It is more fun to play than Mario and Sonic at the Olympics.
This is the highest praise I can give Conspiracy Entertainment's Winter Sports: The Ultimate Challenge. Still, preferring a punch in the face to a kick in the groin doesn't make either an altogether pleasant experience.
And while Winter Sports is never painful to play (something Mario and Sonic can't boast about their Wii title), simply having a functional game doesn't mean I can recommend this title as anything more than a rental.
At its core, Winter Sports is a collection of seven mini-games. These games are downhill skiing, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, speed skating, curling, figure skating and bobsledding. While downhill skiing is broken into a few events, they are too similar to regard as anything beyond a variation of the same game. I also neglected to list the luge and skeleton events, which are almost exactly like bobsledding.
The gameplay is absolutely solid for downhill skiing. After I read the brief tutorial, I tried the event and was terrible at it. Trying a few more times, I found I was getting better. Now, it's a tight run, where I try to minimize the distance down the hill in an effort to shave fractions of seconds off my best time. This is all due to the spot-on Wii controls, completely unique to this game on this console. Totally exhilarating.
The other events are mediocre to varying degrees. Highlights include the figure skating event, which is a less-exciting version of the rhythm game from Rayman Raving Rabbids, only without licensed music. Low points include cross country skiing, which has all the excitement of a tortoise race, only without the novelty of getting to look at turtles.
Fortunately, none of these events require you to wave the controller around as fast as possible for extended periods of time. At most, mini-games like bobsledding and speed skating require this for the first five to ten seconds of the event, which is just as the hand motion starts becoming painful anyways. Anyone who played Mario and Sonic at the Olympics knows exactly why this is a big plus.
These events can be played as individual events, in a career mode or in a challenge mode. Career mode gives you a set number of events where placing high in the ranking gives you points to upgrade your athlete. Although you supposedly upgrade his or her skills, I saw no difference in how the game controlled after upgrading. Challenge mode offers genuine variety by taking these events and giving specific goals such as collecting coins or attaining a certain speed.
Multiplayer once again adds significantly to the experience, mainly by giving you someone to talk to as you work through these mildly stimulating events. As with most of these games, it seems anything is more fun when you have someone to do it with. You can insert your own joke here.
The music is your typical "rockin' guitar" that seems to always get used when the developer has no idea what to do with the sound track. There is also a commentator track which is inconsistent at best. At times, the two announcers make intelligent observations, spout interesting trivia or even entertain with an off-topic tangent. Other times, they repeat themselves or just keep quiet for no apparent reason.
The visuals on this title are among the worst I've seen within the past few years. While I can understand sacrificing graphical prowess for consistent speed, this game just looks unnecessarily ugly. Your avatar moves fluidly enough, but only seems to have a few animations. Environments also lack any sort of life or vitality. Trees and crowds were done better years back on older consoles.
For their homework, I would advise the developers of Winter Sports to make a downhill skiing game with decent graphics, lots of hills to conquer and cool stuff to do while conquering them. As for the Wii owner, I would advise him or her to keep searching, unless looking for the beginnings of a really good skiing game. This title isn't altogether terrible, but gives you no incentive to make you want to keep playing.