Gamers that remember the excitement of the Winter Olympics might be looking to reenact some of the niche sports they witnessed on their gaming consoles. One of the more niche sports the Winter Olympics offers is the Biathlon. This sport originated as a Norwegian military exercise that combined the diametrically opposed activities of cross country skiing and precision rifle marksmanship. Developer 49 Games released “Ski and Shoot” for the Nintendo Wii. This game is the lone offering for Biathlon in the United States. 49 Games has released multiple ski related games in Europe. This is a niche game for a relatively obscure sport in the United States hence the game’s literal title. As a niche game, the developers run the difficult tightrope of pleasing hardcore fans of the sport and drawing the casual consumers that the Nintendo Wii is known for attracting.
On the face, Ski and Shoot has a lot going for it. A sport requiring precision shooting is perfectly at home with the Wii’s motion control. Skiing should be accurately mimicked using the Wii controller as ski poles and the Wii balance board for emulating skis with leaning directional control. The player can select real world men and women Biathlon athletes or create a custom character. These characters compete in actual Cup and Championship circuits. Throughout the player’s career, points are earned that are used to improve specific attributes such as speed, power, stamina, and technique.
Upon starting the game, the player chooses an athlete or creates one of his or her own. Initial attribute points are allotted to custom characters to give them unique strengths and weaknesses. A starter character can be a strong skier and weak shooter, vice versa, or good at both but mastering neither. As the athlete proceeds through the career earned points can improve these skills. Disappointingly, the only other customization options are the character’s physical appearance and clothing.
The next step is choosing an event. The race starts one of four ways. Individual starts have the racers start at five second intervals and the finishes are ranked in order of overall time. If a target is missed during the shooting portion of an individual start race, a ten second penalty is tacked on to the total event time. Sprint events start like individual events but missed shots require a penalty lap for each target left standing. Pursuit races take place after an individual or sprint event. Athletes start pursuit races in the same order in which the prior race was finished. Mass start events have all of the athletes starting simultaneously.
The ski mechanic of the game uses the Wii controller to simulate the stroking of ski poles. The player leans to the side to steer. If the player has a Wii balance board, this can be used to control turning and speed. Increasing weight to the side of the board makes the character turn in that direction. Leaning forward increases the skier’s speed. Pressing the “A” button makes the skier sprint, the “C” button activates a skier’s unique special skill, and holding “B” and “Z” makes the skier tuck in for downhill sections. Using the balance board gives the player a better sense of immersion than just using the nunchuck.
To keep the player from simply waggling the controller quickly to accelerate the skier, there are two meters on the screen. One is for stamina and the other for power. A gray bar on the power meter indicates how much the skier can exert him or herself before draining stamina. Preserving stamina is key when the skier enters the shooting portion of the race. Stroking the ski poles too quickly will leave the skier fatigued and slow. Stamina is best saved for quick sprints to pass other skiers and for making accurate shots with the rifle.
The controls would have benefited from buttons corresponding more accurately to the real world counterpart. The action of skiing consists of stroking both control and nunchuck simultaneously. This is fine for when the skier is taking powerful sprint strides. When a skier is cruising, he or she should be alternating strokes with the left and right hands.
The shooting mechanic is also similarly very basic. Ski and Shoot neglects all of the intricacies of competition level marksmanship. I would have liked to see the slow rise and fall of the rifle sight as the skier inhales and exhales. More so, the front sight of the rifle should bob up and down with the skier’s heartbeat. The reload button is assigned to the left controller’s analog stick. This was an odd choice because cycling the bolt on a biathlon rifle is performed with the dominant hand, usually the right.
Lastly, the fans of the sport would have been floored if the game allowed for sponsorships and equipment upgrades. A beginning biathlete could have started with basic equipment and unlock or buy better equipment as the career progressed. This could have been in the form of better-engineered skis, customizable skis according to race conditions, and obviously match grade rifles and parts.
Overall, the game is fun but shallow. A game about a sport that is very niche with a hardcore fan base deserves more depth. It is entertaining but may appear too odd a game for casual gamers and too basic for hardcore biathlon fans.