Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sticking Points: Winter Olympic Games '94

The reason LordKaT started "Until We Win", his video series of walkthroughs for the most famously hard games of old, was to exorcise the demons of his childhood.  Now that he announced he was ending UWW (with a bang, if I say so myself: Comix Zone), my timing couldn't be better for launching my own series of text walkthroughs, dubbed "Sticking Points.  The first installment of Sticking Points is indeed something which gave me no end of trouble when I played it as a lad.  I'm talking about Winter Olympic Games: Lillehammer '94 for the Game Gear.  I have more to say about this game, like how I came across it in the first place, but that might be better suited for a traditional review.  Look for it soon.

It's odd that I'll have to start off with the first menu in the game, but there's no in-game indication as to what it does.  This is the language selection screen; the eight flags here represent eight possible languages you can set the menu text to.  By default, the cursor will hover on the United Kingdom flag; this refers to English.  Just press 1 or 2 and advance to the main menu.  From here you can select one of three modes, plus options.  Full Olympics takes you through all 10 of the game's events in a row, Mini Olympics lets you run a program of only the events you want, and Training is just that: practice an event as long as you wish.  Before starting either Olympics mode, you can set your name (press 1), gender (2), and nation (Left/Right).  Press Start once you're done making these changes.

This game has ten events across six different sports, which are listed below in the order they appear in Full Olympic mode:
  1. Downhill (Alpine Skiing)
  2. Luge (Sled)
  3. Moguls (Freestyle Skiing)
  4. Super-Giant Slalom (Alpine Skiing)
  5. Ski Jump
  6. Biathalon
  7. Giant Slalom (Alpine Skiing)
  8. Short Track (Speed Skating)
  9. Bobsled (Sled)
  10. Slalom (Alpine Skiing)
Since some of the events are so similar, I'll cover them grouped by sport instead of individual events.  The tips I present will cover all the events in a sport, but I will point out differences when they pop up.  While I'm at it, this game was ported to other consoles, including the Genesis and Super NES (hence my use of the Genesis box art at the top of this entry), but the content within all the ports are identical.  Button names refer to the Game Gear and (Europe-exclusive) Master System versions; I am not sure what their counterparts are on the other consoles.

Alpine Skiing
At the beginning of each skiing event, before starting down the slope you get to choose from one of three steering control setups.  The first two turn your skier clockwise or counterclockwise when you hold Left/Right, and the third aims him in whatever direction you press the D-Pad.  I prefer the first option, but try them all out for yourself, preferably in Training, until you find one you can get used to.  Holding the 1 Button makes your skier crouch for more speed, but you may have to let go if you can't react fast enough.  The 2 Button makes your skier hop, which is useful if you need to continue from an emergency stop and nothing else.  Regarding the actual skiing, the top-down, isometric perspective doesn't give you much time to react to the next gate you must pass through.  As a general rule, follow the contours of the snow, and don't be afraid to turn to a near-horizontal angle even if it will cut your speed.  Hitting a gate counts, but if you miss one gate, you'll be disqualified once you finish the run.  Should this happen, save yourself some time by crashing into a bank of trees and ending the run prematurely.

Out of the four events in alpine skiing, Downhill is the longest yet easiest, with the gates farthest apart compared to the Super G, Giant Slalom, and Slalom.  Regardless of your skills in the other courses, it would be worth slowing down part of the way in the Slalom (release the crouch button, or do a sharp turn) - the track is that tough.  In addition, the Giant Slalom and Slalom courses have to be raced twice in a row; skiers are based on the sum of their two run times.  Failing either run, whether by missing a gate or crashing, ends the event prematurely.  I'm not a fan of this setup, but we'll get into it more in the review.  Note that the Luge, Moguls, Ski Jump, and Bobsled also follow this setup.

The two sledding events, Luge and Bobsled, use the same track.  The biggest difference lies in how fast they go.  To start up in both events, you have to mash buttons 1 and 2 until gravity starts pulling your craft.  Strangely, I couldn't get past this simple step in the Luge event - the second event in the Full Olympics.   Sounds like a silly thing to mess up, right?  Not if you're like me and didn't have the instructions.  See, whereas the Bobsled gets started with just one push of either button, the Luge does not.  So I would press the button once and get nowhere fast, thus rendering this event and the Full Olympics mode unplayable.  ...Yeah, I got better.  Once you get started, your only controls are Left and Right which steer your craft.  Keeping your speed up is everything in these events; in order to do that, you have to stay in the center of the track as long as possible.  In turns, this means hovering over the border of light and shadow whenever possible.

This is a freestyle skiing event where you zigzag down a series of small hills, the titular "moguls".  During the run you are expected to not only make it to the bottom as quickly as possible, but jump off the bumps and perform tricks.  You ski down automatically, but have to press Left and Right in time with each turn point to move faster.  To jump, press 1 or 2 with any direction on the D-Pad whenever you're above any of the right-hand moguls.  You have to be exact with this timing, because if you're too late or early, your skier will take a smaller jump, crash, and be disqualified.  The contestant with the best total of speed, turn, and air points wins, so for best results, take a jump at every fifth or sixth jump point.  Playing this event in Training mode adds beeps whenever you hit a jump point so you can practice your timing.

Ski Jump
This is a complicated event, and I had to do a whole mess of experimenting in Training mode to find the winning formula.  First, you have to push yourself down the ramp manually (press 1 or 2).  The torch on-screen indicates wind speed, but since there's no direction indicator, start when the flame is at its shortest.  Second, press 1 or 2 again just before you take off from the ramp; and I do mean as late as possible before going airborne.  Third, while you're airborne, your skier will lose balance and shift left or right.  Press Left/Right to correct this and stay as balanced as possible.  This will build up your style points.  Fourth, about a second before landing, press 1 or 2 one more time to land safely.  Fail to do so and you'll crash; it's not an instant disqualification like in the other events, but you'll take a severe cut to your style points.

If you don't know, the Biathalon combines cross-country skiing and target shooting events.  In this game's interpretation of the sport, there are five skiing and four shooting segments, with the types alternating between the two.  In the skiing sections, you'll see a bar on-screen with a slider moving back and forth between both ends.  To make your skier go faster, you have to manipulate the slider with Left/Right or 1/2.  If you can, get the slider to stop in the colored edges of the bar without hitting the end for best results.  In the shooting segments, you simply move the cursor with the D-Pad and press 1 to fire.  You have to hit all five targets, and you have only five shots to do so, but missing a target only adds one second onto your time.  The challenge lies in how the cursor moves slightly on its own, as if to simulate muscle fatigue.  It may seem unfair, but honestly without it, the shooting parts would be way too easy.  Note that in the final skiing segment, you have to mash 1/2 in order to move instead of using the other control scheme.

Speed Skating
The final sport, and second-to-final event, puts you on an ice rink against three other skaters with the goal of completing four and a half laps before everyone else.  Mashing 1/2 moves you forward , and since you'll spend a good 45 seconds straight doing this, find the best way to hold your Game Gear or controller and prepare for a little fatigue.  While turning corners, you'll drift to the outside, so you need to steer with Left/Right.  The trick is to avoid hitting other skaters and the inside wall, which will slow you down considerably.  It might even be worth letting yourself drift outside to avoid getting boxed in by other skaters.

And that's it for the events.  See you in four years!

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