Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding

Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding
2.5
Game Name: Val d'Isère Skiing and Snowboarding
Platforms: Jaguar
Publisher(s): Atari
Developer(s): Virtual Studio
Genre(s): Racing
Release Date: 1994
Notes: Second hand

Time for a Stupid American™ story. Before plunking this cart into the Jaguar, I thought “Val d’Isère” was a person – some winter athlete whose name they were using as a brand, like Tony Hawk or Shawn White. It isn’t. It’s a lovely French resort that acts as the exclusive setting for this game. That’s what I get for trying to step out of my place, and now I shall go back to intensely following whatever the Kardashians are doing today.

*thhhhrrrrrrrppppp*

What you can expect from this game is right there in the title, up to and including the “badical” 80’s font. You’ll take either a skiing or snowboarding racer downhill in one of three different challenge types. Further game options let you customize your experience. Freestyle mode lets you soar down the slopes and pass checkpoint gates to add to your time limit. Training lets you pick and run particular courses to learn their layout and improve your time. Compete mode randomizes the track selection and puts you in a bracket against other AI players. This bracket shrinks as poor performers get culled, and if you fail to qualify in any track, you use up one of your lives (you start with two) to replay it.

Each of these three modes is paired with one of the three challenges – Downhill, Slalom, and Giant Slalom. Let me preface the following by saying that I know diddly dick about skiing, so if you do, you’re best to ignore the rest of this paragraph. All three modes are about moving through gates defined by two flags. If you miss a gate, a penalty is added to your final time. The difference between each mode appears to be based on the distance and “size” of the gates. Downhill has nice, big gates that are spaced far apart and fairly easy to clear. Slalom has short gates that come at you in a very rapid zig-zag pattern – you have to build up a consistent left/right cadence and maintain it through the course.

All this skiing takes place in a faux-3D corridor built with scaling sprites – think OutRun. You view your skier from a locked third person view, and move them within their lane. Meanwhile, that lane shifts around beneath your feet as the game auto-steers around corners. I always found this system confusing. Its engine style was never ideal, and once polygons came around, you no longer needed to fake 3D environments. It’s also at its worst here for two simple reasons: lack of track delineation, and the judicious use of hills.

I don’t think this is the cooooooourse!!

On the first point, let’s look at Atari’s Pole Position. Same basic technology, similar gameplay. In Pole Position, your valid strip of road is always colored gray with out-of-bounds areas colored green (for surrounding grass). It’s very easy to tell when you’re moving your car off the road, even without the markers on the roadside. Here, everything is blue and white. A lighter shade of blue seems intended to mark the trail, but it’s tough to make out at high speed. The edge of the course is further marked sporadically, and usually simply with trees – which is where I would frequently find myself when the track suddenly shifts on a curve.

On the second point, despite the fact that you’re going downhill, there are bumps and ridges along the track that obscure your view. I guess unleveled tracks are a part of skiing, (though I think the groundskeeper would be fired for all the speed-slowing bare patches that appear for an additional challenge) and you can do some tricks if you press Up and just the right time. Still, it seems extreme here while artificially blocking your view of the next set of flags. I suppose the idea here is to shake up the execution of this tech – previous racers haven’t had hills so severe – but it doesn’t “look” right and introduces very practical gameplay problems.

The result is that you’re just going to have to learn the tracks – certainly not the worst requirement, but something that does get in the way of some casual pick-up-and-play fun. I was never driven by high scores or perfecting times – even in 1994 I’d be thinking about the next game to rent from the video store – but if you’re competitive and like dedicating time and effort to one particular game at a time, you’ll be able to build some skill here (even if that skill is mostly rote memorization).

Graphically, it’s fast and responsive. The track scales and zips by as quickly and smoothly as if it were arcade hardware, and it’s nice to see the Jaguar showing off some of its abilities. The frequent twisting and dipping gives an almost roller coaster effect that’s fun to watch and fairly exciting to play. My only complaint is that the speed sometimes gets away from you, and the track changes become difficult to follow.

While technically impressive, the artwork lacks variety. What’s here is great – it’s colorful and looks the part. A nice digitized photo of what I presume is the actual surrounding mountains makes up the background, and the passing trees and pedestrians look suitably sharp. There’s just not enough of them. This resort is the only location in the game, so the background never changes, the courses all use identical assets, and the only differences between them become the placement of their turns and bumps. I don’t feel like I can complain too much because, ultimately, you’re skiing down a snowy mountain – it’s going to be white. But still, without track ribbons, boards, crowds, or different times of day, it falls again on learning the layout of each track to find any long-term fun here.

There are also no characters to choose from and no high score memory. Also, there’s no direct compete option. You won’t be racing another player (real or AI) live on a run, you’ll simply be chasing their time on a board. Two player mode similarly hot swaps between the current racer. All somewhat standard for the time though.

This game and Super Burnout both show that scaling 2-D racers were one of the Jaguar hardware’s strengths. Val d’Isère screams on the console, but also dips and auto-steers a bit too much for its own good. The samey tracks and handful of reused assets don’t differentiate the tracks enough, and the pace means your best times are going to come from memorizing the tracks, not from responding to the changes you see coming. Good showcase for the Jag, but an average title in gameplay respects.

 

The Good

I’d put this up with Kasumi Ninja as supporting Atari’s claims of arcade-quality graphics in your home. Responsive controls. Speed and framerate never seem to hitch, and make each course a wild – if somewhat difficult to follow – ride.

The Bad

I’ve always hated these scaling racers for taking control away from you on turns – this one does it frequently, and throws in hills and jumps to boot. Makes it almost impossible to do well playing a reactionary game. Over 12 tracks, but no much art to make them different.

 

6 Comments

  1. carlmarksguy says:

    Oh dear; this is the exact same game as Tommy Moe’s Winter Extreme for the SNES US (SNES Europe evidently got the Val D’Isere name)…

    Does the Jaguar at least let you change your name from “PLAYER 1”, change the colors of your florescent coats and pants?

    Since its probably the same engine, I won’t ask if Skiing and Snowboarding perform differently, as I suspect I know the answer (and that answer is “different sprite, no substantive change in gameplay”)

  2. The J Man says:

    Nice catch! And you’re absolutely right – according to MobyGames, Tommy Moe’s developer Loriciel went bankrupt and rebranded themselves as “Virtual Studio.” They’d certainly be desperate enough to recycle an old game, and Atari would have been desperate enough to take it!

    Of course you can’t change your name or the colors of your racer!

    Not being a programmer, I can’t say whether it’s the identical engine or not – it’s certainly using the same theory as SNES Mode 7. From a few vids on YouTube, the art appears completely new, Jaguar appears to have more bumps and sharper turns. That could have just been the courses though.

    Also from those videos, Tommy Moe’s seems to have more gameplay than here. There were some moguls not present on the Jaguar. The SNES also has a filter effect for dusk (pink/yellow) and sunset (black) that doesn’t happen on the Jaguar. It gives some of that track variety I was complaining the Jag lacks.

    Thanks!! I completely missed this connection and learned something new! I guess I haven’t played every game there ever was yet ;P

  3. carlmarksguy says:

    No sweat – I only knew about Tommy Moe because I bought a copy a few weeks back and I was playing it last night…I’m stunned by how many “obscure” (barely documented on the web) SNES games there are, compared to the NES.

    And I’m planning on helping to correct that, one crappy alternative-sports title or SFII-knockoff at a time — tomorrow’s article on my site talks about a crappy licensed alt-sports game where you CAN change your clothes and name, it’s all very exciting (comparatively)! [/shill]

    Anecdotally, your description of the Val’s Francophonic Skiing Emporium version sounds like the play control of the Tommy Moe’s XTREME Skiing and Snowboarding (which is also XTREME)! version: you just ski or snowboard down a hill, holding “accelerate”…

    in the SNES one you control your own turns (left or right D-pad = some turn, L-wing-button or R-wing-button = sharper swerve-turn).

    But the biggest problem you describe is still in the SNES one: the track/off-the-track area is divided into “snow”, and “slightly edge of the snow” followed by “more snow overlayed with blinking ‘GET BACK ON THE TRACK’ arrows”

    -the SNES definitely has “screen obscuring filters” (yellow, whiteout, pinkish) for certain parts of certain hills.

    -the scaling-sprites trees & stuff looks better in the Jaguar prints

    -the SNES has a password screen, but I’m not sure what it would save..

  4. Marty B says:

    Haha you thought Val d’Isère was a person? That’s seriously funny, but to be honest, when I think about it, it does sound like the name of a person doesn’t it? Unfortunately this is the cliché view many of us Europeans have of Americans. If it’s any consolation, I used to think that Art Deco was a person for many years, even in my adult life 😛

    That said, I love your site. I only just came across it recently, but I had to read through all the entries in two major sessions. Hope to read more from you soon!

  5. ubergeek says:

    Hey, I was wondering why you removed my reviews from the site. Was this a conversion issue when changing servers or whatever?

    Would have liked to know the site was up again, too 🙂

    Still, glad to see you’re still doing well.

  6. The J Man says:

    Hey P! I just sent you an email about the above – let me know if you haven’t gotten it.

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