It’s the Winter Olympics! Maybe you’ve heard of this quadrennial event, and perhaps even watched it on TV!
Well the fact that they are ongoing inspired me to recall the greatness (at least how I remembered it from my childhood) that was Nagano Winter Olympics 98 on the Nintendo 64. I never actually owned this game, but had to have set the record for most rentals of it from the Family Video down the road from our house.
Well one trip to eBay and $7 later I had a copy of it for myself that arrived Saturday morning and spent my weekend playing the game to get into the Olympic spirit, and to see if the game was as much fun as I remembered growing up.
Nagano Winter Olympics 98 was the first Olympic video game on a modern system with 3D graphics.
The N64 version only had 12 events:
Alpine Skiing, Downhill
Alpine Skiing, Giant Slalom
Speed Skating, 500m and 1500m
Ski Jump, K90 and K120
Freestyle Skiing, Aerials
Weirdly, the PS1 version had three extra events, Short Track Speed Skating, 500m and 1000m, as well as Alpine Skiing, Super G.
And it only had 16 countries that you could represent in the games: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, United States.
The game also only had two game modes, Olympics Mode, where you pick what event you want to do, and you perform the event like you would in the Olympics. So if there are two runs or races in speed skating, you do two runs, and you compete for (obviously) medals that accumulate over time, provided you have a memory card.
The other mode is Challenge Mode, where you compete in seven events (Snowboard slalom, speed skating 500m, ski jump K120, snowboard halfpipe, freestyle skiing aerials, bobsleigh, downhill skiing) and you only get one chance in each event, with your score/time earning you points that accumulate over all seven events, and the most points at the end, again, winning medals. This is the more fun mode and can be done in like 15 minutes, and would be a great party mode to see which of you and your friends is the best overall Olympian.
So needless to say it was not the deepest or most robust lineup, but that doesn’t much matter as long as the games are good. And the games, well, some stand the test of time and others are really a dud, but we’ll get to each of the games in a bit.
Again, this was the first 3D Olympics game on a modern system, but the graphics are really nothing special. The characters are pretty pixelated and move really rigidly, but for the most part in every event you aren’t trying to do exact precise little movements where you need fluid movements. The bigger issue with the graphics is that things like gates in skiing just kind of pop up in the distance, forcing you to react rather than knowing where things are and being able to plan your movements ahead. But the branding of the Olympics is spot on in each of the events, and honestly the couple of events that are indoors have nice looking stadiums.
The sound is also good on the game, with pretty realistic natural sounds for each sport. So it’s a mixed bag across these things.
This is why we’re here, graphics and whatever else can be important, but if the games aren’t fun, then the game isn’t fun no matter how it looks. And over the 12 events we have on the N64 version, it was like the sound and graphics, a mixed bag.
Here’s a brief rundown/review of each event, some of which I’ve combined into one review if it’s the same thing, like speed skating or ski jumping, same event, just different lengths.
Downhill Skiing/Slalom Skiing/Slalom Snowboarding: Meh. Controls are simple, you are launched from the start and steer your guy (sorry there are no women on this game) down the course. You can edge to get around sharper turns. You eventually start to learn the course and shave time off, but this is an event where the graphics having gates just pop up makes it tough. For one of the Olympics’ premier events, this is a bit of a letdown, but overall not bad.
The slalom events might be more fun, because you can get into a rhythm with the turns to get through each gate, and the courses are more compact, making it easier to see the gates and what’s ahead. Your character also seems to control a little better in the slalom events.
Snowboard Halfpipe: Here is an event, especially with how much snowboarding and skateboarding games have evolved over the years, that doesn’t stand the test of time very well. Rather than use the joystick like you do on current games, you have no control over the rider and you hit a series of button combinations before the lip of the halfpipe to pull off tricks. It responds and works well, but it’s a little boring and the tricks don’t look that cool. This might have been really good in 1997-98, but now it’s blah.
Speed Skating: This is one of the two best events on the game, because it is also one of two events that has strategy involved. The game is simple, you just press the Left and Right shoulder buttons alternate to skate in rhythm like you would in real skating, but there’s also a stamina bar and you need to figure out how to conserve enough energy to keep skating smoothly to the finish line. Not a deep game, but well done.
Bobsleigh/Luge: You start at the top of the hill, try to build up speed at the start then steer your sled to the bottom in the fastest time. Pretty straight forward. The bobsleigh is a little tougher with having to time getting four guys in the sled. The sleds control well (luge turns a little quicker than bobsleigh), and actually runs smoothly for as fast as this moves. Nothing special, but it’s well done and fun to try and see what your best time is.
Ski Jumping: It feels random. You hold down the joystick in the down direction as your character heads down the hill, then at the lip of the jump you push up to launch your character into the air. While in the air you “steer” your guy to balance them out to try to fly farther, then hit A at the bottom to land. It’s pretty simple and really rewarding when you get a huge jump. But the launch at the top feels random. You feel like you did everything right…and your guy “flies” like 40 feet and you don’t get a score. Again, not bad, but feels a little lacking.
Aerials Skiing: Awful. Hands-down the worst event on the game. You pick a trick, your character goes down a little hill and you mash the A button as fast as possible to build up…something, and then you hit B to try to land. I have tried so many tricks on this and different ways to do this, and I cannot figure out what the hell is a good or bad run on this. You fall when you think you did well building power and timing your landing, and even when you think you land well your player still goes into a crouch. There is little help, and you just feel lost. Not good at all.
Curling: Curling first appeared at the Olympics in 1998, and they made sure to get it in the game! And it’s surprisingly well done! Your stones slide realistically, the sounds are spot on, and there’s strategy! It’s sort of curling-lite, because matches are only four ends, and in each end both teams only throw four stones, but that’s to save on time. If you reach the gold medal match, that’s four matches and at least an hour of playing. My only complaint is the aiming isn’t exactly precise (you pick your aim and power, and there’s a green guide that gives you an idea of where your throw could end up), which can cost you on some shots.
As you probably guessed from reading nearly 1,400 words to this point, it’s a mixed bag. There are some very good events, some solid to OK events, and then a couple that are real duds. The lack of games, countries hurts the game’s replay value, but if you want a fun Olympics party game to play with friends, the Challenge Mode is a fun way to do it. The game is also a fun nostalgia blast, and a fun way to remember all the best and worst things about the Nintendo 64 in one package.
SCORE: 6.5 out of 10