But is it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, yes!
Alpine Games simply blows everything else in the Lynx library out of the water. This game, with its incredible graphics, innovative game-save feature, and nearly unending depth of gameplay, is competitive with modern titles for the Gameboy Advance and shows just how much most commercial developers underestimated the capabilities of the Lynx in the '90s. As good as Klax, Lemmings, and Rampart are, they're only great translations of '90s arcade games. Alpine Games is, on the other hand, a fully modern masterpiece that shows that the Lynx still has what it takes to compete with that "other" handheld.
Alpine Games consists of nine separate events: "Bobsleigh," "Figure Skating," "Slalom," "Freestyle Aerials," "Ski Jump," "Speed Skating," "Snowboard Rush," "Snowboard Halfpipe," and "Biathalon." Each of the games may be played separately in "practice" mode, or in succession as part of a "competition," where points (and medals) are awarded. It's a mistake to think of these events as mini-games, however, as about half of them are large enough and good enough that Duranik would have been justified in releasing them as stand-alone titles; it's a boon to all gamers that we've been given everything in one single package. The sheer abundance of events in "Alpine Games" also ensures interest to all potential players; even if you don't like one or two of the offered events, you'll likely be enraptured by everything else.
The skiing events consist of "Freestyle Aerials," "Ski Jump," "Biathalon," "Slalom," "Snowboard Rush," and "Snowboard Halfpipe" , and they're the best games on the cartridge. They're all great fun to play and are learned quickly, although the control scheme in "Biathalon" can be somewhat tricky; novice winter gamers should begin here. "Freestyle Aerials," an alpine sport of relatively recent vintage, is somewhat similar in look and control scheme to diving events found in many computer "summer" games. It's a fun game, if somewhat limited, and it's nice to see that this event was included here.
"Figure Skating" is more of a graphically superior demo than a complete game, and players may wish to give it a pass unless they're playing Alpine Games in "competition" mode. Similarly, "Speed Skating" is rather arduous, though one would expect that it would have been a blast if a ComLynx option had been included.
"Bobsleigh" is probably the most exacting of the events, and careful control is required to keep your sled on the game's very icy track. I had to make at least four practice runs with this one before I discovered the trick of keeping upright during a practice run.
Alpine Games is probably unique in featuring a "practice" mode, and you'll need it. Most of the alpine events are difficult enough to play and gamers will want to test their reflexes in "practice" mode before entering any competitions, where final scores (and gaming mistakes) will be recorded for posterity. Fortunately, Alpine Games also features something that hasn't been seen in the Lynx gaming world since the Tramiels ruled the roost: a multipage (and full colour) instruction manual which thoroughly explains each of the events featured on the cartridge.
The "competition mode" of Alpine Games lets players go for the gold by competing in the nine-game tournament circuit with one of the seven "computer athletes" provided by the game. The instruction manual provides short (and fun) bios of all of the game's characters, but I was slightly disappointed to see that I could choose neither a Canadian nor an Australian as my player. How 'bout at least including a dual citizen, guys?
Alpine Games is one of a few commercial releases to feature built-in game saves (T-Tris, and S.I.M.I.S. also lets players save games), and it's a fantastic innovation that is worth purchasing for this element alone. It's great not to have to deal with awkward gaming codes, and a novelty to see high scores saved for future games.
Finally, Alpine Games also features a BLL loader for future expansion and, one would assume, downloading new high scores reached by other players -- just in case you beat the ones included on the cart.
Coders have, by and large, never really been able to translate the actual experience of playing a sport into a viable video game, and I've rarely thought that the various awkward joypad combinations that I've been required to enter really corresponded to moves that an athlete might make on the field. Those same problems exist here, but Duranik has done a good job in simplifying gaming controls, and this generally allows players to simply enjoy the event that they're supposed to be playing. Some sports respond better to the Lynx's joypad than others, of course, and players will have little difficulty adjusting to the skiing and snowboarding events.
"Figure Skating" and "Halfpipe Snowboarding" have been reduced to exercises in timing, but this in itself is not without some interest. "Speed Skating" is probably the least user-friendly sporting event offered in Alpine Games, and will remind many players of the joystick-busting track events of the Epyx Games series. My patience was certainly tried by the constant joypad repetitions I was required to make in order to move my skater down the track.
The graphics in Alpine Games aren't merely outstanding, they're groundbreaking.
Every single game is a graphics showpiece, and the cartridge, as a whole, simply outclasses everything that you've ever seen on the Lynx. S.T.U.N. Runner is an impressive game, and often touted as one of the Lynx's showpieces, but your jaw will drop when you see the smooth scaling in "Snowboard Rush." And the layout of "Slalom" simply has to be seen to be believed.
Other high points include the design of player sprites, which make the characters in California Games look like stick-figures drawn by an eight year-old, and the very careful construction of each game's environment: I actually stopped the "Speed Skating" event several times so that I could take a look at all of the advertisements plastered on the sides of the rink's arena. I applaud any product that can entice me to view commercial endorsements with interest instead of revulsion.
Gaming details are, without exception, outstanding, and should give you cause to spend time with even those games which the least amount of replay value ("Figure Skating," "Snowboard Halfpipe"), in order to appreciate what's been created here. I had company over the day that I received Alpine Games in the mail, and I actually had to excuse myself at one point so that I could sneak off and play another round of "Slalom" to convince myself that I was actually seeing such minute details as snow ruts, snow-covered evergreens, and colourful starting-gate flags.
Alpine Games boasts a very nice title theme, but otherwise lacks in-game music. The sole exception to this general rule is a very recognizable rendition of "Piano Man," which tinkles in the background during the "Figure Skating" event. It's pleasant enough, but may ultimately irritate all but the most ardent Billy Joel fan after repeated listens.
Sound effects are crisp and uniformly excellent. A crowd cheers when a successful stunt or run is made, but they'll turn on you and laugh (rather meanly, I think) if you fall on your face performing a complex stunt.
Gaming sounds are also extremely effective and used appropriately in all events. Winter sports are, in general, quite quiet, and often the only sound effects you'll hear will be the swishing of snow in the ski events, or perhaps the screech of ice scraping as you crash into one of the many curves in "Bobsleigh." All that's missing from this game are the sound of cowbells and encouraging yells of "Schuss!" as players reach the final stretch of a race.
I recall walking into the biggest music retailer in Toronto, Canada, in 1994 and seeing a gigantic Jaguar display, which had apparently just been put up the week before. A salesclerk glanced up at me, temporarily distracted from his game. It just happened to be Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding.
The clerk looked appreciatively at the screen. "Incredible, isn't it?" With its explosive swirl of high-res graphics, I had to agree that it was the best-looking game I'd ever seen.
But oh, if only I could have shown him Alpine Games.