Updated: Jun 30
Developer 49 Games’ winter sports title is competent enough for a family-focused budget game but as a solo experience it becomes overly repetitive and lingers into mediocrity.
The Wii's success and popularity led to an explosion in 2010 of derivative motion controlled 'casual' games across all three main console systems and Deep Silver's published release Winter Stars' the following year is definitely of that ilk.
There are eleven different sports to tackle and similar to most games of this type, their appeal is varied. The most excitement I had was from playing the racing style sports such as Downhill Skiing, Freeride Skiing, Snowboard Cross and Snowmobile as these were suitably intense and, aside from Downhill, employed a trick system which felt like a watered-down SSX game. The Para Skiing was also decent but certainly more difficult to master against tough CPU.
Then there are some hit and misses. The Bobsled races are at least frantic but never really challenging, the Short Track races are even more simple and feel too easy (tip, just hold accelerate) and the Biathlon is a little languid and tricky at first but over time is fairly fun. Figure Skating is reduced to quick-timed button presses for points but is brisk enough to avoid simple repetition.
However, the Ski Jump is not intuitive or particularly exciting and is over too quickly to feel worthwhile (the load screens are almost as long). And Curling is by far the most frustrating and least thrilling from a controls perspective but curling enthusiasts may enjoy it (I guess).
As a collective the sports are satisfactory enough and likely some extra fun when playing multiplayer either locally or online however those options weren't available for me so this was a single player experience.
As a Playstation Move enabled game there are the options to play with the Move controller or the dualshock and due to my personal preference I chose standard controls. Additionally, the game has two main control types; family mode and advanced. The Family mode is for casual pick-up-and-play which would be ideal for using at parties where people who don't play games often are given a shot. It's a neat addition but for my purpose was not required so I chose the advanced controls.
The main crux of the game is the career mode and this is where most of the time was spent. You control the fictional Flames team as they compete against their main rivals the Black Knights and others in cups and one-off challenges. Beginning with some easy tutorials and simple AI you slowly are introduced to each of the disciplines and by winning events you gain experience points which feed into the progressive unlock system for better parts and upgraded skills.
The drip-feed of the different disciplines does help to keep it feeling fresh at first but towards the 15 hour mark it became a slog of repetition and even frustration (some of the one-off challenges aren't clear and the tougher curling events towards the end will provoke clenched-teeth cursing).
The events are introduced with a fly-by of the course/arena with an excitable announcer and then some awkward cut-scenes follow with the characters of the Flames normally being chastised by the manager of the rival team. Nearly all of these scenes are cringe worthy either because of the poor facial animation and textures giving the characters a lifeless vibe, or the cartoony dialogue and questionable line readings combination which make their inclusion feel silly and even at times unintentionally hilarious.
Aside the character faces, the visuals are fairly decent and certainly at their best on events like the Para Skiing where your character will be gliding across snowy forests and mountains and the draw distance and textures really show off the graphical power of the PS3. However, some of the loading screens could be mistaken for the previous generation. The background music is also suitably tense but a lack of variety means you will be hearing the same themes over and over until you decide to switch to a podcast or music of your own choice.
Overall, 49Games created a solid family-focussed experience which can be commended for its varied control options and it’s majority of sports being fun to play however is let down by some serious repetition in the career mode as well as lacklustre visuals and cut-scenes giving a cheap budget feel to the overall presentation. Winter Stars will not have won any gold medals, but may have scraped through to bronze.