Version tested: Wii
The name of this game is inappropriate. True, it is about skiing. Yes, you can play it with members of your family, and because it's a Wii game it's even suitable for those who think videogames are turning people into goggle-eyed knife-wielding paedophiles. However, the words "Family Ski" do not accurately reflect what you can expect from the gaming experience.
A more accurate title would be Communal Crotch Flaying. This is because playing it involves endlessly waving the Wii remote and nunchuk up and down at a rapid rate, while at the same time unavoidably whipping one's own genitalia with the cable that links the two. So, I shall be referring to Family Ski by its more suitable title for the remainder of this review.
Communal Crotch Flaying is the first third-party title to work with the Wii balance board. If you've played Wii Fit, you'll probably have found the slalom, ski jump and snowboarding mini-games to be among the more enjoyable activities on offer, and undoubtedly a lot more fun than boring old yoga. So a balance board game with a winter sports theme sounds promising. Communal Crotch Flaying, however, doesn't quite deliver.
The game is set in the Happy Ski Resort, which you can explore at will in Freestyle mode. There are more than a dozen courses to swoosh down, and they vary in terms of difficulty level, weather conditions and layout. The resort is populated by cutesy anime characters whose heads are so massive it's a wonder they can stand up without falling over, never mind ski. You can play as your Mii, and customise your character with a selection of ski wear and equipment.
It's all very exciting when you first hit the slopes. The course map shows a complicated network of runs it appears it will take you ages to explore, and all around you are characters with icons above their heads to indicate they have a sub-quest to offer. Then there's all the fun of working out how to ski, using the Wii remote and nunchuk and the balance board in place of skis. You don't have to use the balance board, though. Communal Crotch Flaying is playable just with the regular controllers, and in multiplayer this is the only option - you can't synch up two balance boards, or have one player using a board while the other makes do with the remote and nunchuk.
You can take lessons at the Ski School to learn how to snow plough, perform parallel turns, recover if you lose your balance, pull off tricks and so on. But for the most part, you only need to know two things - how to steer and how to go faster. Steering's a matter of shifting your weight left and right if you're on the balance board, or tilting the controllers in the appropriate direction if you're using the remote and nunchuk. The balance board method has the edge as using your legs makes it feel more like you're actually skiing. However, the remote and nunchuk are very responsive and you won't be missing out on much if you don't have a board. In either case, the steering system works.
To go faster you wave the remote and nunchuk up and down like ski poles, which is where the crotch flaying comes in. Never has the need for wireless Wii controllers been more keenly nor more literally felt. You have to shake the controllers about extremely rapidly to get any kind of speed up, resulting in a flailing cable and inadvertent flagellation. It's not going to render you bruised or childless, and some people pay a lot of money for this kind of thing, but all the same, it's not ideal.
Even when you've whipped yourself into the craziest of crotch-flaying frenzies, there's no real sense of speed. You may be pumping your arms up and down so furiously it feels like they will never work again but your character will still cruise down the course at a gentle pace. A trick has been missed here. One of the main reasons the winter sports games in Wii Fit are so fun is you control your speed using your weight. Shifting forward means you pick up speed, while leaning back slows you down. In Communal Crotch Flaying, shifting your weight affects only the direction of travel and not your momentum. It takes constant and rapid arm-pumping to gather speed. There's no sense of precision or balance, just a sense that your triceps are going to hurt in a few hours.
That aside, the control system works well and the game is rewarding if you're willing to learn the various tricks and techniques at the Ski School. It's best to get this out of the way first then explore the Happy Ski Resort, which is jolly pretty and has lots of things to do. It's fun to ride on the ski lifts, using the nunchuk stick to move the camera around and take in the view from the air. When the novelty wears off you can just access the map menu and skip straight to the top of runs you want to tackle.
At first the course map seems to show a complicated network of lengthy courses. As you start exploring, though, it becomes apparent that these courses are actually quite short, and Happy Ski Resort is in fact quite small. It's possible to make your way down all the runs within less than an hour. You're rated on your performance each time you ski down a course, the idea obviously being to improve your ranking through repetition. But it's a bit of a shame there isn't a more structured career mode.
At least there are plenty of sub-quests to complete. These include racing against AI opponents, finding and rescuing lost skiers, pulling off specific tricks and slalom challenges. There's lots of variation and the quests are mostly enjoyable, though the endless text-based conversations you must have before you get to go on them get tiresome.
If you can't be doing with all that you can skip the Freestyle mode and go straight for a race. There are three types to choose from - straightforward downhill burners, slalom races where players take it in turns to ski between sets of flags, and mogul events, where you traverse a lumpy run that's ideal for performing tricks. Up to four players can compete, or you can race AI characters.
Once again, it's great at first. There's the novelty of using the controllers as ski poles to enjoy, and much hilarity to be had thanks mainly to all the crotch flaying. However, the problem of speed comes into play here too. The winter sports games in Wii Fit are instantly accessible but also challenging over time; practice improves your performance as you perfect the art of controlling your speed and balance, and that adds an edge to the competitive element. In Communal Crotch Flaying, it's all about how fast you can pump your arms up and down. The multiplayer races are entertaining, and they're perfect for playing with inexperienced gamers who just want a go on a Wii for an hour. It's just a shame there isn't more depth here.
So is Communal Crotch Flaying worth a purchase? It is if you live in the US, where it's titled We Ski and costs USD 24.99. At that price it's a good buy, especially if you're wondering what to do with that balance board now you're thinner than an Olsen, or still fat but bored of being told how to do stretching by an albino gym trainer. Even if you don't have a board, the game is good enough to entertain non-gaming friends who are fed up with Wii Sports tennis.
But in the UK, isn't it always the way, Communal Crotch Flaying has an RRP of GBP 34.99. Yep, more than twice the price. For that you get an entertainment experience that's initially a lot of fun. The game is nicely presented, with smart, appealing visuals and lots of neat extras, like the two-player split-screen option for Freestyle mode and the option to take photos of your characters as they ski (you can also share them online, if you really have nothing better to do). There's plenty to do and the game is well-structured so you can quickly get on with the business of skiing if you don't want to muck about with all the other stuff.
However, the game-world is pretty small, the gameplay is relatively shallow and there's not quite enough challenge and reward on offer. Not to mention the crotch flaying. It's worth buying if you can find it at a bargain price, and works as a decent alternative to Wii Fit for balance board owners. Just don't expect too much.
6 / 10