Partnering with Tearfund

Family Ski (Wii)

Rated: 3+

Story: You're on a skiing holiday in a resort full of slightly strange people. You must explore, compete and relax.

Not smacking into trees at high speed is also good.

Gameplay: It's possible to do one-off races and trick runs but the main part of the game involves roaming the slopes looking for challenges. These can involve anything from burger delivery to finding a particular teenager on a ski run full of foreign students.

You use the wiimote and nunchuck controller as ski poles, shoving off and then moving them side-to-side to steer. Rotating them and tucking them into your side causes your on-screen character to crouch. Pressing various buttons results in snowplough and wedeln. (Nope, I'm not really sure what they are either.) Pulling back on the control stick brakes. All manner of presses and shakes perform tricks after a jump.

Most of the events can be attempted by four players simultaneously but the structure of the game seems more geared towards single-player.

Save System: Frequent automatic saves.

Comments: In some ways Family Ski is easy to describe. (It's a skiing game!) In other ways it's very hard to pin down. It's too complex to be described as pick-up-and-play and yet too full of cute bizarreness to be a simulation. It involves wandering round talking to people like a role-playing game but it doesn't have statistics for you to build up. It wants to get the whole family involved without being a collection of mini-games while at the same time dividing itself up into a series of short challenges... which is really just another way of describing mini-games.

So, er, maybe it's best pigeon-holed as a slightly confused skiing game...

Probably the easiest thing to say about Family Ski is that it's the first game other than Wii Fit to take advantage of the balance board controller. Unfortunately, it isn't implemented as well as in the skiing game in Wii Fit itself. Shifting balance only affects left and right movement and not speed. This leaves plenty of work still to be done with button presses and wiimote movement. It was too much for my uncoordinated brain to handle and I gave up on the board pretty quickly because I kept swerving all over the place (while shrieking in an embarrassing fashion - it wasn't worth it).

The controls in general take some getting used to and the tutorial mode isn't much help. It's very dull and full of loading screens, long-winded explanations and repetitive tasks. Watching me slog through it made the whole game seem so complicated that Sprog1 was scared off entirely and has refused to play, despite the fact that initially it's a case of waggling the controllers to start off and then just pointing where you want to go.

Others tasks are less intuitive, however. Side-stepping involves holding down a button and moving the wiimote and nunchuck up and down in a stepping motion. Genius! Except it turns out that one shake of either makes your on-screen character side-step four or five times. This is irritating when you're working to a time limit and you've only over-shot a target by inches. Worse still, sometimes it's possible to begin side-stepping automatically when trying to ski up a small incline.

Control ends up feeling complicated yet imprecise.

The free-roaming structure of the events, meanwhile, leaves the game strangely paced. Many of the challenges are completely trivial, such as performing a single, specific trick during a jump. This requires skiing up to a guy, chatting for a bit, being shown how to do the trick, a loading screen, skiing down a short slope, pulling the trick, skipping the replay, skipping a victory cut-scene, a results screen, some more chat and then being plonked back away from the guy who's now wanting you to do the next trick. Considering there are getting on for a dozen tricks, doing them all becomes decidedly tedious.

The mogul runs, meanwhile, are very tough. These involve short slopes with patches of little hillocks to ski through, along with ramps to jump off and do tricks. You are graded on top speed, overall time, turning, tricks and balance. Your final mark is the lowest grade you receive in any of these categories. This is annoying when you need an overall B and get four As and a C.

Receive the required mark and you merely get to repeat the same course, shooting for a slightly higher mark. It doesn't matter if you just got that mark while aiming for a lower score, you still have to do it again. Since the marking feels quite arbitrary, this is teeth-grindingly frustrating.

Then again, maybe I'm simply rubbish at the game. Skiing down an open slope is immersive and entertaining. When Family Ski works, it works well. It's certainly worth renting to experience the unique controls and relaxed ambiance. Whether these will hold your attention through some of the more laborious moments is another question. Still, it's got to be better than another mini-game collection, hasn't it? (Or actually travelling hundreds of miles to fall face-first down a mountain in the snow...)

Conclusion: A nice try that seems to have had something of an identity crisis during development. There's fun to be had but finding it requires quite a bit of patience.

Graphics: They do their job but they're hardly spectacular. This is probably to ensure everything keeps moving at a fair pace in four-player split-screen mode, however.

Length: Medium.

Rating: 3/5.

No comments: