own Wii Fit will be happy to know that We Ski is compatible with the Balance Board, so you can use the weight-sensing device for more than just yoga poses and reminding you to lay off the cake. Once the board is calibrated, you can use it to control your skier's turns by shifting your weight from side to side. Sadly, speed is still solely the domain of the controllers, and you cannot speed up or slow down by leaning forward or backward on the board. However, if you do own the device, We Ski becomes a more immersive experience, and you may stick around and play a bit longer.
Visually, the game is quite simple, featuring cute, anime-inspired characters who always seem to be sporting a smile. Starting up the game, you have the option to either create a new skier or use one of the Miis stored on your system as your avatar. Obviously, most people will be excited for another opportunity to get their Miis "in the game," so to speak, and will choose that route (I know I did). The only real downside to using a Mii over creating a character is that you will not be able to add hats or goggles to your outfit. This is a seemingly odd stipulation, but it doesn't really matter due to the fact that, with over 200 different clothing and gear options available, you probably won't even miss them.
Unfortunately, the cuteness of the characters doesn't really translate onto the course itself, as the mountain is very boring and drab. The routes, while not quite devoid of texture, feature a sort of "sameness" that makes it difficult to distinguish unique features. For example, it's often difficult to tell if you are snowing on packed snow or ice simply by looking; instead, you have to listen for the scrape of your skis and note if your controls have gotten looser. While the courses don't look bad, per se, a lot could have been done to make them more interesting and add a bit of character.
The music used for We Ski is fun but sparse, meaning that a whole lot of quiet will occasionally be punctured by a happy tune for Pac-Man or Katamari Damacy. All of the characters you meet on the mountain will speak in a sort of Sims gibberish, so don't be expecting any amazing voice acting. The music that is present serves to further reinforce the peppy, casual experience of the title, meant to evoke happy memories of games gone by.
As stated before, We Ski's biggest draw, and also its biggest fault, is sacrificing skill for accessibility. If you'd like an enjoyable, simple ski experience with lots of easy challenges and the ability to go wherever you want, whenever you want, then this title will be right up your alley. However, if you prefer something a bit more challenging or need a more focused experience, then you'll likely bore of We Ski in a hurry. With a dedicated single-player career or a bit of character attribute building, this budget title could have warranted a mandatory purchase. What it actually turns out to be, though, is another game for the casual set, with little to offer the hardcore gamer who's still waiting for Nintendo to slake his thirst for a Wii game with more than just a pretty face and a whole lot of waggle where it counts.
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