The Adonis-like figures bestowed by Wii Fit go someway toward justifying that hefty balance board start-up cost. But, for our money, it’s the strength of supporting third party software that will truly justify the purchase. ‘Babes’ digging our mad balancing skillz will only get it a free pass for so long; a sorry looking pile of sneered at DK Bongos reminding what fate befalls a library-less peripheral.
So, We Ski, all eyes are on you. Consider the Balance Board on trial - a vicious smelting awaits a losing verdict - and you’re its defense attorney. Oddly enough, it’s not the showiest of balance board debuts. Unlike Wii Fit’s skiing task, where leaning forward and backward controls momentum, input is pruned back to left and right teeters to control direction. All other tweaks are added by remote and Nunchuk thrusts, acting here as your ski poles.
A quick pull on both controllers gets you going. Repeat digs build momentum - although flick strength doesn’t make a jot of difference to the speed. Angle the controllers inward and poles slip under the arms for a streamlined speed jolt. Hold C and angle the controllers in and your skis angle inward for a nice smooth slowing. Add a few analogue stick tweaks to pull off those old hands, the 360/720/1080 brothers, and you’ve a scheme of some clarity.
The option’s there to take to the slope minus board, with remote and Nunchuk tilt steering replacing the human analogue stick. Finely calibrated - we found it slicker than SSX Blur’s sometimes tumultuous tilt work - it makes for a much easier game. The alien nature of the balance board is clearly factored into the difficulty, relatively simple tasks artificially hardened by our inept body wobbling. It’s not that the board is poorly tuned; it just needs a gentler touch.
Picture it like this: there are two easy positions - standing straight and leaning heavily to one side - and a spectrum of nuanced turning in between. Mastering the game involves being able to lean without over-leaning and going into a right angled skid. Your first race is likely to be a stop-start mess as you constantly overshoot with over-enthusiastic leaning. After a few weeks of play we still can’t command the slopes quite as well on the board as off, but the marked improvement is immensely satisfying.
It helps, of course, that We Ski is a game of considerable charm. As in SSX 3, individual ski courses are jettisoned for one free-roaming mountain, the Happy Ski resort. It’s not the most graphically complex of, um, complexes, but clean edges, zero loading times (bar mission start ups) and delightfully powdery snow make for a real easy-going visual treat. A happy style matched by the visitors trotting around the peak - built from the game’s customisable chibi avatar system.
You’d be wise to rip the head off these bodies and plonk on a Mii noggin, for that personal touch. With yourself/Satan/Borat2 on the slope you can free-ski or chat to skiers for tasks. Slalom, stunt requests, item recovery, races against a mysterious rival clad in red; little that hasn’t been seen before (bar the rival clad in red), but perfectly pitched for the balance board learning process. Even better, up to three others can join in this free-roaming adventure, going about their own journey until someone starts a mission and everyone is warped to the same point for a spot of competition.
Those with an ear to the multi-console ground will know a similar drop in, drop out game was a much lauded part of the recent Burnout Paradise. Here, it’s simpler, but no less a brilliant idea. The real appeal however? Skimming the mountain from tip to bottom - even more spectacular when you play god and turn day to night. Forest weaving, carving snow into tourists faces; that expert board command is needed to do so elevates minor moments into grand hurdles to be leapt. If you felt Wii Sports was mastered too easily, then We Ski should provide a tad more challenge - should you stick with it.
Remote wobble may have more creative possibilities than the balance board, but We Ski is perfect proof of the immersion Nintendo’s wallet straining piece of kit can offer. So, balance board on trial? We Ski acquits the blubbery priced blubber-buster with style.
May 13, 2008