Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding
by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Just in time for winter, Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding arrives for the Atari Jaguar video game system. On the slopes of the world-famous French resort, one or two players race down the hill while dodging trees, fences, snowmobiles, and other hazards at over 100 miles per hour. The slalom, giant slalom, and downhill events offer practice and formal competition against other athletes, while freeride mode lets snow fiends barrel down the mountain versus the clock.
Based on ElectroBrain's Tommy Moe's Winter Extreme for the Super Nintendo, Val D'Isere is an uncomplicated game that successfully recreates the heady rush of downhill skiing and snowboarding. The emphasis is on speed and excitement over realistic simulation. Crashing into a tree at 90 MPH results in a loss in time, instead of total elimination. Controls are crisp and responsive, with easy access to light and sharp turns, jumps, acceleration and braking. The default configuration is a bit strange, but ten controller configurations ensure that players will find a scheme right for them.
The difference between skiing and snowboarding is only superficial, but the various game modes offer a healthy variety of gameplay. Freeride is the simplest form, where the main concern is to reach checkpoints to get more time to finish the current run. Adding to the variety are forks along the course and different slopes, but the emphasis remains a race. In formal competition, the object is to pass through gates along the path and finishing early enough to avoid elimination. Subtle differences flavor each mode, from the slalom's focus on sharp turns to the downhill's liberal speed allowances. A competition has its own set of five challenges consisting of three races each. In training mode, however, players can only pick from the first race of the first four challenges.
Though Val D'Isere offers no difficulty settings, it's also fairly forgiving. For example, while collisions cost time, nicking an obstacle often only results in a minor loss of speed. That's not to say the game's a pushover; the difficulty of later slopes and challenges increases at a fair rate, with sharper turns, wilder peaks and valleys, and more obstructions along the path. Players' progress is saved to cartridge for freeride mode; the manual mentions that progress in the competitions is also saved, but that does not happen.
The graphics and sound in Val D'Isere are high-quality efforts that fit the game very well. Visually, scrolling is fast and scaling is smooth, which work together to truly convey the sense of wild speeds. The terrain consists of soft blurs of white and blue powder spotted with patches of dirt and ice, all rushing against photorealistic backgrounds. Foreground objects are colorful sprites of near-digitized quality, while the far horizon allows players to spot obstacles in plenty of time.
Game sounds are understandably at a minimum: the rushing wind and breaking snow are the most prevalent sounds, though other noises like tumbling falls and starting buzzers are also used. Complimenting this is the high-caliber music, with a number of fast tunes playing during the action and more placid themes between runs. Finally, digitized voices, cheers, and effects round out the audio perfectly.
Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding is a winter jewel -- a high-speed, no-nonsense downhill game that's positively addictive to play. Crisp controls, a good variety of game modes, lovely graphics and beautiful sounds makes it the king of the hill for video-game skiing titles.