Sumea Ski Jump

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Is ski jumping enough of a sport to warrant a whole game? That’s the question we asked ourselves before setting out on Sumea’s bright and attractive simulation of every sadist spectator’s favorite Winter Olympics event. This isn’t even the only ski jump experience available to mobile gamers — Mr. Goodliving’s very good Playman Winter Games offers a decent approximation of the event, alongside three other challenges. So what does Sumea Ski Jump have that these other ski jump games lack? Not enough, it seems.

On the one hand, everything you’d expect is present and correct. The isometric visuals produce a crisp and convincing ski jump environment, with fluffy clouds passing by and various scenic features — trees, spectators, snow — coming into view as you approach terra firma. The ski jumper is absolutely tiny on the Nokia 6600, but the animation is detailed enough for you to judge his/her (who knows, it could be anything under that helmet) movements accurately, which is a vital element, as you’ll discover later. Sound is restricted to a collection of jaunty little tunes that don’t really convey the drama of the event (a drumroll would have been good) but are inoffensive enough. In-game effects like the swish of ski on snow or the wild applause of the spectators would have been preferable.

The gameplay mechanic is slightly more drawn out than the equivalent in other games. Each jump consists of four consecutive button presses (you can choose any button on the keypad). First you select the best moment to start your run down the hill. This is achieved by watching a wind meter and hitting the button when the bar reaches green. Naturally, the wind meter rises and falls rapidly, so as with any sports game power gauge, accurate timing is required. And you only get 10 seconds to make your move, so the pressure’s on from the start. Next, you hit the button as close to the end of the ramp as possible for a decent takeoff. When airborne, your ski jumper starts to lean forward, so you need to let him get as close to horizontal as possible before hitting the button again to finalize his flight position. Leave him too long and the idiot will start to straighten up again, which is no good at all.

Finally, landing is achieved by pressing a button when you approach the ground, leaving enough time for your skier to straighten up. Keeping the button held selects a fancy “telemark” landing, which results in a better style score, but it’s harder to time and therefore more risky. A quick button jab is the easier option, and it gives you a few more seconds in the air. At each stage of the jump you get a rating of between one and five stars depending on how well you’ve timed things, and at the end, your score is based on distance and style. That’s all there is to it.

With such a limited mechanic, the quality of the game depends on the responsiveness of the controls (exactly how much influence do you have over the little guy on the screen?) and the range of possible outcomes from each button press. When you hit a button, does the game merely make a 50/50 call between a good jump and a bad jump, or are there hundreds of degrees between the two?

Fortunately, despite the tiny scale of the onscreen action, you get the feeling that a decent gameplay mechanic is operating under the surface. At first you’re mystified as to why your jumper ends up crashing and burning after every single jump, but soon you learn how to read the visual prompts and you’ll time your takeoffs and landings with something approaching precision. A little later, you’ll be good enough to know as soon as you hit the button if you’re a few microseconds too early or too late.

But does this represent enough of a challenge to warrant a whole game? The ski jump event in a competitive game, like Playman Winter Games, is less elaborate — you hit the button to choose your launch angle, use the 4 and 6 keys to adjust your skis in midair, and then hit a button to land — but it feels like just as much fun. Plus, having direct control over the skis themselves moves you closer to the action, providing a sense of panic that the entirely timing-based challenge of Sumea Ski Jump doesn’t deliver.

This game’s one-button simplicity is a user-friendly touch and typical of Sumea, a developer that understands and caters to casual gamers who don’t necessarily have the experience of using today’s multibutton joypads. The problem is that the abject simplicity leaves experienced gamers feeling a little shortchanged. It just doesn’t feel like there’s enough here — even if the menu suggests an expansive challenge. Sumea Ski Jump offers three modes: single-player, multiplayer, and tutorial. There are six famous and progressively higher ski jumps from around the world to try out, and these jumps must be unlocked as you play through the single-player mode’s regional, national, and international championships. Elsewhere, the multiplayer pass-and-play mode lets you take on up to three friends at any unlocked jump. You can also send your best scores to an online leaderboard. These elements certainly add longevity to your purchase.

But this is still a game that revolves around making four well-timed button presses, over and over again. Perhaps with some little extras here and there — the opportunity to buy better gear between each jump, a bit of a story mode pitching you against a lifelong rival, some additional weather effects, a comedy stunt mode where you have to leap over chalets — Sumea Ski Jump would have represented very good value. As it is, this is an extremely well-designed event, but one that probably belongs with at least three others in a full Winter Olympics title.