Genre: Sports Developer: U.S. Gold Publisher: U.S. Gold Players: 1-4 Released: 1994
Just as the Olympics have been a staple of sports, Olympic video games have been a staple of the sports genre. Ever since the original Track and Field came out in the arcades in 1984, gamers have been treated to Olympic outings of varying quality, and 1994 was no different. The world was getting ready for the XVII Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, so naturally, an official Winter Olympics game made the rounds to various systems, courtesy of U.S. Gold. Most Olympic titles have the tradition of being button-mashers, and this time is no different. I’ve played many Olympic-style games to know that button-mashers can be fun if done right. Unfortunately while Winter Olympic Games has some good intentions, quite a few things remove it from medal contention.
You can tell that U.S. Gold tried to capture the Olympic spirit. This game carried an official license from the Winter Olympic Committee, so the events are set in real locations around Lillehammer. The intro screen lists the previous Winter Olympics before going to a close-up of Norway, and it has an international flavor; you can even choose which language you want to play the game in. You can also choose from playing the Full Olympics (all the events), Mini Olympics (some of the events), or training mode. You can also change several options including difficulty level and whether or not you want two players to play head-to-head in certain events. In the Full or Mini Olympics you choose how many human players will compete, then you can change the default names into your name or something else and pick which country you wish to represent. Up to four players can compete, and you don’t need a multitap.
After all the human players check in, the A.I. fills out the remaining roster. You get a nice opening ceremony before you compete in the game’s ten events, which include downhill skiing (ski down a slope going through gate to the finish line), the slalom (similar to the downhill, but you have to go through gate in an S formation), and the bobsled (guide your two-man bobsled team down a track). Most of the events are played by taking turns, but some do feature two-player simultaneous action with two human competitors. Post an overall score in the top three and you get a medal (gold, silver, or bronze) and a spot in the medal ceremony. The game keeps track of each player’s medal count, and whoever has the highest medal count after the last event is the winner.
The graphics on a whole are a mixed bag. In some events the sprites are somewhat decent, but in others they look like multicolored blobs where you can barely tell what they’re supposed to be. The graphics also feature some nice touches, such as the snow falling in the biathlon and the ice trickling off your bobsled’s blades. Moreover, if you successfully land the ski jump, your skier will take off his goggles and wave at you while smiling. The backgrounds and setting do look good too, though some of the events have some choppy scaling, like in the bobsled and luge.
I actually enjoyed most of the game’s music. Some of the background themes aren’t anything special (especially in the skiing sports) but the others fit their respective events and are fun to listen to. However, the intro music gets repetitive quickly, and you’ll be hearing it a lot after each event. There’s also not much in the way of sound effects; you hear this WOOOSH sound when you wipeout in the skiing sports (which sounds like someone exhaling) and you get some sort of scratchy tumbling noise in the bobsled and luge. Most notable is the horrible rooster crow that begins the mogul event. Why they put that in there, I have no idea.
Unfortunately, what really drags this title down is the gameplay. The basic method of control is just using the D-pad, with an occasional button press, and some of the sports do require button mashing. However most of the events are plagued by bad control schemes that make them too difficult to enjoy. The four skiing events are especially frustrating. You get your choice of three control methods before each run starts, but no matter which one you pick your skier keeps overturning and ends up missing gates or crashing into trees. Other times, you end up stuck and it takes too much time to get going again. In the moguls, you have to move the D-pad back and forth to build up speed, and it’s difficult to pull off a trick correctly without tons of practice. Add the fact that it’s impossible to beat the computer, and you end up doing all that work yet get nothing to show for it.
Another strike against Winter Olympic Games is that it lacks a wide variety of events. The cart features ten, and six of them make a good group, but the other four are alpine skiing events which have little difference among them aside from the length and placement of the gates. It was unnecessary for U.S. Gold to include four variations of the slalom when other winter sports could have replaced them, like snowboarding or figure skating. Also, get ready to sit around for a while before each event, as you have to wait for the computer athletes to take their turns before you can go. So, you sit there watching the scores scroll by until you get your shot. The same thing happens after your run; you have to wait for the remaining scores before the event ends. Having to wait for the computer players’ scores can get on your nerves after a while. Thankfully, you can make them go faster by pushing the buttons.
So what’s the final judgment on Winter Olympic Games? Basically it’s an Olympic-sized disappointment. U.S. Gold had some nice concepts with this sports cart; some of the events like the bobsled and luge are pretty fun, and the head-to-head feature makes it a blast to take on a friend. But whatever good features this game has are overshadowed by the very poor gameplay and super-hard difficulty. If the controls were better and the events were more varied, this could have been enjoyable for sports fans. Stick to Accolade’s Winter Challenge for your Genesis winter sports needs and put the torch out on this game.
SCORE: 3 out of 10