Winter Stars is a game that seems to have gone under the radar of a lot of gamers, with it having only 79 people played it at time of writing. Whether that is because of the genre, nobody has completed it, or even being able to find this game remains to be seen but what is
true is that not many people have even heard of it, so i'll try and shed some light on whether it's worth buying.
Winter Stars consists of 11 events from Skiing to Snowboarding. Whilst too numerous to go through and review each event i'll try and summarise most in the following prose.
I was not too optimistic when purchasing this game. I'll play anything for Kinect regardless of ta score, and was looking for a game to get me a few thousand ta score with nice ratios. Also nobody had completed it but the achievement list looked okay so I thought i'd give it a crack, and try to be first to complete it.
Upon loading Winter Stars you are greeted with start-up screens reminiscent of Motionsports. Whilst I don't hate Motionsports it is not good either, so I wasn't too impressed. Whilst most titles use a 'right to left' way of navigating menus, this one is backwards, so to start with that is also frustrating. I played for a few hours, picked up a couple of achievements and put it away for a few weeks. It didn't shine. When I picked it up again it had lost all my progress. Thankfully I wasn't too far into the game so I persevered, not wanting to lose completion percentage. I had found a guide for the ps3 version, (which you can play with a pad unlike the 360 iteration which is Kinect only), and had learnt the event specific achievements unlock only on hard mode so that's what I did. Anyhow, with not having much hope for this game now and it seemingly being a blot on my Gamercard it meant when I actually got into the game I was hugely impressed. First up it's a serious sports game, serious in the sense that there's no avatar use here, which is nice. Whilst the use of avatars in games was fun for a moment, much like 3d films, the gimmick has worn thin. Having said that, it's not too
serious. The storyline of career, (yes, there is one), balances that off. You start off as a team of 4 who are competing in Winter sport tournaments but 1 guy has injured himself so the team persuade him to manage the team. Obviously with there being 11 events and only 3 professionals the career story is that of finding other people to take part in your team. It sounds cheesy and it is, incorporating a storyline into any sports game is a hard task, but 49Games pull it off well, and it makes you not want to skip the cutscenes, (as bad as they are for lip synching), in order to see the stories progression. Amazingly, the characters are well rounded, from the injured manager, to the arrogant manager of the rival team, (which gives you pleasure to beat), to the guy who blags into joining the team as a paraskiier because he fancies one of the girls on the team, having no experience. It's all well thought out.
As for the gameplay, the 11 events vary in difficulty, and have varied controls too. This game probably has the most complex controls of a Kinect game i've played, and for me that's a good thing. On easy, (called family mode), there is literally nothing to do. Even the steering is taken care of. As long as your character is upgraded they will win. Put your hands out in front of you now and then and that's about it. Whilst that will maybe appeal to some, having persevered with hard mode it gave me no satisfaction. The controls then, on hard mode, are for the most part very good, well thought out. They make sense.
For example, on Biathlon, which is skiing and shooting, you start by swinging your hands down once to start, lean left or right whilst skiing, crouch to crouch and speed up, hit to the left or right to jostle the AI, put your hands in front of you to boost, and being behind the AI gives you a boost if you are in their slipstream. Then for the shooting part you use your left arm as a pointer, to aim, put your right arm up at an 'L' and bring it down to shoot and back up to reload a la
Gunstringer, and bend your knees to 'breathe' steadying your aim. All very complex, hard to pick up, but once you have the movements down, there is no more mastering involved. (I didn't find a lefty option btw).
All these movements definitely give you a sense of achieving something in the game. Rather than your standard Kinect controls, you actually have to practice, and get better at each event to win, which is very rewarding. Each of the events has their own control system, and it takes a while to learn each one. Whilst by no means perfect, at least it's something different from your standard jump, run on the spot, and throw controls which most Kinect titles use. The all important tracking is for the most part good. As with all Kinect titles, if your room is too sunny the Kinect will spaz out. The problems I had was with crouching sometimes, (hands on knees eventually sorted that), but mainly the boost system. The boost in all events is the same, hold both arms in front of you. This is really hard in events such as Snowmobile where you are holding imaginary handlebars to steer, bobsled, skiing, and snowboarding isn't great either as you are leaning at fast pace. Frankly it would have been maybe a good idea to utilise a turbo system where you put your arms out for a second to use your boost and it uses all of it, because it can get frustrating when you crash because you were boosting and lost control of your rider. In the end I didn't bother boosting if I was winning and only bothered if I was losing. These gripes aside, the events are also pretty good and fun. They are unique too. In no other game can you ride a bobsled, do paraskiing, ski flying, and snowboarding on the Kinect. Figure skating, speed skating, and curling are probably the weakest events (and Curling takes forever). Graphically the backdrops are fairly good, and the course designs whilst not spectacular are pretty good too. Each event has its own music, which is average.
All in all, for the gameplay and controls it is 4 stars. It is more of an all round game
than any of the Sports or Party games on Kinect. The career takes about 200 events and takes about 20 hrs to complete including loading times and failing competitions, (you must win each competition to progress).
As for the achievements I've completed every event but did not receive the 3 achievements for winning 3 cups in each year. Some people have won the 1st year achievement, the only other person to have completed the career bar me won the 1st year achievement but not the 2nd or 3rd year achievements. For an educated guess i'd say this is because of dashboarding. If you don't win a competition of 4-11 events, you have to restart the whole thing. It didn't take long for me to figure out if you dashboarded then it saves you on whatever event you are on, so you can retry the final event till you win. However I think this is the probable cause of the achievements not unlocking. I sent a message to the other person who has completed the career to ask him whether he dashboarded but I am not proficient in Hungarian so I have no idea what he replied
There are other concerns: when you load it up you crap yourself because it always tells you you have completed 0 challenges. Sure it rectifies it after, but is a bit heart-stopping when you only have a few events left. Also I swear sometimes it took xp away from me and it definitely removed some upgrades for my players which meant earning xp to buy them again. (Thankfully it's easy to earn xp at the end of career).
It seems best to recommend therefore, for people to play on easy so they make sure they win all events and don't have to dashboard. Unfortunately that takes away some of the essence of the game so either way is not ideal.
The other achievements are fairly straightforward, 800+gs is easily obtainable with a bit of time and patience, and that gives you a nice 3000+ ta score, however ratios will drop if even one person gains any achievements on the game. Apart from the glitched achievements, there is only 1 achievement which nobody has won, doing all the tricks in the game. The ps3 version has the same achievement list as the 360 version, which is a bit unfair. To unlock this you have to do all the tricks in freeride skiing, snowboarding, paraskiing and snowmobile. This means doing 8 tricks in 1 snowmobile race. Thing is, you don't get to choose what trick you do, you go up a ramp and put your hands above your head and it does a trick. So to do more than 8 tricks in a snowmobile race is hard
, probably possible however, by someone with more patience than myself.
To conclude, ill leave you with who will like this game. If you don't like Kinect, then why are you reading this? For anyone who likes Kinect, and likes sports games you will like this. For anyone that wants a more serious sports game than the other sports and party games available you will like this. For anyone who likes nice ratios in their games you will like this. For anyone who likes to be on a games leaderboard you will like this. For completionists, I would steer clear till someone checks out my dashboarding theory.
I'm giving this game 4 stars for what it is, a serious sports title on the Kinect. As much as I want to drop it a star for it's faults, and the glitched achievements, I can't. The gameplay is solid, and it's a refreshing change to play a game on Kinect that utilises a complex control system and makes it (for the most part) work. A good title, worthy of a few more owners.
Edit* Since this review someone has managed to unlock all the glitchy achievements and a guide can be found here: