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The weather has been cooler than Prince Charles lately, so what better time for Rik Skews to look at Winter Olympics, a game based entirely on sports played in such chill-some conditions.

Winter Olympics Strike me with a brick, was it really ten years ago that Summer Games, the first of Epyx's classic games series appeared? Amazingly enough it is. An although a heck of a lot of computer software has flowed down the river of time since, the basic format of these sports-based games has remained much the same.

This year it was the turn of Lillehammer in Norway to host the 27th Olympic Winter Games. So what's the game all about then? You (and up to three friends if you've got them) can compete against each other (the different players are represented by different competing countries) as well as, or with up to 15 spirited computer opponents.

There's 14 disciplines, covering six Olympic winter sports: these being alpine, bobsleigh, luge, biathlon, short track speed skating and ski jumping. And you choose up to four of them at any one time (the biathlon is always included).

Clearly the first thing that Winter Olympics has going for is that there's no figure skating event, the bane of the Epyx product, while the included opening and closing ceremonies turn up the atmosphere no end. Sadly, all the games apart from short track speed skating are one-player only which takes some bite out of the gameplay. After all, all the good things in life are best done with a partner, eh?!

INTRODUCING
So just what are the sports on offer? Ladies and Gentlemen, in no particular order, may I present them.

Biathlon is a combined sport of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting and takes the form of a link event (just as it did in the Epyx game) between the other sports. Movement of the athlete is achieved by simply moving the joystick left and right in a regular rhythm while shooting is achieved by, you guessed it, moving the cursor over the target and slapping that fire button. This is perhaps the strongest event on offer here. Ignore the boring walking section and wait until you're reached the targets. The graphics here are very good, particularly the view through the viewfinder. The gun handles very well, with a lovely weighted feeling. Pleasing stuff indeed.

The downhill track is based on what is apparently one of the world's toughest downhill courses. The winner is whoever completes the course in the fastest time after just one run. Miss a gate and you'll be disqualified. However, you can continue to complete the course but no result will be given. Hitting the track-side obstacles is not advised unless you want to become a permanent Christmas figure. Control here (as with all the Alpine disciplines) is achieved by moving the skier left and right, while pressing up tucks the skier, speeding him up in the process, while holding the joystick down brakes him.

The futuristically named super-g is up next. Another alpine event, this is set on a somewhat shorter track than that used for the downhill. Again the winner is decided after one run.

The giant slalom's next. The winner here is decided after two runs. It's a case of lowest overall time winning. Slalom is much the same, other than the winner here being the competitor who has the fastest aggregate time after two runs. All the downhill courses are very weak gameplay wise, partly because they are too slow, with little to avoid, but primarily because they are far too long.

Winter Olympics Last of the ski-based events is the ski jumping section which requires strength, grace and courage, not to mention a healthy insurance policy. Competitors with "Eagle" in their name are frowned upon, especially if they're representing Britain. Two jumps are required, with points being awarded for style and technique as well as the distance achieved. Hitting fire when the green light shows sends your skier spinning off into oblivion. Just like real life going through a red light means instant disqualification. Tapping left or right keeps the skis straight which is essential to build up speed. Once in the air it's "simply" a case of keeping the correct stance by moving the joystick up and down and pressing fire at the right time as you come in to land. Leave the fire button too long and you could find yourself becoming an experiment in 3D television as you hurtle towards the world's press screaming wildly. Despite the simplicity of this event it's actually pretty good fun thanks mainly to its speed, and I'll bet you'll never tire from making your competitor crumple up in a heap. Hear those tendons snap!

Bobsleigh next. Yep, speed rush city this one. Expect to push your competitors to 4 G as you hurtle down the course's 1,365 metres. The control here is of the waggle-waggle variety with frantic left and righting to push-start the bobsleigh. Once in it's simply a case of pushing either left or right to keep the best line on the track.

Winter Olympics Coming in to the home straight and it's the luge event we bump into. This strange piece of kit is for one or two people who hurtle around the track bobsleigh-style in a light toboggan. The controls here (and indeed the game itself) are much the same as the bobsleigh event, although the winner is the person who has the best aggregate time over two runs. Bobsleigh, Luge whatever is up there with Biathlon. The 3D effect is fast and convincing and the grating sound effects give this event a real hang-on-to-you-pants effect.

Lastly, there's short track speed skating, where you get to wear rather raunchy skin tight-togs as you hurtle around an icy track with a group of similarly clad skaters. Once again it's a case of using left and right to build up speed. In case you wonder how you move it's a case of shifting left and right on the joystick with the fire button pressed down. This is a frustrating event to start with and requires a lot of time to get used to. Bear with it though 'cos it's the fastest event on offer and pretty damn exciting I can tell you, especially with those skin tight clothes. Phwoar!

So, all original stuff on offer huh? No, not exactly. And that's a big problem with Winter Olympics. You're likely to have seen games like this a million times before. Most of the sub-games require little more than either waggling the joystick or tapping it left or right. You could argue that this is a welcome blast from the past but the old Epyx games had much more variety than this. Take the similarity here between the four skiing events for example. The downhill and Luge are much the same also, hardly likely to create long lasting gameplay eh?

Presentation is very good though, with lots of options and some nicely detailed graphics, especially on the still screens. Sound FX are convincing too, and the tunes, while not being strong musically, create a suitably tense feel as you rush around the courses. If you're looking for a good blast from the past then take a gander at this, as it recreates the feel of the old Epyx product pretty well, and is the sort of game you'll dig out on occasions for years to come.

CU Amiga, March 1994, pp.68-69

GOLDEN MOULDIES
The earliest recorded date given for the first Olympics is 776BC., although historians, being the knowledgeable people they are, believe the games began well before then. Staged during midsummer at Olympia, (with The Grateful Dead supporting no doubt) the festival became a regularly scheduled event during the pre-Christian golden age of Greece. The Games were held in honour of Zeus, the most important God in ancient Greek mythology and all wars would cease during the contests. There must have been a lot of bored people however, because records suggest that the first Olympics boasted only one event, a 200yd (183m) foot race.

THE SUN NEVER SHINES IN NORWAY
Apart from having a fairly decent footy team the Norwegians aren't exactly famous for much are they? Okay, so if this was 1986 then A-ha could safely be added to the list but the only other things we could think of what they tend to say "moose" quite a lot and all their cars are called "Fjords". The accompanying souvenir brochure of Winter Olympics doesn't go a long way to changing our opinion of the Norwegians as it describes the region's favorite leisure pursuits as swimming, angling and swimming. The Norwegians, they're a bit boring, aren't they?

U.S. GOLD 32.99
A500
A1500
A500+
A2000
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U.S. GOLD, HNITS 2/3 HOLFORD WAY, HOLFORD, BIRMINGHAM B6 7AX TEL 021-6253366
 
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OUT NOW
SPORTS SIMULATION
U.S. GOLD
JOYSTICK, KEYBOARD
3
1-4
NO
1Mb

 
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84%
78%
73%
79%
A fun in most parts, nicely executed game.
OVERALL: 79%