Whenever Nintendo releases new hardware or peripherals, you've always got a few companies that are right there alongside the Big N to try and not only push the new experience a bit further, but also to profit off the company's success. Despite how you look at the game, We Ski by Namco is the first of its kind, acting as the preliminary "Wii Balance Board Compatible" game for third party developers. As with any other Wii Sports clone or system launch competitor, We Ski has the unfortunate task of competing directly with Nintendo's own designs during the opening phases of the balance board era, and as we quickly found with Namco's first full-motion effort, nobody does it quite like Nintendo.
When approaching We Ski we really didn't know what to expect. Here's a game that releases before Wii Fit, making use of the regular Wii-mote/nunchuk pairing as like any other game, but then also sets itself up to be the perfect "me too" title during the Wii Fit launch; pretty smart on Namco's end. With nothing to go off of, however, how was Namco to know exactly what the game should feel like, and how to deal with balance board integration, calibration, and execution? It was possible that we could have hopped on the board, gone to bomb down the hills of We Ski, and had a totally broken experience, which in the end was far from the case.
What does end up happening though, is that the core gameplay of We Ski just isn't intriguing enough to really push players at all, and while the balance board aspects work great – it truly does feel fun to steer with your feet – the accompanying gameplay isn't there.
Let's take the non-balance board design for a second. We Ski allows players to jump into a casual-friendly slopes experience, combining Mii integration with a pretty in-depth gear/equipment system that lets you chose from hundreds of options for your character. Mii integration is simple, and at the small sacrifice of no head gear or glasses for our character we instantly selected our avatar and got him in the game. Right from the beginning the entire mountain is open for business, so you can hit up any run, engage in any race or slalom event, and just cruise from spot to spot as you wish. What you'll also notice, however, is that We Ski is really small, and it takes only a few minutes to get from the very top of the mountain back down to the base. Also unfortunate is the speed in which your character moves, and the realization that if you were moving at a bit more of a "downhill" pace, the ride would have been over even faster.
Control is pretty simple as you move down the hills of Happy Ski Resort, with the simultaneous tilt of the Wii-mote and nunchuk (or, if you have it, balance board) controls the movement of your character. The C button starts a snowplow, holding Z and B initiates a "mogul mode" of sorts, changing your turn style to a much more dodgy, lighter feel, and twisting the two controllers away from each other causes your racer to tuck his ski poles and bomb the hill, earning a bit of a speed boost because of it at the sacrifice of control.
It all feels good until you add one more annoying part of the game into action; the pole work. Since the game moves at such a sluggish pace, you'll need to constantly use your poles to gain speed, and the only way to do that is to continue to pump both hands in towards your body and back as if you were cross-country skiing. It can be charming at first, since you're getting a full-body experience, but after a few minutes it becomes painfully obvious that if you want to gain any speed in the game whatsoever, you'll need to keep this up for a long, long time. The game does a decent job of recognizing when you're pumping, but there were also times when we'd shove and get nothing in return, which means we needed to quickly resent, and – you guessed it – pump again. The experience is simple and charming as an overall design, but mixing the slow overall speed and annoying waggle control really hurts the experience, and it's a shame there was no way to incorporate speed into forward/backward tilt like in Wii Fit, with a "speed zone" of sorts for players to lock into with body control. The two slalom modes in Wii Fit (ski and snowboard) both destroy We Ski on their own, and those come packed in with the balance board itself, and with such a small world to explore most players won't be long for Happy Ski Resort.
There are a few other oddities as well. While the graphics are simple and pretty by-the-books for casual Wii games, Namco seems to have gotten on board with the whole "talk your player's ear off" philosophy that some first party Nintendo titles fall into the trap of. The game is already too slow, but you'll often have "Welcome to Happy Ski Resort" messages or "Did you know?" text popping up as you start off a run, and with such a huge emphasis on chatting with other skiers on the slopes you'll be stopping to chat just as much as you'll be carving down the side of a mountain. If mini-game photo shoots and character interaction is what you're looking for, We Ski has got you covered. If it's actual skiing your interested in though, you truly can get a better experience from Wii Fit's included modes.
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