IGN Review of Ski & Shoot
Over the centuries, countless advancements in humanity have been produced by simply mixing things. Whether it is peanut butter and jelly, or chocolate milk, there's just so much potential when mixing two variables together. This simple facet couldn't be truer for the winter biathlon, a combination of skiing… and shooting. While this amazing sport may sound too elitist for anyone but wealthy, cold weather bound NRA members, fear not. You can now have regular access to the thrills of skiing AND shooting through developer 49 Games' Wii game, Ski and Shoot.
The premise of Ski and Shoot is simple. One parts skiing and another parts shooting combine to create athletic competition like no other. A biathlon is completed by skiing three laps around a track, stopping twice (after the first and second laps) to shoot targets. The concept may look simple on paper (or screen), but with things like fatigue and penalties for poor shooting, there are a lot of things to consider. So let's break it down.
There are a few different modes to tickle your skiing and shooting fancy. The self explanatory quick race and practice modes let you jump straight into the action and learn the fundamentals respectively. Career mode lets you choose from established biathlon athletes or create your own. In career mode you can earn attribute points which can increase different racer stats like speed, technique, stamina and power.
Races start in one of four fashions. Individual starts have racers starting one at a time with five second intervals in between and punish missed targets with ten seconds added to your time per miss. Sprint starts are like individual starts except they punish misses with penalty loops which have to be done immediately after shooting. Pursuit races take place after sprint or individual competitions and have players start according to where they finished prior. Like sprint starts, pursuit races punish every miss with a penalty loop. Finally, mass starts have all athletes take off at one and will dish out penalty loops for poor marksmanship.
Now that you know what types of starts there are, let's talk about the racing itself. Ski and Shoot is playable in one of two ways; with the nunchuck/remote combo or with the nunchuck/remote/balance board combo. Both modes work decently so let's give each some attention.
Playing with the nunchuck/controller setup is simple enough at first glance but will require some skill to master. To accelerate simply move the controller and nunchuck through the air as you would with ski poles. To steer you can rely on the IR and lean (or turn your wrist for the lazy sit down Wii players) in the direction you wish to go. If leaning or wrist turning isn't your style, just steer with the nunchuck's analog stick. The A button commences sprinting when appropriate, the C button uses special techniques (which we'll discuss later), and holding B and Z will make your skier tuck.
All of the controls are the same for the balance board combo except for steering and tucking. To turn, simply lean your weight in the direction of your choice. Tucking is executed by leaning your weight forward on the balance board. It takes some practice to feel comfortable using the remote, nunchuck, and balance board in tandem, but the result is a slightly more immersive experience.
To keep things from turning into another insane waggle fest, a system of checks and balances are in place that requires players to think about how they play. Two bars are present on either side of the player. The left bar represents stamina and the right bar represents power. A gray meter on the power bar indicates how much you can exert yourself before draining your stamina. Stamina is like a precious metal in Ski and Shoot as you will need it to aim true in the shooting sections, which in turn will save you from penalty time and loops.
Overdoing it with the power input (how hard you make your strokes with the remote/nunchuck) will quickly drain your skier's stamina and leave you with one tortoise that doesn't live in some rabbit outrunning fairytale. The trick is to stay in the neutral gray area with your ski strokes and save as much power and stamina as you can for sprints (which greatly increase your speed but quickly drain your stamina) and accuracy.
To help save a little stamina, you can opt to tuck on downhill slopes. Tucking allows for a streamline decent that doesn't consume energy making it a much needed option. The only downside to tucking is the animation of the character. From where the camera sits, a tucked player looks like Adult Swim's Assy McGee. All you can see is a but with legs on skis and some ski poles sticking out. Mature players probably won't concern themselves with this, but if a cartoon about an anthropomorphic butt makes you laugh, the tuck animation will be hard not to giggle at.
A nice reserve of stamina is always welcome for the shooting sections. Twice during a race you will pull up to a target station where you pull out your rifle and attempt to lay waste to paper targets. Once you skied up to your station, the game switches to a first person mode. Use the IR to line up your shot and press B to shoot. How tired you are will affect your steadiness but luckily pressing A will cause you to breathe and aim steadier. This all plays back into stamina though as breathing slowly drains your stamina further. Missing a single target (you have to shoot fiver per station) can add unwanted seconds or penalty loops.
The only area that the controls really suffer in is the shooting areas. These segments are short, but a lot rides on them. When the game switches to first person, the IR pointing style of aiming can seem very laggy. The skiing comes off as a little arcade-y, but the shooting is stiff and unnatural. Other than the occasional momentum stopping track boundary, the laggy shooting is Ski and Shoots only major gameplay issue.
To make things even more interesting, Ski and Shoot features a multiplayer mode. Here players can race two at a time via split screen. Four players can also compete but they have to take turns and use the control scheme established by player one. The biathlon is an odd sport at first glance, but you'd be surprised at how quickly it can become as competitive as any other sport.
The career mode features difficulties ranging from junior league to pro league extreme. The junior league is difficult enough at first and competing in the pro league will take some serious practice and dedication.
Career mode also features a type of level up system. As you win races you will earn experience points and attribute points. Attribute points can be divided amongst your stats as you please ala a Tony Hawk style setup. Every five levels that you gain gives you access to a special technique. These techniques can help increase your power, stamina and so on in a pinch during races.
Visually, the game isn't anything to write home about. The graphics strive for a realistic look which just doesn't translate well on the Wii. This leaves you with pretty stiff character models. The environments look okay but could also have benefited from a more stylistic approach.
The music of Shoot and Ski is one aspect that does take a stylistic approach. The music is intense and at times very arcade like. The music kind of takes you away from the pseudo-serious graphics and reminds you that you're still playing a game for fun. If the graphical style had matched the music, Ski and Shoot could have been a lot better.
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