There’s little doubt that the humble minigames compilation isn’t exactly at home on the Xbox 360. Whether the standard wisdom that the genre is any better a fit for Wii or DS is correct or not is another matter entirely, but let’s assume that it’ll eventually work somewhere. That said, tapping buttons rhythmically can very occasionally be awesome, so in this case it’s all about the feedback.
Vancouver 2010‘s biggest problem, then, is that this is hard to measure. It does a thumpingly bad job of communicating to the player exactly why they’re going faster or slower or scored a 48 at that last corner or messed up the final jump. The ostensibly helpful inclusion of optional tutorials at the start screen of each event is a nice touch, but the lessons themselves can be hard to figure out. In a title structured almost entirely around perfect run-throughs of very precise and specific interactions, this is a vital, excruciating error. It’s initially unclear which side of the slalom gate you should be carving up in the snowboarding events for example, and the need to play through each tutorial and event multiple times to get a handle on how to even compete properly means there’s no pick-up-and-play potential in split-screen. And I still don’t have a clue how to steer the bloody bobsleigh.
Vagueness is the crux of the issue, and it applies to more than the events in and of themselves; there’s a lot of overlap. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Men’s Super-G and Ladies’ Giant Slalom, for instance, and each group of events plays in virtually the same way with subtle differences that are so spuriously distributed as to be confusing. This is particularly evident when participating in Skeleton, Luge and Bobsleigh. In the first, you mash A, hop on with B before the red line and steer with the left stick. In the second, you make timed presses of A and steer with the triggers. In the third, you mash A, hop on with B before the red line and steer with both sticks. All take place on the same track, all are hard to distinguish between for people no more literate in snowbound sports than a viewing of Cool Runnings and some SSX3 multiplayer would allow.
What if you are a die hard fan? Maybe you’re in it for the authenticity? Don’t get me wrong, the courses look great and are seemingly perfect recreations of the sculpted mountaintops on display in Vancouver right now. However, that’s like saying a fan of a possibly slightly boring band would absolutely adore their lame tribute act.
It must be stressed that it’s not entirely meritless. The presentation is very nice, if a little predictable, and aside from the atrocious, out of place music – which can mercifully be turned off – it all looks and sounds perfectly fine. One touted feature was the first person mode, and it can be interesting to experiment with. Switching viewpoints when possible is as easy as tapping the B button during a run, but ultimately it’s better to stick to third person because seeing where you’re actually meant to be going can be tough when using the former. It’s not even really worth it in terms of thrills – two tiny ski-ends or feet and an orange-tinted goggle view are the only tangible clues that we’re meant to be occupying someone’s eyeline, and there’s nothing of a full body sensation at all.
That’s a broader issue too, though. Third person may be more exciting, but it’s not even as visceral as the screenshots would suggest. Ski events are by some measure the tastiest ingredient of this bland cake, but even these suffer from a strange case of detachment which makes repeated or sustained play about as unappealing as a laboured baking metaphor. There is some fun and challenge to be eked from these, but not nearly enough.
Aside from the vanilla competition mode, there’s an alternative along the lines of Crazy Taxi 2‘s Crazy Pyramid, which can also be reasonably entertaining once the ropes have been firmly grasped. Much like everything else on display here, though, it doesn’t do itself any favours. Most of the challenges can be won incidentally by simply finishing the event as per usual, and the handful of attempts at anything remotely “zany” are uninspired and, for having exhausted Thesaurus.com’s synonyms, totally boring. There is also online multiplayer to complement these, but if it’s not dead already it will be by the time the residents of Vancouver realise their hundreds of millions of dollars are gone forever.
So, sum-up time. Vancouver 2010 has its moments, but they’re exhausted within an hour’s play. There’s nothing fancy or new to be found here – at least nothing that works – and it’s tough to recommend unless you’re absolutely desperate for some officially sanctioned quick-time-events. When someone asks you to make a game about the Winter Olympics, this is what you produce. It’s just a shame that – like the Games themselves so often are – it’s all a bit sterile and dull.