The Video Game Critic's
Winter Game Review Special
Part II

Updated 1/10/2023
I wanted add to add many new reviews to my first Winter Video Game Special, but it was just getting too long. So I started a whole new page, full of more great winter gaming ideas. So the next time you're snowed in, bundle up, grab some hot cocoa, and settle in with one of these exciting winter titles.
Sno-Cross Championship Racing (Crave,2000)
System: Dreamcast
Grade: C
screenshotSno-Cross Championship Racer probably doesn't deserve as much attention as I give it, but hey, I'm a sucker for snow games. When I gaze out the window on a cold winter night and see the first flakes of a coming snowstorm, it's Sno-cross time! This snowmobile racer features scenic tracks running through Aspen, Sweden, Calgary, and Murmansk, Russia. Aspen looks like a winter wonderland with its falling snowflakes, quaint villages, cozy lodges, and snow-covered evergreens.

The snow on the ground looks photo-realistic and I love how it "crunches" as you slice through it. The weather conditions are variable, and some races even take place at night. The sense of speed is good, and the bouncy physics is fun in a halfway-out-of-control sort of way. Sno-Cross is most playable from a third-person point-of-view, but the first-person lets you really feel the chill of getting snow kicked up in your face.

You'll race against three opponents per race, and if you're lucky two of them will collide with each other early on. The championship mode is challenging and adds a lot of replay value. Although the tracks may appear to have shortcuts here and there, they always turn out to be dead ends so don't bother. Best times are saved to VMU, and a status screen between races lets you easily repair and upgrade your vehicle.

The main problem with Sno-Cross is its imprecise controls. I realize we're riding over snow and ice here, but I have driven a snowmobile before (or snow-machine as they call it in Vermont). In the game there's a perceivable lag in the response time and you'll find yourself over-steering all over the place to compensate. Even when you upgrade your vehicle, it never feels quite right.

Making matters worse, when the vehicles incur damage they tend to pull to one side, making your life absolutely miserable. On narrow trails you may find yourself bouncing around like a pinball! A two-player split-screen mode is available, but when you combine mediocre controls with a lousy frame-rate, the results are not pretty. Still, if you stick to the solo mode there's just enough challenge and winter goodness to keep you coming back year after year.


Realsports Curling (AtariAge,2021)
System: Atari 5200
Grade: B
screenshotMy friend Brent helped me review Realsports Curling after he spent the bulk of the Beijing Olympics glued to the curling events. He explained how there's chess-like strategy to the sport, but each move must be executed perfectly - on ice no less!

We were expecting something rudimentary, but instead we got a realistic take on the sport with all the subtle nuances and even the proper terminology. The elegant glossy manual (which Brent coined "eight pages of excitement") demonstrates the developer did his homework. Heck, the cover even includes the image of curling legend John Shuster! I wonder if he knows.

The idea is to slide heavy stones down a lane of ice to get them closest to a bullseye. Realsports Curling adopts a split-screen view with the top half focusing on the bullseye and the bottom on the thrower. You must enter a series of inputs to execute a throw, followed by some optional broom sweeping which accentuates the rock movement. The physics is realistic, with the effect of a spin being very subtle.

The controls are well-suited to the Atari 5200 controller, especially when you need to precisely adjust your aim or the "weight" of your shot. They can be a little touchy though, especially when trying to aim. Graphically the game is unimpressive, with pale colors and indistinct shapes that make it hard to tell who's closest to the center. Still, this game proved a huge hit with my friends.

Nine variations support up to four players and there's even an option to watch the CPU play itself on a "relaxing afternoon when no real curling is on TV". That instruction manual blurb was meant to be tongue-in-cheek but it is really is fun to watch the CPU players compete.

Realsports Curling is an exceptional game that has its subject matter down. Brent confessed he had recently downloaded a curling game for his Switch and said this Atari game was 100 times better. If you really enjoy this sport, bump up the grade by a letter, because this is likely the best curling game you'll ever play.


Slalom (Rare,1986)
System: NES
Grade: C
screenshotI'm a big fan of snow games, and Slalom has a cheerful winter vibe that's appealing. You select between three mountains of increasing difficulty, each offering a series of eight trails to conquer. You're racing the clock, and to reach the finish line in time you'll need to ski through gates and avoid a myriad of obstacles like snowmen, pine trees, and kids on sleds. It feels like an obstacle course, but the handy jump button lets you soar right over many of the hazards.

Racing against the clock is fun, and a handy icon moves across the top of the screen so you can easily tell how close you are to the finish. Your goofy skier assumes the tuck position at the bottom of the screen, and his enormous ass is not something I need to see. The distant scenery looks nice with the purple mountains superimposed over a deep blue sky. It looks like you're skiing at night!

Unfortunately, the trail itself looks like a white road on a gray landscape. I guess the programmers wanted to clearly delineate the trail, but it makes Slalom look like a car racing game! The controls are squirrelly and lack the precision required to comfortably weave between the gates. It's not great, but Slalom still makes for a good seasonal game to play on a cold winters' night.


Smashing Drive (Namco,2002)
System: GameCube
Grade: B-
screenshotWhen we first played Smashing Drive, my friend Sudz and I were rolling our eyes. This is such a blatant Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, 2000) knock-off! You're even in a yellow cab for crying out loud! Instead of a soundtrack of licensed, recognizable tunes, apparently somebody hired their brother-in-law's garage band!

Smashing Drive is a guilty pleasure of the highest magnitude. The idea is to reach the finish line of each stage before the timer runs out. There's one CPU opponent and the rubberband AI is strong with this one. Your path through town is somewhat confined, but ramps and secret passages abound. True to its name, you can plow right through most of the traffic, although larger obstacles (like trucks and fruit stands) slow you down. That's important as there are multiple checkpoints along the way.

The game uses frequent prompts and walls of green arrows to keep you pointed in the right direction. The problem is, those green arrow boundaries are so transparent it's hard to tell which way they are pointing. The shortcuts are what make this game. It's so much fun to plow through a mall, museum, and Axis chemicals, even though it feels like your taxi is on auto-pilot the whole time. People milling around dive out of the way as you approach.

The soundtrack is worthy of mention for being so incredibly awful. The song that plays over and over in the first stage sounds like a low-budget Dragula (Rob Zombie) knock-off. Other tunes are sung by a low-rent rapper and what sounds like a shy guy on karaoke night. You can't turn down the music without turning down the entire audio. Isn't that what the TV remote is for?

Smashing Drive will eventually win you over with its bright arcade graphics, non-stop action, and pick-up-and-play style. The power-ups are fantastic. One gives you monster truck tires, letting you crunch all in your path. Another turns your wheels into circular saws, letting you slice trains and tanker trucks in half! But the best by far is the "sonic" horn. Once engaged, every vehicle in your path will explode, one by one. Sweet!

I would never accuse this game of being over-the-top, but in the Times Square stage you literally race King Kong up the side of the Empire State building! Arcade mode saves your initials to a high score screen, and there's also a head-to-head split-screen mode. But what I like most about this game is its snowy New York scenery. Had they included a Christmas soundtrack this could have been a holiday classic.


Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Complete Edition (Ubisoft,2021)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: D+
screenshotI originally reviewed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game (Xbox 360, 2013) when it was download-only. I raved about its pixel-art visuals but felt its gameplay to be a bit of a slog. Now that it's on physical media I thought I'd give it a second chance.

Scott Pilgrim's old-school graphics are striking. Its anime-style characters stay true to the comic, but it's the snowy Toronto-at-night scenery that steals the show. Every street, shop, and cozy house is so richly detailed, it's like strolling through a winter wonderland at dusk.

The game supports up to four players at once and its electronic music is fantastic! It just keeps looping and building, eventually reaching exhilarating heights. The stages generally follow the movie, incorporating all the major characters and memorable boss encounters.

The punch-and-kick gameplay seems ho-hum at first, but gets more interesting as you level up and acquire new moves. I like how damage points are displayed whenever you smack somebody. There are plenty of objects lying around you can use as weapons (bats, umbrellas, basketball, etc) but most do very little damage. I did however discover one technique that involves repeatedly bouncing a trash can off an enemy, dealing significant damage in the process.

The problem with this game is that enemies absorb way too many hits. How many times do I have to wack a guy over the head with a street sign before he flickers away? More annoying enemies block your attacks, and when knocked down they take forever to get back up. You move so slowly that collecting coins spilled from defeated enemies starts to feel like a chore.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World will win anime fans over with its old-school graphics, humor, and high-energy soundtrack. That said, its lengthy stages and repetitive button-pounding will take their toll on even the most ardent fan. You do level-up as you play, so the next time through should be a little easier. The question is, will there be a next time?


Adventures of Yogi Bear (Cybersoft,1994)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: C
screenshotI acquired Adventures of Yogi Bear last summer but one glance at the first stage told me I had to save it for winter. The snow-covered hills, ice-encrusted trees, and moon-lit sky look so cheery this might as well be a Christmas game. Yogi scampers smoothly over the fluffy powder and I love those soft tones that play as he picks up floating pocket watches. There's only one button to worry about, and that's jump.

Along the way you'll pounce on slow-moving creatures like skunks, bunnies, and snowmen. Like a Sonic title, there are two ways to approach the game. You can take your sweet time and hop on every floating basket to rack up your score multiplier. Hopping on baskets can lead you to some high elevations, but be careful because you never know what's below and you may find yourself jumping into an abyss. Taking the "speed run" approach would be fun if the collision detection wasn't so unforgiving. If a cute pink bunny comes within two feet of you you're losing a big slice of your "life cake". And you don't get a few seconds of invincibility, making you susceptible to follow-up hits.

The jazzy music is pretty good but the stages are cookie-cutter to the max. Each set of four stages look exactly alike and there are no boss encounters to spice things up. There are a few bonus stages but the "mine cart ride" thing was too confusing and the "beaver surfing" wasn't all I was hoping for. Adventures of Yogi Bear is pretty average, but if you're in a wintery mood this game offers some of the best-looking snow stages around.


Antarctic Adventure (Coleco,1984)
System: Colecovision
Grade: C+
screenshotI've developed an appreciation for Antarctic Adventure over the years. For one thing, I'm a seasonal gamer, and racing a penguin down a slab of ice definitely constitutes some quality winter weather action. The game is an early Konami title and possesses that arcade flair the company became known for. Each stage involves guiding a cute penguin down a long stretch of ice, hopping over watery holes while trying to reach an ice shack before time runs out. There's little in the way of scenery but then again it is Antarctica so what did you expect exactly?!

Your jumps need to be precise but the responsive controls are up to the task. You'll definitely need to master the fine art of jumping diagonally if you want to get very far. Sometimes a seal sticks his head out a hole, requiring you to steer clear instead. You earn points by touching green flags and snapping up orange fish that leap out of the holes. It sounds easy but each stage is only 90 seconds long and you'll need to maintain a brisk pace to reach the end in time.

Sometimes it's a tough call whether to slow for a green flag or maintain your speed. When rounding curves the penguin's momentum actually pushes him to one side, so yeah - this game is super realistic. Antarctic Adventure feels like a racing game at times and it can get pretty intense as those last few seconds count down. My main gripe is that annoying rendition of "Skater's Waltz" which plays non-stop. Drives me nuts. Still, the bright graphics, original concept, and formidable challenge make this ideal to play on a snowy winter day.


Batman: Arkham Origins (Warner Bros.,2013)
System: Wii U
Grade: B
screenshotThis game has been taking heat for lack of innovation and general bugginess, but I found this Wii U version to be as slick and addictive as the previous two Arkham titles. Origins features the same graphic style, fighting moves, stealth abilities, and even that familiar "kick the grate open" animation. The gothic visuals and the bone-crunching fights are still terrific, but don't have the "wow factor" they once did.

The title seems to be a misnomer. Both Batman and the villains are fully realized from the start; they just don't know each other yet. Once I began playing Origins I remembered why I love this series. The controls are crisp and on-screen prompts provide timely hints. The combat has a slick counter system that lets our hero easily dispatch several goons in rapid succession. Black Mask is the primary villain but there are plenty of supporting bad guys including the Penguin, Deathstroke, Copperhead, and the awesomely scary Killer Croc.

As in previous games, you overhear a lot of conversations as you grapple between buildings and creep through dark hallways. A divide-and-conquer approach is wise when dealing with gangs, and it's fun to systematically weed them out. Navigating the city can be disorienting but a quick travel option helps ease the pain. The amazing scenery looks properly weathered and aged, and the dilapidated cruise ship is downright haunting. Some areas do look very similar to others, giving you a frequent case of deja vu.

I also found the upgrade system confusing, and using the control pad for the map doesn't work as well as you would expect. The graphical detail is commendable, especially with dust particles in the light fixtures and roaches scurrying across the prison floor. The only blemishes I could see were jaggy shadows and frame-drops when grappling between buildings. The game isn't particularly hard. After you die you pick up right where you left off and your progress is frequently saved.

I think what I enjoy most about Arkham Origins is its wintry weather and holiday themes. Dating back to Batman Returns (1992), snow has always been a nice complement to the dark, gothic Gotham scenery. What I enjoyed least was the ridiculous boss battle with Deathstroke, which single-handedly gave me carpal tunnel! Overall Batman Arkham Origins has its share of been-there-done-that moments, but it's still one heck of a video game.


Cliffhanger (Sony,1993)
System: Sega CD
Grade: B-
screenshotMost of its stages are cut-and-pasted from the Genesis cartridge, but CD-quality music, film clips, and a "radical" 3D snowboarding stage elevates this Sega CD edition above the rest. Cliffhanger kicks off with some extremely grainy film clips that only consume about half of the screen. The video might look rough but it's a step up from comic-book panels of the other versions (on second thought, maybe not). There's about 20 minutes of actual movie footage in the game.

Cliffhanger is a side-scrolling beat-em-up with platform-jumping and wall-climbing challenges sprinkled in. You play a mountain climber named Gabe who must defeat the evil Qualen and his army of henchmen on snowy mountain peaks. I find it amusing how the environments were so rocky in the movie yet are perfectly flat in this game. The fighting action is faster and more responsive than the SNES version, which is good.

The stages are lifted directly from the Genesis with the exception of a new snowboarding avalanche sequence. This impressive stage uses scaling sprites to deliver pseudo-3D thrills - not unlike the driving scenes in Batman Returns (Sega CD, 1992). As you steer Gabe on a snowboard down a narrow path strewn with trees and rocks, a relentless avalanche encroaches from behind. Hearing the roar of rushing snow is unsettling, and when the snow starts building around your ankles, it's downright alarming. Unfortunately, this stage is so insanely long you practically need to memorize the entire course to survive. A checkpoint would have been nice. It's frustrating to breeze through the fights only to piss away all your lives on that single stage.

Cliffhanger's audio is a definite improvement over the Genesis version. The groans and grunts sound clear and the orchestrated soundtrack reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. My friend Eric remarked that he actually prefers the synthesized Genesis music because it "makes him feel like he's playing a video game." That's an interesting point of view. Overall Cliffhanger on the Sega CD is a pretty neat adaptation of the film, offering a richer, more immersive experience than the other versions.


Val d'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding (Atari,1994)
System: Jaguar
Grade: C+
screenshotVal d'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding has a lot going for it. The game effectively conveys the illusion of gliding down powdery, undulating slopes with gorgeous digitized mountain backdrops. Various modes let you ride freely, compete in events, or challenge a friend via split-screen. You have the option of skis or snowboard but frankly there's not much difference. Once you hit the slopes the action is silky smooth. As you hug turns and bound over hills, the sensation of raw speed is exhilarating. I love the sound of crunching snow and the pleasant soundtrack that manages to be high energy yet non-abrasive.

You'll encounter obstacles like trees, skiers, snowplows, snowmobiles, and rock piles. Keep an eye out for the chick in the blue bathing suit (good eye, Scott)! If only this game played as well as it looks. One side effect of the speed is your inability to react fast enough to turns. Your skier automatically turns slightly on his own, which is kind of weird. If you actively lean into each turn you'll find yourself way off the course, which isn't particularly well-defined to begin with. Three huge yellow arrows flash whether you're off by a foot or a mile. Making minor, fine-tuned adjustments is key.

You jump by pressing up on the directional pad, causing my friend Scott to wonder why he was jumping around like a lunatic. Jump really should have been assigned to a button, considering how easy it is to trigger by accident. Certain obstacles look ideal for jumping (like fences) yet always cause you to wipe out. The competition modes aren't too exciting (weave back and forth between gates), but the split-screen works well and the "freeride" mode is downright addictive.

As you race between checkpoints, you gradually unlock branching trails, with progress saved via battery. What pisses me off to no end is beating the clock yet missing the "finish" gate, disqualifying my whole run! Some gates are placed on turns, so you don't even see them until it's too late. While aggravating at times, Val d'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding is still a bright, inviting title that's hard to resist on a cold winter day.


Dead Space 3 (Electronic Arts,2013)
System: Xbox 360
Grade: B-
screenshotI took a pass on Dead Space 2, but when I heard the third one had snow, I was powerless to resist. Playing Dead Space 3 helped me recall the cool features that turned me on to this franchise. First and foremost, Dead Space conveys an eerie atmosphere with its dark hallways, ominous music, and screeching monsters with long, pointy limbs. When they scurry in your direction, it's alarming. Those screaming skeletal things are creepy to-the-max! One truly disgusting creature is a crawling head that searches for dead bodies to reanimate.

The snowy outdoor environments provide a nice contrast to the dark, gritty corridors of the ships, and the mammoth "snow spiders" look like something from Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360, 2007). The weapons are designed to shoot off limbs, and stomping creatures on the ground is effective. Not only is it a devastating finishing move, it usually rewards you with an item. There's no shortage of gore and you can hardly take a step without kicking a body part.

Dead Space also gives you "stasis powers" that let you manipulate large objects or slow their motion. As you can imagine, these allow for some interesting puzzles. Other puzzles require you to manipulate both thumbsticks to connect circuits, and it's fun. Your ability to jet through space allows you to freely travel between ships. Pressing in the right stick displays your "way point", keeping you headed in the right direction. That's important because there's little sense of geography in this game. As you move between small areas connected by elevators, it's hard to tell if you're backtracking or not. It's hard to tell if you're indoors or out, and at one point I swear it was snowing inside.

I like how the contraptions in Dead Space 3 tend to pop up, fold out, and whirl around until they form some kind of cool device. One such device is the workbench which lets you construct new weapons from parts and blueprints. Yes it can be tedious, but it certainly adds depth. The voice acting is decent but it's hard to tell when your character is speaking because his face is usually covered. The single player mode is entertaining, but the coop mode is on-line only, and that's too bad. The game auto-saves frequently, making Dead Space 3 the kind of adventure you can enjoy in small doses. That's good because the repetition does get to you after a while.


Frostbite (Activision,1983)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B+
screenshotAs first glance you might mistake this for "Frogger on ice", but Frostbite is actually more of a Frogger/Q*bert hybrid. The screen features a river with four rows of criss-crossing ice floes. Playing the role of a colorful Eskimo in snowshoes, you must leap between the floes while avoiding birds and crabs. Hopping on a row of ice turns it blue and adds a brick to the igloo being constructed on the top of the screen. Once the igloo is complete, you enter to collect a bonus and proceed to the next stage.

Advanced stages feature a polar bear patrolling near the igloo - a nice touch. What really sets Frostbite apart is your ability to reverse the direction of the ice floe you're standing on by pressing the fire button. This adds a lot of strategy but it's not easy to use effectively.

The game does suffer from one major flaw, and that's how you become paralyzed when touched by a bird or crab. Watching a bird pecking your face as you're helplessly pushed off a floe is frustrating. Still, you have to love the challenge. Frostbite is deceptively simple, but gamers will need to really concentrate in order to wrap their minds around this one.


Spy Vs. Spy III: Arctic Antics (Epyx,1987)
System: Atari XEGS
Grade: D-
screenshotThe original Spy Vs. Spy (1984) was a showcase title that dazzled gamers with its cartoon graphics, wacky "death" animations, and innovative split-screen format. Arctic Antics is the third game in the series, pitting the black and white Mad Magazine spy characters against each other on a glacier. A well-designed set-up screen lets you easily customize your game (map size, lives, difficulty, etc) via the joystick. The premise remains the same as both players set traps for each other while trying to collect objects needed to escape.

Instead of rigging furniture with booby traps, you're burying dynamite, sawing holes in the ice, and setting icicle traps. And instead of smacking each other with clubs, the combat is limited to hurling snowballs. That's pretty lame, as the snowballs don't do much damage at all. One new element is the need to maintain your body temperature by taking refuge in an igloo. I have as much nostalgia as the next guy (I actually take medication for it) but Spy Vs. Spy games are not what they used to be. This game just isn't much fun.

The white-and-blue scenery looks attractive but it's not very interesting. When you pick up an object, you can't tell what it is, and the lousy manual isn't much help. The escape sequence depicts a rocket taking off, and it's a lot less impressive than the airplane in the original game. The looping "music" is just plain annoying. Frankly it's more enjoyable to watch the CPU play itself, and that's not exactly a ringing endorsement.


Steep Slope Sliders (Sega,1997)
System: Saturn
Grade: B
screenshotCompared to its closest rival, Cool Boarders (Playstation, 1997), Steep Slope Sliders has the definite edge, mainly due to its smoother graphics and more forgiving gameplay. The visuals are somewhat pixelated (especially those sorry-looking cardboard "people" standing around), but the powdery snow surface looks nice as it flows under your board. The game is easy-to-play, fun, and conveys a nice sense of speed.

The courses tend to be wide-open and easy to navigate, although that's partially due to the game's lousy collision detection, which sometimes lets you pass right through obstacles like barrels. The turn control could be better as well - it's not easy to "carve" the more narrow sections. The tricks are a cinch to perform (especially compared to Coolboarders), and you get plenty of opportunities to catch air. There are even rails to grind - unprecedented for a snowboarding game in 1997.

The courses are generally unspectacular, but occasionally they'll wind through some scenic caverns or quaint little towns. In addition to normal downhill trails, you also get alpine and "snow park" courses which let you practice different skills. There's a lot of good in Steep Slope Sliders, but the game falters on occasion. First, it's awfully easy to get "stuck" in the middle of the course, and it's frustrating as you attempt to "hop" your way back onto the main trail.

After practically every run, the game prompts you to enter your initials and save, which is a real hassle. And instead of letting you change courses between runs, the poorly-designed menus force you to quit back to the main menu first! Finally, the soundtrack is bizarre and generally bad. It's got this new age/techno thing happening, but the repetitive beats sound like a broken record. Turn it down so you can hear the "whoosh" of the snow instead. Steep Slope Sliders has some problems, but if you want a good winter game for the Saturn, this won't let you down.


Torino 2006 (2K Sports,2006)
System: Xbox
Grade: B+
screenshotOddly enough, the new Vancouver 2010 (PS3, 2010) winter olympic game has given me renewed appreciation for Torino 2006. Torino offers a no-nonsense user interface that lets you play the full 15 events, a shorter 9-event competition, or customize your own. The load times are quick and the graphics are first-rate.

The ski and bobsled events convey a nice sensation of speed, giving you that "almost-out-of-control" feeling that's exciting. The camera zooms in at the tightest possible angle, making you feel right on top of the action. The rolling ski slopes look inviting, and while those blinking arrows look gaudy as hell, they clearly indicate where the gates are. The ski events require a lot of finesse but speed skating focuses on timing. The ski jump is exhilarating, and the bobsleds have a real sense of momentum as you careen through the icy bank turns. Best of all, I could easily play all of these without the benefit of reading instructions or sitting through a boring tutorial! The controls are displayed on the screen as you play, and the system works remarkably well.

Only the biathlon event suffers from non-intuitive controls. The target-shooting element is simple enough, but that circular meter that monitors your cross-country stamina is confusing! Best scores are recorded along with your initials, and these are easily viewable from the main menu. Torino lacks the fanfare of opening or closing ceremonies, but its bright white scenery looks great and the lighted night events look especially good. The athletes are realistically animated, but I find it a bit odd how about half of the athletes are black! Up to four players can participate, but having to share the same controller is a pain. All in all, Torino 2006 offers a pretty solid all-around Olympic experience.


D2 (Sega,2001)
System: Dreamcast
Grade: C
screenshotD2 is the massive, four-disk sequel to the spooky, puzzle-oriented game 'D' that came out in the mid-90s for the 3DO, Saturn, and other systems. As a haunted house mystery game, 'D' was slow-moving but conveyed an eerie sense of isolation. D2 takes place in an unusual setting: a snowy mountain.

The story begins as the main character, a blonde woman named Laura, is sitting on a plane that's taken over by hijackers belonging to some bizarre cult. The plane is then struck by a meteor (!) and crashes into a mountain. Laura awakes in a snow-covered cabin 10 days after the crash, with no recollection of what happened since. The snowy environment provides a surprising sense of terror and isolation.

As Laura trudges around the snow in her skirt and high heels, she'll investigate deserted places and collect items. The windy sound effects and snow-covered wilderness create a chilling ambiance. Although most of the time Laura is alone, she occasionally has run-ins with mysterious characters that never stick around too long.

Periodically she's accosted by bizarre monsters that appear to be humans with huge plants growing out of them. They look a LOT like the creatures from Sword of the Berserker Guts Rage. You'll hear the Dreamcast drive spin-up before the monsters appear, ruining the surprise every time.

These encounters take you into a first person "battle mode", where you blow away the creeps with your semi automatic weapon. It's an abrupt change of pace, but at least it incorporates some much-needed action into the game. Shooting the monsters is satisfying, but you'll have to deal with clumsy controls and slowdown. D2 does have some genuinely creepy moments, especially when you return to the plane wreckage. Some of the bosses are terrifying, but others are bizarre to the point of being comical.

The storyline is played out in a series of lengthy cut scenes. D2 is interesting for a while, but it really takes a turn for the worse when you enter the mineshaft labyrinth, which is a confusing maze with an endless parade of monsters that all look the same. Although the graphics are decent overall, the people in D2 don't look so hot up close, and their voices aren't synchronized with their mouths.

In terms of audio, excellent sound effects and a creepy piano adds mystery and tension, but the dialogue is pretty bad. You can save your place at any time. D2 is wildly uneven, but the compelling storyline and spooky atmosphere should be enough to keep most people's attention.


We Ski and Snowboard (Namco,2010)
System: Wii
Grade: B
screenshotThe original We Ski was fun but limited in scope. This fine sequel expands the concept in a number of ways, beginning with the option of using a snowboard. The game was designed with the Wii Balance Board in mind, and I personally wouldn't want to play it any other way. As in the first game, the balance board is only used to steer - not control your speed.

We Ski and Snowboard effectively conveys the feeling of gliding down the slopes as you lean from side to side. When I'm in a groove and trying to avoid a group of slow skiers in my path, it feels just like the real thing! In snowboard mode you stand sideways on the board, and it's a little more conducive to performing tricks and grinds. The controls are probably more complicated than they really should be, and the "school mode" is really time-consuming. Why couldn't they just list the controls in the manual? But no, instead they include worthless diagrams showing where the A button is. Who can't figure that out? The tricks tutorial expects you to remember too much, but fortunately you don't need to know them all to enjoy the game.

The main mode places you in a realistic ski resort, complete with working chair lifts, lodges, and restaurants. With the muffled music and hundreds of skiers milling around, it's quite immersive. The graphics are simple but inviting with smooth powdery slopes and scenic backdrops. I enjoyed checking out the scenery while riding the lifts, and I kind of wish you could enter the lodge and restaurants. By speaking to people with bubbles over their heads you can enter challenges or run various errands - usually of the "deliver this" or "find that" variety. There's a ton of stuff to do, but with all the quests and trick-related challenges, it can be hard to find a normal race event.

Personally I found the game was most enjoyable when I was casually exploring the various trails. The runs are well designed with all sorts of interesting features like bridges, ramps, and caves. Although the main trails are clearly defined you're free to head off the beaten path and take shortcuts through the woods. The sound effects are crisp and clear, providing excellent audio feedback of slicing through soft powder or scraping ice. If you want to take a break from the crowds, a separate mode lets you explore a giant mountain with undisturbed natural scenery. This is where you can do some "extreme" skiing action, and you can even work up a sweat if you really get into it. We Ski and Snowboard is the ideal winter game, and probably the next best thing when you can't get out to the real slopes.


1080 Degree Avalanche (Nintendo,2003)
System: GameCube
Grade: B+
screenshotBefore reviewing 1080 Degree Avalanche, I played a few rounds of SSX3 to calibrate my snowboarding sensibilities. SSX has been the de facto standard snowboarding series for years, so comparisons to it are inescapable. But Avalanche offers a very different experience.

The courses look more natural than the artificial wonders of SSX, and the gameplay is less complicated in general. For casual gamers, this may actually be a better choice. I personally love the understated natural beauty of these courses, with their powdery snow, scenic evergreens, and scurrying wildlife. Most are a joy to behold, although a few inexplicably have more mud and ice than snow (yuck).

The controls are simple as can be, although "rolling" the joystick to regain your balance seems oddly unintuitive. A more practical feature is how your character becomes transparent so your line-of-sight is never obstructed. I also like the slow-motion as you execute mad stunts in mid-air. As much as I love the racing aspect of Avalanche, I have to admit that the "tricks" element of the game is somewhat lacking. Another weakness is its music, which I recommend turning off in favor of the crisp sound effects of slicing through the icy tundra.

A terrific split screen mode allows up to four people to compete against each other, and it doesn't seem watered down at all. I only wish they would have incorporated a multi-round "championship" mode (a la Mario Kart). It's not the most ambitious snowboarding game ever made, but for those who prefer to keep it simple, 1080 Degree Avalanche is the perfect antidote to SSX.


Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (LucasArts,1993)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: B+
screenshotBack in the day my friend Eric and I were so stoked about this game we took off the day it came out so we could head straight to the mall to pick it up. The clerk at EB Games asked his manager (who was shrink wrapping games in plain sight) if we could have a free strategy guide. The response was, "Nah - save 'em for later." What a jerk! That clerk did end up giving us one to share, which was the least he could do considering we paid $75 each! We swung by McDonald's on the ride home and when we arrived back at my room Super Empire Strikes Back did not disappoint.

We gazed wide-eyed at the beautiful snow-covered scenery while chomping on our Big Macs. There's something about snow in video games that looks so pure and appealing. Riding a Tauntaun through blizzard conditions was fun, but unlike the barren ice planet in the movie, this Hoth is teeming with life.

You're relentlessly bum-rushed by warthogs, dive-bombed by birds, and stalked by probe droids. Porcupines shoot needles and plants release poisonous spores. Ice shards sprout beneath your feet and electric eels leap out of the water to get you. Everything wants you dead in the worst way, and it takes several whacks of your lightsaber to kill anything. Meanwhile you're sliding on narrow icy platforms over spike-lined pits! The designers threw in everything but the kitchen sink, so the rampant slowdown should come as no surprise.

Still, Empire manages to be a lot of fun thanks to Luke's awesome spinning attack and a generous number of health/power-up icons. Unlike the first game, Luke has the power to block with his lightsaber and employ force powers. The controls are responsive but expect cheap hits, regenerating foes, and blind leaps of faith.

The graphics are first-rate and you have to love subtle details like Luke's hair blowing in the wind. The sweeping orchestrated score adds gravitas, as do the crystal-clear voice samples (particularly Darth Vader's "Impressive!"). The entire first half of the game is set on Hoth, and the 3D stage where you take down AT-AT walkers with tow cables truly pushes the limits of 16-bit power. Later you explore the swampy jungles of Dagobah and the cloud city of Bespin with its gorgeous pastel-red skyline.

Encounters with Boba Fett will thrill Star Wars fans, and the climactic battle between Luke and Vader will have your heart racing! The six-letter password system is easy to use and a top-10 rankings screen makes it fun to play for high score. Super Empire Strike Back is clearly over the top at times, but you can't deny the greatness of this epic title.


I Am Setsuna (Japan) (Square Enix,2017)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: D
screenshotI purchased this after hearing it was a winter-themed role-playing game (RPG). What could be better than curling up with a good RPG on a bitterly-cold winter night? I Am Setsuna is a Japanese title but all the text (including menus and dialog) display in English so it's not a problem. The game certainly has a nice sense atmosphere with its snow-covered forests and quaint villages. Gentle piano music nicely complements the falling snowflakes.

I like the anime style but "monsters" like walrus, rabbits, and penguins are almost too cute to slaughter! Almost. The character conversations tend to be brief and inconsequential. The two responses you're asked to choose from are basically the same answers worded differently, so there's little if any impact on events. I find it odd how whenever a new character is encountered the game asks if you want to change their name. What is the point? Is there really somebody out there who wants to change Setsuna's name to Shirley?

The exploration element is fun thanks to the frosty scenery but the combat system leaves a lot to be desired. Each character must wait for their meter to fill before they can act, resulting in an uneasy mix of real-time and turn-based combat. When multiple meters are full, it's hard to tell who you're controlling. Worse yet, the stat boxes across the bottom of the screen aren't presented in the same order of the characters on the screen, which is confusing. Nothing worse than accidentally "curing" someone who already had full health! Pressing the Y button during an attack adds "momentum" for extra impact, but it's not clear when you timed it correctly.

The game makes a big deal of telling you it does not automatically save your progress, as if that's some kind of badge of honor. The save points in fact are few and far between. You'd think there would at least be one in each village, but nope! There were times when I felt like the game was holding me hostage for crying out loud! As if to rub it in, there is a "save" option on the menu but it's disabled.

In general I found the game to be rather dull, with boss encounters that go on forever. I Am Setsuna satisfied my appetite for winter but I feel like it tried to reinvent the wheel and it turned out square. Note: I'm told the save option is available when you are on the world map, but I still don't like the system.


For more, check out my Winter Video Game Review Special Part I.

Winter photo courtesy of Upsplash.com