Winter Heat is finally here! This is a game that I have been waiting to play since I heard about it a few months ago. But this time it has competition against Nagano Winter Olympics 98 by Konami for the Playstation and Nintendo 64. Following in the same path as it's predecessor Athlete Kings it specialises in the high-resolution mode, gameplay and the button bashing! But how is the game any different to Athlete Kings?
The graphics are as I said in lovely high-res mode which is used to the max. All the characters are rendered brilliantly and there's no pop up whatsoever on any of the events. Taking it's roots from the arcade game it's exactly the same! Did you hear that? Arcade perfect. Ok maybe I missed something so I'll settle for 99% perfect! I've played both versions and there the same with the Saturn version being overall better with 3 extra events (more later) more options and secret characters etc. You also don't have to go slotting in pound coins every time you want a go!
8 characters are initially selectable like in Athlete Kings with two new ones (2 of the crapper ones were ditched including British afro head Jeff Jansens). Anyway the line up are as follows: (the lovely) Li Huang, (the snobby) Ellen Reggiani, (gaybo) Karl Vain, (wannabe tough guy) Rick Blade, (oaf) Alesksei Rigel, (so called cool dude) Joe Kudou and the new guys consist of (mysterious) Sub Zero and (stereotype Norwegian) Johann Stensen. Each boasts different specialities like being great at Alpine, Skate, Nordic to All-round. My advice is if your planning on playing only one event, pick the character that suits that event especially in multiplayer mode so you can win! Anyway all character have different animation's (of course) and different (annoying) victory taunts and loosing ones. Sometimes you feel like you just wanna smash in Karl Vains annoying girly voice when he starts talking! Overall the characters are polished, run smoothly and more importantly move realistically.
In the arcade version you have a choice of 8 different events. The Saturn home version has all of these plus 3 extra specific home events. And there not just gimmicky either as there great fun and probably some of the best events in the game. The full list of events include:
This is the very first event in the game and also the fastest. It's you against a computer opponent and of course time. All you have to do is hit the speed buttons as fast as you possibly can to win. It's exactly the same as the 100 metre race in Athlete Kings and I loved that so it's a worthy addition to Winter Heat.
The second event is like the long jump in Athlete Kings where you hit the speed button till your hand falls off and then hold down the action button to a certain degree and let go to go flying!
Short Track Speed Skating:
This event has you racing against 3 other opponents around 4 laps of an oval. The key point to winning is stay with the pack and reserve your stamina, then on the last lap hit that speed button as fast as you can to win!
One of my favourite events that has you behind your players view. After you start hit the speed button to gain speed of course, the let go to gain extra speed by bending down. But it's not that simple, you'll have very sharp turns to negotiate as well as some unexpected ramps forcing you to make a jump or else fall flat on your face!
The first event of day two is a very tricky one. Racing against one player, the object is not to be the fastest as there are lots of poles that you have to knock over on the way or else you'll lose precious seconds. And there not that easy to knock over either as timing is required to judge when to hit the action button. Also if you fail to hit one you'll lose your balance and your pace making it hard to make a come back.
A cool event this one that doesn't require much button bashing (giving your poor hand a rest). At the start you and a computer friend will push the sleigh as fast as they can, then hop into it and all you have to do is steer. But it is quite hard to get a good time as the track is very narrow with lot's of sharp turns. Add to that to the fact your travelling about 100 miles per hour this event is no pushover!
Like the first skating even except that this time you cannot control your player movement, instead you have to concentrate on your stamina and if your going to fast on a corner you'll stumble causing you to slow down. Practise is much required in this event for you to be able to do well in it. This event is much like the 400 metre event in Athlete Kings although made more difficult now due to the ice. A cool event nevertheless that's good for beating your friends in their first go of the game making them look crap as they slide all over the place!
The final arcade event which is of course, the hardest. Putting you against 3 other players you'll have to button bash and reserve energy for about 4-6 minutes depending how fast you are. At the bottom of the screen is a little map telling you when the big hills are coming up so you'll know when to reserve you energy for. A great event that is much more fun then the 1,500 metre event in Athlete Kings, maybe because of the four player mode.
Skeleton: Much like the bobsleigh event only better. Instead of the bobsleigh you control a small snowboard which goes faster again! Controls are much the same except for an advisable break option and if you fall off a button to get you back on. This event is slightly more enjoyable then the Bobsleigh as it's a tiny bit faster with a wider track too.
Aerial Ski: A nightmare event this one, but when you learn how to play it properly it becomes a brilliant event and one of my favourites. Build up your speed after choosing to pick easy or hard (they affect your landing) and when you get to the slope hold down the action button. Let go and you get the chance to perform all sorts of tricks in the air with the speed button. The only problem is the actual landing which is very difficult to perfect but once you do, you can show off and amaze your friends.
Slalom Snowboard: My favourite event in Winter Heat. This is like Downhill except your on a snowboard instead (of course!). You have to pass through flags or else you have a one second penalty added to your timer. Mix this in with some sharp turns, big jumps and loads of speed and you have the most enjoyable event in the game. A great two player event this is as you'll be returning again and again to beat your friends in this event!
Something AM 3 left out in Athlete Kings was the four player mode (although the two player mode was great). So now you can play with 1, 2 or 3 friends in a button bashing contest that'll ruin your spare time alone with your hand! This mode is very very addictive and although I've only had the game for a week, I've lost hours on it trying to beat my friends in the Cross-Country event. In some events you'll race side by side your friends in a race to come first. In others you'll go first in order to get a higher score and then they get their turn. While there playing and your not, put them off as much as possible by making them laugh or if your even more desperate to win change the channel on them and say "oh sorry it was an accident"! Anyway the game really comes into play in this mode and if you don't have the four player add on port, I strongly suggest you get one along with two extra joypads and have some very enjoyable fun.
The music itself is fine, nothing special about it but it's not annoying so that's good. The sound affects however are quite good particularly in the Bobsleigh, Skeleton, Downhill and Snowboarding events. The speech from the characters however are a bit over the top and are quite annoying at that. Still you can turn it down or off if you want!
Desperate to make this as long lasting as possible AM have added the extra events as you know along with some extra modes which of course is great. To go along with Arcade Mode there's, an options where you go through all 11 events and there's no qualifying either which makes it better for multiplayer mode if someone's crap at the game! There's also a practise mode that let's you try out any of the events to try and improve your score, beat the world record or getting you familiar with the characters and their different abilities. There's the usual options mode and a new Custom Mode that let's you choose 8 (or less) of your favourite events in the game. Add to that 3 other friends and you have probably the best mode in the game. Winter Heat doesn't disappoint here either as good gameplay will have you coming back again and again.
I'm really happy with Sega for releasing this world wide and AM 3 for making a big effort in the conversion. Also the European doesn't suffer either with more or less the same speed of it's American and Japanese counterparts and with very small borders too. After playing the game I was disappointed not at the game but at the fact that there's still so much potential in the Saturn and only now are people in America realising that as you can get Saturn's from £5 up which is totally ridiculous! But at least the Saturn will go out with a bang with some top notch games on the way. This game is the best Winter Sports Game of it's type out on any console which is far superior then the dreadful attempt made by Konami on the Playstation and Nintendo 64.
By the way for anyone who hasn't yet played Athlete Kings are doesn't yet own it, it's a must buy and you can find it in shops for £20 and under depending where you live. If your in America I'm sure you could pick it up for a couple of quid!
Review By: Matthew Langan