When we reviewed Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge on the next-generation consoles earlier this year, we recommended it, albeit without much enthusiasm. It was a fun game with a good sense of speed and a budget price tag, but it was short and had at least its fair share of flaws.
On the Wii, there's still a budget price tag, but the old problems return, accompanied by some new ones. The additional issues turn the game from a decent buy into a title that most racing fans should probably pass up.
The basic feature set is the same. You can play single races by yourself or with a friend (local only), but the main focus is the career mode, which is a mix of races and stunt courses. In both versions we found the stunt courses to be frustrating and in general not much fun, so before investing in this game, be aware that racing is pretty much all there is to it. Between races, you can spend your winnings upgrading and customizing your snowmobile.
Though this is an arcade racer, not a sim, a snowmobile is a bit tougher to drive than a car. In addition to accelerating, braking, and steering, you have to lean forward and back. Leaning forward puts your weight on the skis, making it easier to turn, and leaning back puts your weight on the tracks, making it easier to accelerate. You also lean to align your snowmobile to land after a jump. Leaning was fairly difficult to master on the Xbox and PlayStation when it was mapped to up and down on the left joystick; here, you have a choice between using the Nunchuk and tilting the Wii-mote.
Wii purists will, of course, opt for the more "realistic" tilt controls. Our advice? Don't do that, and if you do, plan on watching your snowmobile careen from left to right, on and off the track, until you get the hang of it. It takes a while to figure out which way to tilt the Wii-mote to get the effect you want, and a while longer before it becomes second nature. Many people who rent the game will probably give up first. The whole point of the Wii's motion controls is to make gaming accessible and intuitive, but here they have the opposite effect. Other issues with this setup include the mapping of the boost to the minus button, which is a little bit of a stretch, and the fact that shaking the Wii-mote resets your sled to the center of the track, which happens by accident now and then (especially if you're used to shaking the Wii-mote to perform tricks, as in Mario Kart Wii).
The Nunchuk setup is far superior, but it still reminded us of how frustrating it was to learn to steer in the game's earlier version. When taking the game's many sharp turns, if you don't hit just the right combination of turning, leaning, and slowing down, you crash. We wish the developers had been a little more forgiving, perhaps by giving the option of automatic leaning. It's certainly not an impossible skill to master, and there's enough rubber-banding that you can get away with crashing now and then, but it's a frustration factor that doesn't need to be there. No one wants to repeatedly fail a racing game's fourth track.
By pressing one of the eight D-pad directions, you can perform a trick during a jump. This works for the most part, though you have to spend some time learning what each trick is and how long it takes. If you perform a long trick on a short jump (or run into another racer mid-trick), you crash, and you can earn more points by performing multiple tricks in a single jump. Tricks build adrenaline, as does taking out other racers, and when you fill your adrenaline meter, you can get a speed boost. The boosts are fairly hard to come by, but they create a nice sense of speed.
This game wasn't exactly a graphical powerhouse on the next-gen consoles, and it doesn't break the mold on Wii, either. The tracks look about the same as they did before (fine, but not much detail), but the racers themselves now look downright blocky. The framerate issues are a lot worse, or at least a lot more noticeable, than they were before. In terms of sound, the title still features decent effects, but the pop-punk songs still get repetitive and don't quite fit the mood.
Lots of other problems from the original game stick around for this port. The A.I. makes your opponents cluster together closely; you spend a lot more time in first and last than in between. The game is shorter than its full-priced competitors, at maybe a work day's worth of content. It's hard going for beginners, because there's no tutorial and you get only a few easy tracks before being thrown into some seriously difficult mazes of sharp turns. You can't adjust the difficulty, either.
To be fair, the game's biggest redeeming feature is still there, too. Once you get used to maneuvering your sled around at high speed, the overall experience of racing is reasonably fun. It takes some work to learn the tracks, the game saves every race so you don't have to keep playing the same ones, and new tracks unlock quickly. If you stick around past the initial frustration, there are some rewarding experiences to be had for your $30.
On Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge was a decent buy, but the game lost some good attributes in the transition to the Wii. The developers botched the chance to create a new, accessible control scheme, the graphics took a hit, and all the old problems are back. It's still possible to have fun racing in this game, but given the steep learning curve and plethora of other Wii racing options, there's no answer to the question of, "Why bother?"