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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Retro Review: Winter Games NES edition

I mostly finished this review way back at the beginning of January, but life is didn't allow my to finish tweaking it then. Here in Minnesota it's still winter and will be until around June, but in other place spring is approaching so I thought I'd better finish this up while it was still relevant.


This was the follow-up to the successful Summer Games and in spite of Epyx not getting IOC liscensing, it couldn't reasonably be considered anything but an Olympic game. I absolutely love Olympic themed video games. For more evidence of this strange compulsion check out my review of Lillehammer 94 game on the Genesis. In any case, given my weird need to play Olympic games it's no surprise that winter games is in my collection and that I feel compelled to share it with others. It's worth noting that this game was released on several platforms each varying slightly in content and presentation. I choose to focus on the NES version because it's the one I think most people, myself included are the most familiar with.

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot


Controls vary from game to game,  most of them are fairly easy and responsive. And then there's figure skating. If you don't have a booklet handy, there is no figure skating (much to my infinite dismay in my younger days). Luckily while playing this time around I found this handy guide to the controls and strategies. Incidentally knowing the controls helps very little in that case, but I'll get more into that later.

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot

Graphically it's crap. Animation is choppy, sprites are undetailed and backgrounds are a mess. It looks 100 times better on the C64. A PC to NES port losing some graphic luster was pretty common, but in this case it doesn't make sense the C64 version isn't anything special in the graphics department and it's nothing the NES shouldn't have been able to handle. Very disappointing overall.

Musically there's very little going on, the only event that really has music while you're doing it is figure skating and while the 8-bit rendition of the dance of the sugarplum fairy isn't really that bad, it gets very, very grating very quickly. There's the music after you've completed speed skating and done the aerials but unless you really want to hear it you're not likely to sit on the results screen and wait for it to play so it's not very memorable. The best music is probably the snippets of each counties' national anthem and the fact that you're forced to listened to whichever one you've chosen before stating an individual event kind of takes away from any minute amount of enjoyment they could have given you. The other sounds are pretty appropriate there just aren't very many of them.


Once you've navigated past the title screen and the emotionally gripping opening ceremony you're brought to your main options screen. Here you can choose to participate in all events in order, Participate in one event at a time, practice the events, see the records or watch the delightful opening ceremony again. Participating in all the events or just one of the events doesn't really matter as in both cases you'll set a record if you don't fail completely. There's not a medal award ceremony or a closing ceremony, or even a congratulations for competing in them all at once. Though there is the distinct advantage of only having to listen to your chosen country's anthem snippet once instead of each time you select an event. Practice gives you the advantage of not having to bother with country selection at all, but you won't set any records and who doesn't want all their friends to know that they got perfect 10's in hot dog aerials (until the game is turned off or reset). In any case regardless of how you choose to compete in them, there are 4 events.

First Up Hot Dog Aerials:

Before we get into playing this event, we must first question the name, yes there was a type of freestyle skiing referred to as "Hot Dog" But the term had mostly died out by the end of the 70's so why they'd choose to use it in a game made in 1986 is anyone's guess. For me personally it brings to mind a guy in a hot dog suit doing ski tricks, which would be cool, but that's not what you get at all.

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot

This event is probably one of the most playable of the ones included in this port. You have three attempts to  launch your skier off a hill do some fancy tricks and land on your skis instead of your face. You can do back flips, front flips, and splits. The right combination will get you a perfect 10 and a digital roar from the crowd as well as the world record. Though to be fair the world record can be gained by doing dismally as well so long as no one played before you after the game has been turned on.

Next up Speed Skating:

Every game with mini games always has a button masher and that's speed skating in this collection. Once the "buzzer" goes of you mash the d pad back and forth like mad to get a good start and then ease up a bit to pick up the rhythm and if you're better than the AI you win.

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot

 Once you get the hang of it you're all but guaranteed to win. This game is pretty much only fun if you've got a friend to play with, even then it's of limited entertainment value. However there is some needlessly epic music that plays when the game concludes whether you're the winner or loser, which provides a modicum of entertainment.

Then Figure Skating:

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot

Figure skating is just awful, not even good enough for me to bother coming up with some sort of silly analogy. It's just your good old fashioned terrible implementation,  pure and simple. Controls are needlessly complex and require very precise timing. You'd think finding out the controls and what exactly that timing is would fix the problem. Unfortunately it doesn't, the controls aren't responsive enough for the timing required. If that's not bad enough there's an element of "artistry" involved meaning you can't do the same trick twice (even if you fail the first attempt) and need to string together a variety of trick types to get a decent score. In all fairness you can teach yourself to play this game if you're really committed to doing so and even get a decent score or two, but really it's not worth the time and frustration involved.

And finally a big finish with Bobsled:

In spite of being my "big finish" and being a cool sport in general, the bobsled event is really boring.  First problem is that for some unfathomable reason they developers choose to make the event itself take place in the upper right hand corner of the screen, while the map which is static save for your blinking position marker dominates the screen. Second the gameplay itself just isn't fun. You steer occasionally and you don't have to be particularly precise, steering away from the turns or into the turns nets about the same results. Which isn't of course to say that the event is easy, you flip over more often than you successfully get down the hill.

Winter Games by Epyx  NES Screenshot


Even my weird love for Olympic games can't make this game legitimately enjoyable. The best events are playable, maybe and the worst are a waste of perfectly good cartridge space. As whole it's not good enough to be good, it's not even good enough to be mediocre,  nor is it bad enough to be notably bad. They only way I can see this being legitimately enjoyable is if you're playing with friends while drunk, and given I haven't tested that theory personally, it may prove just as disappointing.


Don't forget to stop by our shop for vintage NES era 80s toys and collectibles:

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