Genre: Sports Developer: Mindspan Vancouver Publisher: Accolade Players: 1-10 Released: 1992
Ever since the days of the Atari 2600 Olympic sports games have been a staple in the gaming industry, and almost every console has at least one version of a summer or winter Olympics challenge. There are several versions that succeeded in being quite fun and playable, such as Activision’s Decathlon, which was released on several pre-NES consoles, and Epyx’s Summer and Winter Games for the Atari 7800. Then there are the ones that failed pretty badly, like Accolade’s Winter Challenge, released for the Genesis in 1991.
When you start, you have a practice mode, a competition mode, and options menu. The options menu offers nothing useful and the practice mode lets you individually select an event to practice without competing for a score. The competition mode still has you choosing events one at a time but this time with scoring and placing. The only difference between practice and competition is that one keeps track of your rankings after each event and the other doesn’t, so you might as well just practice in the competition mode since there’s not much difference between the two.
Winter Challenge is comprised of the following eight events: luge, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, bobsled, speed skating, giant slalom, biathlon, and ski jump. I really can’t seem to enjoy any events other than the bobsled and the biathlon. The game is loaded with too many flaws to be even remotely enjoyable for more than about ten minutes or so at the most. I will actually start with the high points. Actually, there aren’t any high points worth noting.
The game is played from the third person behind the shoulder view during each event and the control actually works very well on most events other that the luge or bobsled, where it’s far too easy to wipe out for no reason even on a straightaway due to poor game mechanics. The cross-country and biathlon have you maintaining your stamina to avoid tiring. The biathlon is my favorite event just because you get to fire a gun at several targets. Speed skating simply has you pressing alternating buttons as fast as you can while keeping your skater as close to the inside of the track as possible. It’s one of the more tolerable events in the game. The ski jump is the least fun for me due to tricky controls, but it’s manageable with practice.
The problems come in with the framerate, which is far too low. The Genesis does FMV on the Sega CD somewhat well, so I know it could’ve done better here if the programmers spent some more time fine tuning it. It refreshes very slowly, and it is most evident on the skiing events when you need to make a turn. The screen refreshes to a new angle after the turn and misses all the frames during the turn and then you’re stuck with trying to overcompensate and get back on track or crash into a tree or a snowdrift and being disqualified. Winter Challenge has a map of the run during each event on the left side of the screen and you need to follow it closely to avoid unexpected wipeouts due to the low framerate.
Winter Challenge is also very ugly to look at. The graphics are quite grainy and repetitive, and it all becomes pretty grating on the eyes after more than a few minutes. There’s no music during the events either, leaving you to put up with the awful sound effects. Some events last four to five minutes and listening to generic and poor sound effects for that long again becomes grating, this time to the ears.
I tried one last time to enjoy Winter Challenge by asking a few of my gaming buddies to play this in multi-player to see if it became fun to compete. We made it through two or three events and turned it off. There’s no simultaneous two-player modes, forcing each player to compete in each event individually. At four to five minutes each for some events, who would be able to sit through that?
If you are even going to try to drudge through Winter Challenge, then do it alone and don’t ask another player to go through the torture with you because it moves along faster with only a single player. When I first played the game, I thought it had some promise but the more I think about it, it’s a disaster and not worth playing much at all. Winter Challenge is probably one of the worst sports games on the Genesis/Mega Drive in any region of the world.
SCORE: 3 out of 10