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Nagano Winter Olympics '98 Review

Publisher - Konami
Developer - Blue Byte
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 5/10

Olympic games may be the hardest sport game to make. Events tend to be short and player interaction is usually limited to repetitive button mashing. Konami, who gave us the outstanding International Superstar Soccer, offers Nagano '98. Unfortunately, this game doesn't come close to meeting ISS's standards.

Fans of Olympic video games will surely remember the definitive classics by Epyx: Summer and Winter Games. This serves as the basic archetype for an Olypmics title. You are presented with a variety of events. Each event is a series of attempts at event. You and your friends perform consecutively, almost never entering into direct confrontation, and the guy with the best score wins. While this may work for some events, most of the contests end up being stale and boring. Nagano continues this proud tradition.

There are two key elements that make most sports games: competition and teamwork. This is derived from playing in conjunction with or directly against another human player. The integral flaw in Nagano '98 and most Olympics games is that you never directly meet your opponent. When you play an auto racing game, the best rush comes from racing head to head against a buddy. Imagine playing the same game, but only one player at a time. You declare the person with the best time the winner. Granted, you are in a competition, but you don't get the thrill from challenging someone head on. That's the underlying problem with this game. In spite of this, some of the events are still entertaining.

Here's what Nagano gives you for events: Alpine Skiing / Giant Slalom, Alpine Skiing / Downhill, Ski Jumping / K=90 and K=120, Freestyle Skiing / Aerials, Snowboard / Giant Slalom, Snowboard / Half pipe, Speed Skating 500m and 1500m, Bobsled / Four-man, Luge / Single, and of course Curling.

Both Alpine Skiing events and the Downhill snowboarding come off feeling like the same event. The presentation is graphically weak and the only sounds you'll here are crickets outside your window. The main problem with these events is frame rate and speed. None of these evens feel very fast. The snow textures are streaked in an attempt to give the impression of speed, but it just doesn't work. Part of the problem is that you don't accelerate fast enough. You start at a turtle's pace at the top of the hill. By the time you work up to a speed that feels even mildly threatning, you're at the bottom of the hill. Do you remember Slalom for the NES? That was a decent skiing game. Nagano's skiing engine is bland, bland, bland.

By far the worst event, Speed Skating is a study in mindless reflexivity. Most of the events do the best they can as far as user interaction. You interact with the majority of the events with the analog stick and a button or two. Since speed skaters always take the same path around the arena, there's no need for the player to steer anything. All you do is control the skaters legs. This is accomplished by tapping the left button to kick the left leg and the right button to kick the right leg. The point is to do this to a particular rythym so you can finish the race in front and not run out of stamina. It's exactly as boring as it sounds. The real slap in the face is that you can't do this against another player- you can only directly play the computer. If you end up with a copy of the game, skip this event entirely.

While speed skating suffers from a lack of control, Ski jumping is killed by too much control. In this event, you are place on top of a scary ski jump from which you are to launch yourself into space. You have control over your angle, jump, posture, and landing. You would expect that this would be a welcome change of pace, but it makes this event almost unplayable. Far too often bad posture and angle cause you to fall over just as the event is beginning. What you get is a hilarious animation of some guy rolling over himself. This is funny the first time. After that you don't want to play anymore.

Freestyle Skiing / Aerials is a much more agreeable event than Ski jumping. You don't get the same insane heights, but your chances of success that you will even start a jump are guaranteed. This event is based on building up enough power (on a meter) to pull off a stunt. It's ok, but it doesn't have a lot of replay value.

4-Man bobsled and the luge are also mediocre events. In both events you or you and your team are strapped into a sled and thrust down a halfpipe at lighting fast speeds. Well, maybe not lighting fast speeds... You have control as far as leaning right or left, but you're married to the direction of the track. You can ignore the controller altogether through the strait sections of the track, but you have to pay attention to the corners. Much like downhill skiing, this event suffers from too few frames of animation, and it just doesn't move fast enough. Also, there's only one track. This may be realistic, but it's also boring.

I had high expectations for Snowboard / Halfpipe. Granted this isn't a dedicated snowboarding game, but most of the snowboarding games out there are pretty good. This one is ok, but it's not worth getting the game to play this event. There's a rigid feeling that makes you feel like you're watching this event on TV rather than living it. Like other events, you choose the stunts in your routine before playing then do your best to pull them off. This event would have been better if it went faster and you had a little more freedom.

Curling, while not the most revered winter game from the U.S. perspective, is actually one of the better sports on Nagano '98. This event revolves around pushing a stone on a roughly straight line across an iced surface. While that doesn't sound like a blast, this event is good because it actually lets you play against a second player. In spite of the fact that this is a slow moving event, playing a real person makes this one of the better games.

Graphically, Nagano is once again mediocre. A combination of low frame rates and low quality backdrops give the game a stale appearance. There are a few exceptions. The skating rink looks pretty good and the bobsled is bearable. There are occasional reflections, but not a smidgen of fogging, lighting, or other nifty effects. Overall, things are bland. The characters could benefit greatly from more polygons and the movements and animations could be a little more pronounced. This game is not exactly larger than life.

The sound scores above the graphic presentation. The music is decent and the crowd is believable. Oddly, there aren't any nation anthems, something that even stone-age Olympics games pulled off. Even if the music sounded like a live band standing behind you, it really wouldn't make a difference. This game has good music and noises, but it won't make this game more fun.

A few notes for those of you still interested in this cart: you can't use your rumble pak, and you may want to pick up a memory pak if you want to keep track of your best stats. Considering that Konami's first sports title was International Superstar Soccer 64, this game looks like it was rushed to the shelf. You will find a functional Olympics Sports game in Nagano '98, but you're not going to find a great sports game. If you really, REALLY want an Olympics Sports game, this might get you by, but it's not going to keep you occupied for long, and it's not a game you can play with a friend.