Version tested: Wii
Some old philosopher once described life in a lawless society as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". That's how I feel about snowboarding. Or rather the one time I went snowboarding. And you can add "cold", "expensive" and "rubbish", by the way.
So hooray for Family Ski and Snowboard, which eliminates many of the unpleasant things about real-life winter sports. It won't cost you an arm or a leg, in either sense. The risk of serious injury from flailing your arms about while standing on a set of glorified bathroom scales is low, and at GBP 34.99 it's cheaper than going to Austria.
You don't have to leave your nice warm lounge. You don't have to wear a padded shell suit. You can talk to your friends whilst playing, even if they're better at it than you, instead of watching them whizz off down the mountain like adrenaline-crazed Eskimos leaving Grandma to die in the snow.
But does this sequel improve on its predecessor, Family Ski? (Or, as I pointed out it should be properly titled, Communal Crotch Flaying.) Seeing as Family Ski and Snowboard is basically the same game with one obvious difference, you could call it Communal Crotch Flaying While Standing Sideways on a Set of Glorified Bathroom Scales, but only if you could be bothered to type that out for the rest of the review.
Family Ski and Snowboard is played by using the Wii remote and nunchuck like ski poles. You waggle them in an up-and-down motion to gather speed. This results in genital flagellation from the cable connecting the two controllers. However, it's not the only way to gather speed. I failed to point this out in my review of the previous game, but several readers kindly did it for me.
They're right, of course - you can also gather speed by twisting the controllers and tucking your arms in, and I am "seriously amateur". Sorry. The tucking manoeuvre does help to reduce the amount of crotch-flaying experienced with Family Ski and Snowboard. It's still an occasional problem though, and I'd argue that sometimes it's a bit tricky to steer and stay tucked in at the same time.
However, that isn't an issue if you're playing with the Wii balance board. You place it parallel to the TV if you've opted to ski, or perpendicular if you're snowboarding. In either case, you tilt your weight to steer. The balance board is highly responsive; in fact you need bit of practice to appreciate just how sensitive it is to your movements. It can even tell when you switch from crouching to standing, which is how you perform jumps. (Your instinct will be to do actual jumps but the game will tell you off for doing this, presumably because it's bad for the board's technomagical innards.)
Using the board is much more fun than using the remote and nunchuk alone. It feels more like you're actually zooming down a mountain, though the profusion of tiny people with giant heads and eyes like dinner plates makes it hard to fully believe you're in Val d'Isère. If you want to get all fancy you can use the remote and controller to perform special turns and tricks, and there's an extensive tutorial for those who like showing off. But if you just want to swoosh about a bit, the controls are easy to get to grips with.
As in the original game, there's a free-roaming snow resort to explore. You can muck about on the slopes at your own pace, or take part in races, trick competitions, mogul events and so on. There are plenty of characters to have tedious text-based conversations with, from ski instructors and tour guides to people who need your help to find their friend. Up to four players can hoon around via split-screen, but it can be difficult to stay together if you're of varying abilities.
It's all very nice but once again, it's a bit unstructured. Those who prefer linear progression to open-world exploration might feel a bit lost. You do get to earn rewards and unlock new goodies as you play, but in a random fashion. Plus, having to navigate your way across flat stretches of slope just to reach your chosen event gets tiresome.
If you just want to go for a bit of a ride, you'll enjoy the all-new Ride the Mountain mode. Here you get to ski or board down natural slopes free from artificial ramps, ski lifts, competitions and bobble-headed fetch-quest-givers. There's no music, and only a few other characters can be seen on the slopes. It's a much calmer, more relaxing experience, and there's something quite lovely about standing on a snowy peak, gazing at the mountain range in the distance and preparing to bomb down a sheer drop and right into your mate.
For those who are more about the bombing than the gazing there's the Competition Mode. The races and slalom challenges are ideal if you want to keep it simple, and brilliant fun. There are also trick competitions, such as the half-pipe and mogul run, which provide a real challenge for more skilled gamers.
Thankfully you don't have to do any tedious single-player unlocking - all the events and all the courses are available from the start. There's a decent number of both to choose from, and once again up to four players can take part. However, as is also the case with the other modes, only three of you can play if one person is using a Wii balance board.
One top of this, there's still no option to connect more than one Wii balance board. Seeing as every other person in the world appears to have bought Wii Fit, it's not far-fetched to imagine you might know someone else with the same peripheral. There are probably some fantastically technical reasons why it's just not possible to make the game work with two boards, but it's still a shame.
In other areas, however, Family Ski and Snowboard does improve on the previous title. Ride the Mountain is a nice addition, as are the extra competition events. The snowboarding may be the same as skiing only sideways, but it's fun to do and frequently hilarious to watch, especially if you're using a balance board.
What's more, Family Ski and Snowboard improves on real-life snowboarding. It's sociable rather than solitary, and there's not a single nasty or brutish thing about it. The good selections of courses and events mean it's not too short, and it's an ideal alternative to real winter sports if you're poor. But most importantly, it's not rubbish.
7 / 10