Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: March 3, 2009
We Ski and Snowboard marks the first follow-up title for one of the few third-party developed games on the Wii. It makes pretty heavy use of the Wii Fit Balance Board accessory, and while this game includes the use of a snowboard (the prior version was only with skiing), it's not really a big enough change for players to get excited about. We Ski and Snowboard ends up feeling like more of a rehash of We Ski than an honest sequel.
Like the previous game, We Ski and Snowboard features a series of challenges spread out along different mountain slopes and areas that you can participate in, and you can win different outfits, accessories and new ski or snowboard gear for your character. As the game begins, you'll pick a character, either creating one using the cutesy avatar selections that the game provides or implementing your own Mii character, which is handled quite well. From there, you'll pick your snow-carving device of choice, and you'll be taken to the main menu, where you pick from a few modes, including the addition of two new mountain areas to explore, a free play mode, and a pretty lengthy, but much-needed, tutorial mode.
Having not played much of the original title (I didn't have the Balance Board at the time), I was surprised at how similar this title felt, since I was definitely expecting larger changes across the board. I immediately gravitated toward using the snowboard, as I've always found that to be more entertaining than skiing, but I was pretty disappointed to find that there wasn't a big difference between the two control methods. They control mostly the same, and the only real difference is that you'll position the Balance Board so that you're facing sideways away from the TV instead of head-on, like you would do with the ski controls.
We Ski and Snowboard uses a combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in addition to the Balance Board, so you'll need to keep in mind that you'll have a fair amount of controls to remember, which can be off-putting to players who expected a more casual approach to their Wii games, especially the crowd who bought into Wii Fit in the first place (and this is nothing like the downhill ski in Wii Fit).
Once you've had the Balance Board calibrated properly with the game, you'll start out on the menu and check out the tutorial. At first, it seems to be pretty basic, but as it introduces concepts of short turns and acceleration methods, the tutorial can be quite a bit to remember. Braking is handled by pressing back on the analog stick, speeding up is done by turning the Wiimote and Nunchuk on their sides and facing outward, and just getting your character to move down the hill is done by waving the remote down, allowing you to get started on your run. There are also a lot of other small things to remember, like recovering from a fall by alternating up and down movements of the Wiimote and Nunchuk, or recovering your balance in a similar fashion. Combine that with trying to focus on keeping your balance so that you can maintain a straight line downhill, and the end result is a little confusing to newcomers.
Once you get the hang of the controls, they're pretty responsive. I had some issues when it came to accelerating, the game picking up on when the Remote and Nunchuk were being held sideways, and recuperating from a fall wasn't nearly as quick as I expected, especially for such a simple movement. Using the Balance Board does a great deal when it comes to immersing you into the game, and after a while, controlling your direction and turns with the help of the board really feels natural, and it's a pretty great experience once everything clicks together.
The other thing I like about We Ski and Snowboard is the fact that just about every gameplay feature is unlocked from the start. The game features a multiplayer function that lets you play with up to four players, and while it's not online, it's still nice to jump into a game with friends and not have to worry about unlocking 90 percent of the content, as in other titles. Some might say this takes away from the motivation to play the game, but there are plenty of other unlockables that you can try to get if you're looking to give yourself some kind of goal. If you're picking this up to play with friends, keep in mind that using the Wii Balance Board will take up two slots, so you'll only be able to play with two additional people if you use the Balance Board during the game.
The additional mountain slopes don't seem to add a lot to the game, aside from being new areas to explore. The need to check out the mountains in detail is somewhat removed with this title, as most of the people you need to interact with to perform challenges can be found together in one spot, and while this cuts down on the unnecessary bouncing back and forth between locations, it also eliminates the need to check out the areas before competitions, which can actually make events like the slalom run more difficult, since you'll be less familiar with the area around you.
Also, while the snowboard offers up different tricks, it really feels like a re-skin of the skis. Not only are the controls the same, but the actual physics behind using the board also feel exactly the same. When you're performing tricks or doing jumps, there's no real discernable change in how the game plays, and it's disappointing to see that you'll get the same effect out of using either device. If there were a little more variety between the two control schemes, I could see the use in checking out both of them, but there's really little reason to play the entire game with both, unless you just like the look of them. I'll say that the board and ski unlockables are pretty crazy, and they at least do a good job of spicing up an otherwise bland presentation.
Visually, We Ski and Snowboard isn't super impressive, but it does a good job with the cartoon-style artwork that was established in the previous game. The characters you create — or your Mii — can be outfitted in a variety of costumes and various gear, so you can come up with some pretty crazy designs if you want. The slopes are well-designed, and while a course covered in snow doesn't offer up a lot of impressive vistas, the small obstacles, trees and other things that pop up are rendered well enough.
The sound, on the other hand, is largely disappointing, mostly due to the missing tunes from other Namco titles, which the prior title had. I'm not sure why these tunes were omitted this time out, but I was really disappointed to see them gone, and while I'm hoping it could be an unlockable that I'm just missing at this point, I doubt that they're actually present. The default soundtrack is really boring and sounds out of place with the environments, and the limited voice acting isn't really worth mentioning either.
If you've been dying for something to use your Balance Board with on the Wii, you can't go too wrong with We Ski and Snowboard. In my opinion, it's not enough change to warrant a purchase if you already own We Ski, but if you've played that game to death, I'd at least give this a rental and see if any of the small additions grab you. Don't go into this expecting a vastly different game from the original, and you won't end up being too disappointed with the final product.
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