Nagano Winter Olympics '98
Reviewed by Dan
Despite some ugly frame rates, bob-sledding is actually one of the better
events in the game. Nagano Winter Olympics features a plethora of
different events from which players can choose. The game's release is
set to coincide with the start of the Nagano Olympics in Japan -- imagine that!
The downhill event requires fast reflexes and smart thinking. In theory...
When I first heard that Konami was creating a winter sports title for the
N64, I was convinced that we would again be treated to a Konami
masterpiece the likes of International Superstar Soccer. Remember
those sleepless nights in front of your C64 or Atari playing the Epyx
classic Winter Games? Well, hold on to those memories, because
Nagano Winter Olympics '98 won't bring that experience back.
The N64 Nagano '98 (which is an improvement over the ugly PSX version)
has two basic modes, Olympic Mode (select any event) and Championship
Mode. Four players can go head-to-head (consecutively) and take part in
12 events, ranging from bobsled to snowboarding.
Nagano '98 is full of impressive visuals. The graphics are extremely
colorful, with good-looking winter environments and accurate ramps
and stadiums. The ice events stand out with excellent reflections,
but overall, it looks like the game lacks a final layer of polish. A bit
of fogging (seriously) and some lighting/shading effects would have
helped make the look a little less flat. Player animation is generally
good, but can be a bit twitchy at times. The different locales look
very authentic, with mountain backdrops, plenty of track detail, trees,
advertising boards, and lots of people.
Music and Sound
The crowd noises and sound effects are fantastic -- a clear step
above ISS64. Apart from cheers, shouts, and whistles, the audience
also reacts to whatever you do (for example, if you stumble in the
skiing events). To top it all off, there is a lot of dynamic track-side
murmur and cheering and a great-sounding announcer. In the downhill
event, if you ski past a stretch of trees or a tribune, you will actually
hear a difference in sound. The music is pretty good, too, with nice
bass tracks in the half pipe event and a decent intro tune. But what
ever happened to national anthems, Konami?
The sound effects are as good as they get, with accurate stereo
separation, surround effects, and clear samples. The bob sleigh
and ski noises are especially convincing. Without a doubt, Nagano
Winter Olympics is one of the best sounding games on the N64 yet.
Too bad the gameplay lags behind.
Many companies have struggled with multi-event games in the past.
How do you make an interesting title with different play-styles
without losing consistency and balance? Shadows of the Empire walked
a fine line when it mixed awesome snowspeeder battles with mediocre
Doom-style shooting, but it was the Star Wars license that saved the
game in the end -- not the variety. Nagano Winter Olympics has no such
"star" license to fall back upon and inevitably trips over its diversity
and falls head-on into the snow.
The most obvious problem is a lack of balance. Good events are mixed
in with long, boring ones -- making the competition mode virtually unplayable.
Let's take a quick look at the 12 different events:
Alpine Skiing/ Giant Slalom
This is the first event you will play in the game, and it's truly horrible.
You ski downhill, slowly gaining speed as you go around the markers. As
a matter of fact, things are so slow, you really start to wonder why
Konami didn't just leave the event out of the game. I'm not kidding. Even
if you don't ski in real life, this just doesn't feel right.
Alpine Skiing / Downhill
Steer with the analog stick and use the A-Button for edging. Apart
from a nice sense of speed and cool sound effects, there's not much
going on. Although you use the analog stick, the control is only
semi-analog. The key to fast speeds is to steer as little as possible
(the less friction, the better). Not an exciting premise for a video game.
Ski Jumping / K=90 and K=120
These two events are generally enjoyable and should hold your attention
for a while. The controls here are good and it is clear that Konami
tried to do something different by giving you more control about angle,
jump, posture, and landing.
Freestyle Skiing / Aerials
Select from a list of tricks, punch the power button and watch what
happens. A perfect landing (press the button again) earns you more
points. Dull -- despite the stunts.
Snowboard / Halfpipe
Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Alas, the gameplay is like PaRappa the
Rapper -- just without PaRappa and the rapping... You create a list of
tricks you want to perform, then you watch your boarder shred (for
lack of a better verb) through a halfpipe. The computer then displays
button commands and you scramble to enter them a quickly as possible.
It's a cool idea, but the whole event runs at sluggish speeds, making the
stunts look dull and unexciting.
Snowboard / Giant Slalom
This is essentially Alpine Slalom with a board. Same control, same
feel, same awful speed problems. Mediocre semi-analog control.
Speed Skating 500m and 1500m
Control the speed via the L/R Buttons (left/right leg). In an attempt
to do away with senseless button-mashing, Konami tried something
different and makes you observe a certain rhythm while watching
over your skater's stamina. Imagine watching someone run while
pressing Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right,
Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, as the camera slowly
follows the runner. The reason why many of the old track and field and
Olympics games were exciting is because you had to use all your power
to do a quick sprint while keeping an eye on your opponent. In Nagano '98,
you can only play one player at the time against the computer. As you can
imagine, this makes for long, boring waits.
Bobsled / Four-man
One of the most popular events at the office, the four-man bobsled enables
you to lead four characters to push the sled, then jump on, one after the
other. As your sleigh picks up speed in the ice tunnel, you have to keep it
from flying off the track. Nice speeds (at choppy framerates) and cool
sounds top off this enjoyable event.
Luge / Single
This is very similar to the Bobsled, but the luge is much lighter and it's
easy to fall off.
Get as close as possible to the target and try to knock your opponent's
stones out of the way. Arguably the best event in the game, this slowpaced
"ice shuffleboard" succeeds because it lets two human players directly
compete with each other. Okay, so the funny ice-scrubbing helps, too... But
if you play with three or more players, the waiting players will die of boredom.
Data management, ranking and an awards screen. No Rumble Pak support.
You need a memory pak to save your scores.
Multiplayer: At the heart of any sports title is multi-player competition.
Nagano '98 pits up to four players against each other, but unlike other
sports games this does little to heighten the gameplay experience. With
the exception of Curling, players play consecutively -- not at the same
time -- which makes for a whole lot of waiting. If you have to stare at
three players slowly "slaloming" their way down a gently sloped hill for
minutes, even the most hardened players will eventually lose interest
and cry for GoldenEye.
Overall 5 out of 10
Nagano Winter Olympics '98 is a flawed game with a few highlights
that has "hurry and get it out in time for the Olympics" written all
over it. There is virtually nothing here that even comes close to Sega's
Winter Heat, or Epyx's classic Winter Games. If the TV-coverage of the
Games isn't enough for you, you will probably want to rent Nagano for a
day or two -- but be warned that this is not a good multiplayer title.
Konami has shown what it can do with International Superstar Soccer
(programmed by its in-house team "Major A"), but Diamond Dusts's first
64-bit effort will leave you out in the cold. This one won't win any medals.