Waking up after a traumatic accident, with just the vaguest memory of what has just happened is something out of a nightmare. The most many people will ever get to this is the morning after the night before, where you roll over and just dread seeing the photos appear on the social networks during the day. Even in the magical world “bizarre accidents and injuries; they were unavoidable if you attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” and in the sports world they are equally unavoidable.
Winter Stars is the latest sports title to come out on all of the “moving” platforms. As can be gleaned from the name, Winter Stars is entirely reliant on the winter and an overriding image of winter is snow. This is something that Winter Stars has in abundance, in fact, without snow; there is no game to play at all. Unlike Wii Sports, or even Virtual Tennis, Winter Stars attempts to string together some rationale for playing the game. The lead character is a sports star who had a disastrous accident and lost not only all of his sponsors, but the vast majority of his team as well.
In an attempt to try and show the world that the team is not a failure, the failed sports star and a handful of team mates try to take on the world in a poorly acted attempt at solidarity. Unfortunately, the wooden acting isn’t the only disappointing area of Winter Stars, the graphics are simply terrible. Whilst no one expects to see your reflection, or the cat, replicated in follicle detail on the Wii, there’s still enough graphical power in the system to present a decent level, with detailed textures. Considering that the game is built around the premise of winter sports on snow and ice, textures are hardly demanding and unfortunately it would appear that snow, characters and trees are too challenging for this developer.
Of course, less than satisfactory graphics can be disregarded so long as they are not detrimental to the entire gameplay experience. After all, so long as you can see what is what, the graphics have achieved what they need to do. Yet, these sorts of graphics can usually only be disregarded if something else about the game is so amazing that it ends up pushing everything else into the background. Where Winter Stars had the potential to do this was with the controls.
Using Motion Controls is nothing new on the Nintendo Wii and with Skyward Sword showing how the Wii Motion Plus should be used; it’s set the standard impossibly high, as Nintendo tends to do. Yet, Winter Stars doesn’t require the use of the Wii Motion Plus, which immediately opens the title up to the widest audience in the gaming world; but equally limits the capabilities of the controls. With the option of using traditional Wii Waggle or the Wii Balance Board, the former isn’t particularly receptive and it’s accuracy is very inconsistent when it really needs to be perfect all of the time – especially when it comes to the shooting elements.
Whilst it’s great fun to stand in the middle of the room squatting and leaning in random directions, in an imitation of skiing, a bobsleigh and various other winter sports, the actual implementation of the Balance Board is questionable. In line with the hit and miss accuracy of the standard controller, the Balance Board is just as inaccurate and this can lead to failing the course or even worse, getting a shameful bronze.
There’s plenty to do though. The game is full of features with time attack modes, multiplayer modes and even online competition modes ala Mario Kart Wii. However, whilst there might be tons of playable modes and several dozen levels to complete it’s going to take a lot of mastering and patience to get through them due to the dodgy controls.
Ultimately, Winter Stars is a missed opportunity. There’s plenty that it’s got nearly right, but where it’s gone wrong, it’s seriously wrong. If you’re meant to be leaving from Stansted Airport and turn up at Gatwick, you’re still technically in the London region – but you’re going to miss the flight and this is the sort of “wrong” where Winter Stars sits. If you’re a huge fan of winter games and have the time to learn and guess at dodgy controls, Winter Stars is for you. For the majority of people, this game will be given a wide berth.