Winter Heat Saturn
Review by Jeff Cooper Sega Sports
Graphics: 9 Sound: 9 Gameplay: 9 Overall: 9

Okay, let's get one thing out of the way: I have never tried Konami's Nagano Winter Olympics for either the N64 or the PSX. Many reviews rated it anywhere from fair to downright poor. Critics complained that the controls were way over-complicated, and belittled Konami for wandering so far from the winning formula it had employed so successfully in its many Track and Field titles. I didn't consider Nagano even worth a rent.

Enter Sega's Winter Heat, an eleven-event masterpiece programmed by Data East. By stealing some from Konami's previous releases while avoiding the trap of making a mindless button basher, the programmers have produced the best set of winter games since, well, Winter Games, the Epyx classic of the mid-1980s. Let's look at the events.

The competition starts with Speed Skiing, the only pure button basher in the mix. Pound away for about twelve seconds and it's on to the next event, the Ski Jump, a fun throwback to the original Track and Field. You work the speed button as you race down the slope. Then just before you ski off the edge, you push and hold the action button. Release the action button when it reaches about thirty degrees and you're launched into the stratosphere. You must hit the action button again to land. The Ski Jump is a real rush. Next comes Downhill Skiing. You have to bash the buttons a little to gain speed, but for the most part this event requires you to steer your way through a tricky course that includes several jumps. The graphics and sense of speed are sensational. Short Track Speed Skating is primarily a test of finesse. Yes, you have to keep the buttons going, but you don't have to bash frantically - it gives you full speed for even, quick, tapping. The real trick here is in steering and positioning yourself as the other skaters try to block you off and keep you to the outside. The Skeleton, or one-man bobsled is quite simple. Hit the speed buttons to build up momentum, tap the action button at the appropriate point to enter the sled, and then steer you way around the track.

The final six events are also nicely varied. The Slalom is odd in that you don't steer - you just hit the action button at the appropriate moment to go around the gates. Sounds easy but, because of the way they've spaced the gates, this is one of the more difficult events. The Aerial remains true to the button pushing formula. First you choose the difficulty of the jump you wish to attempt. Then you bash the speed button until you enter the ramp. You hold down the action button until the edge of the ramp--at that point you release it (which launches you) and then you bash the speed button some more to do tricks in the air. The Bobsleigh is almost exactly like the Skeleton, and Snow Boarding is quite similar to the Downhill Skiing, though there is a different feel to it. Speed Skating, another fun event, requires you to bash the buttons in the straightaway and then slowly pace yourself around long corners. The animation of the skaters is terrific. Cross-country skiing rounds out the Olympics, and even that requires careful pacing and positioning to win.

Make no mistake, this is an arcade game (that may be literally the case: the on screen instructions/demos feature arcade buttons and a joystick). The great thing is that anyone can pick this up and play, but success depends on much more than just smashing buttons as fast as you can. The downside is that some will still find this to be a little too simplistic. They could have added some depth by ripping off a figure skating event from the old Epyx series; similarly, I really don't think it would have over-complicated matters if they allowed you to manipulate your ski-jumper while he's in the air. The instructions also could be more complete. Pushing the direction pad up allows the skier to "tuck," for example, which is never mentioned in the docs. The instructions also indicate that you hit the speed button in the Slalom just to build up initial speed--but you'll go way faster if you keep tapping it throughout the course.

Still, what's here is very good. The graphics, animation and sound are great, and really add to the wintry mood. The gameplay features good arcade fun, and is very addictive. Once you complete the Snowboard course you want nothing more that to get right back at it to beat your time but - nope - it's on to the next event. That's a sign of a good game. This release is supposedly the last for the Saturn from Sega Sports. They've gone out with a real winner.

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