Go for the gold–at home

By Jae-Ha Kim and Misha Davenport
Chicago Sun-Times
February 21, 2002

The Winter Olympics come to a close on Sunday. But the competition can live on in a slew of games for Playstation 2, GameCube and XBox.

Our distinguished panel of international judges (OK, there are only two of us–but we’re of Irish and Korean descent) evaluated the games and awarded them with gold, silver and bronze honors. In one heated tie, there were two winners for the gold. But then, that precedent already has been set.

SNOWBOARDING

GOLD (TIE)

AMPED (Microsoft, E for Everyone, Xbox)

So, you’re thinking about jibbin’ for a livin’? For a real snowboarding experience without buying a board and hitting the slopes, look no further than “Amped.” You begin the game with crappy clothes and a lousy board. You make your way through a run trying to impress would-be sponsors and the media. Grab either group’s attention with real moves like stinky stalefish (grabbing the heel of your board while your knees are apart) and you’re on your way to new duds and boards. The graphics are awesome and the soundtrack includes electronic, emo, hip-hop and ska, among others. Plus, you can rip your own songs to the hard drive to listen to while you play. Duuuude, sweeeet! (Misha Davenport)

SSX TRICKY (EA Sports, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Even if the idea of eating a doughnut is more appealing to you than executing one, you’ll be stoked with this game. It capitalizes on the daring nature of snowboarding with loud techno music and some familiar-sounding characters. The makers enlisted celebs such as Lucy Liu, Macy Gray and Bif Naked to lend their voices. But it’s rad-sounding David Arquette who is most like an authentic boarder. “Tricky” is the updated, cranked-up follow-up to “SSX,” which was released a year ago on PS2. One of the gripes about “SSX” was that it was too difficult to master. “Tricky” is a little easier to play, but it still is a challenge to successfully perform tricks, which makes your character race faster, which in turn helps you win the gold. The visuals are sharp and clear and have greater depth than any other snowboarding game on a Nintendo system. The characters are well-developed, and a lot of attention has been lavished on the background settings. (Jae-Ha Kim)

SILVER

ESPN’S WINTER X GAMES SNOWBOARDING (Konami, E for Everyone, PS2)

Danny Kass just picked up a silver medal in the Olympics, so we’re inclined to award a similar medal to the Konami title because gamers have a chance to compete as him. You also have the option of starting from scratch with a lousy board and very little skills to create your own personality. The moves were trickier to execute than with “Amped,” but you have to love a game where points are awarded for charisma as well as talent. (Misha Davenport)

BRONZE

SHAUN PALMER’S PRO SNOWBOARDER (Activision, E for Everyone, PS2)

Besides hearing some bitchin’ music by Papa Roach, Alien Ant Farm and Orange 9mm, players get the chance to ride the, uh, snow like X-Games gold medalist Shaun Palmer and his pals Tara Dakides, Leslee Olson and Ingemar Backman, who are all featured in the game. The animation is first-rate and faithful to the slopes on which they’re based and, just as important, to the characters’ actual lines and movements. Players speed down the slopes executing intricate trick combos (ollies, grinds, flips) that defy gravity. Players may venture from eight slope locations such as Squaw Valley and Kirkwood to explore hidden areas and try to stick tricks off anything that can give them momentum. The more complex movements require “Street Fighter”-style combination moves that, for this player, resulted in consistent crashing. But once you master the circular motion to keep these dudes flying, you’re on your way to a medal. (Jae-Ha Kim)

HOCKEY

GOLD

NHL 2002 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PS2)

Don’t like hockey? Doesn’t matter. You’ll still enjoy this exciting game.

Start off by peeking at the roster and checking out your players. Then get ready to play. The Breakaway Cam is there to show awesome close-ups of one-on-one challenges and puck maneuvers. Execute enough spectacular body checks and other stunts and you earn in-game NHL cards. The more cards you collect, the faster your players go.

The sound quality is simply awesome and includes music by the Barenaked Ladies (whose Ed Robertson last was seen sporting a speedskating uniform while the band entertained the crowd at the Olympics). But it’s even more impressive to hear how the sound accentuates the game at crucial moments. When the player skates to make a goal, the fans cheer. The closer he gets to the opponent’s goal, the cheering fades and the beating of his heart crescendos into a nice Edgar Allan Poe moment. (Jae-Ha Kim)

SILVER

NHL HITZ 2002 (Midway, E for Everyone, Xbox)

The player control is fluid and the game gives you the options of exhibition, championship or franchise game player, but the player animation while playing the game isn’t as great as EA’s “NHL 2002.”

However, Midway scores a silver medal for incorporating the one aspect of the sport we truly love: senseless, underhanded violence. Whether it’s introducing a fellow player’s teeth to your hockey stick or their entire body to the boards, we couldn’t get enough. Now that’s hockey! (Misha Davenport)

BRONZE

ESPN NATIONAL HOCKEY NIGHT (Konami, E for Everyone, PS2)

Konami deserves to be sent to the penalty box for this one. Yes, a lot of detail went into the game, from players’ statistics to the look of both the arenas and the players themselves. Still, you don’t buy a video game for trivia or because it looks nice. You buy it to play hockey, and that’s where this game comes up short. Players were so unresponsive to my button and stick manipulation, I shouted more obscenities at them than a real NHL coach. In real hockey, players do things like race toward the puck and check someone into the boards. These features are missing from “ESPN National Hockey Night,” and the result is game play that’s less exciting than your average minor league team. (Misha Davenport)

 

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