Somewhat appropriately given the recent weather conditions in parts of the UK, we’re welcoming Vivid Games latest title, Ski Jumping Pro, into the iTunes App Store this week. The last Vivid game we looked at was Real Boxing, a terrific boxing sim which had considerably more punch than we were expecting. It set the bar high for Ski Jumping Pro, so can it reach the same dizzy heights, or will it slide down a slippery slope into oblivion?
There aren’t many games which concentrate solely on ski jumping, with the sport usually finding itself bundled in with other wintery activities in dedicated sports collections. Ski Jumping Pro is quite unusual in this respect. The game pushes you to become a world class ski jumper by taking part in a complete season of the sport, which contains 62 different events at 32 different venues. Well, we say different, but ultimately each and every level sees you ski down a slope, take off and then land.
If this was a game which cost £40, then the lack of variety would be a problem, but as it’s priced at a far more reasonable £0.69 (at least for a limited time), we should concentrate on the snow-based action and not let its inherent sameness spoil it. Vivid has certainly infused Ski Jumping Pro with the same degree of visual polish found in Real Boxing, as the 3D graphics look excellent, and the use of snowflakes in the air boosts the feeling of speed as you hurtle down the slope. Not much changes between levels, but Vivid has done the best it can to keep the locations colourful and distinctive.
The same goes for the menu systems, which look great, and the audio too; although the in-game voice-over man only has a few stock phrases, none of which seem to correlate with what’s going on in the game. All too often he congratulates you on a great jump, right after you’ve made a complete mess of it. So, we’ve been drawn in by its looks, how does it play?
Sadly it’s not up there with Real Boxing, and is let down by a terribly unresponsive control system – at least, I think that’s the problem. Although you can choose between a basic Casual mode and a more complicated Pro mode, Ski Jumping Pro is all about tapping the screen. You start at the top of the slope and must wait for the right moment before launching. This is indicated by a circle in the centre of the screen which glows green at the most timely moment – which is when you’re supposed to tap. Then, as you reach the moment of takeoff you’ll see another green circle to tap before finally, tapping the screen again to pull off the perfect landing. In Pro mode you also get a sliding bar to help maintain balance, and something called Flow which is supposed to help achieve record-breaking distances.
Getting the launch right seems to be easy, but getting the takeoff and landing right is bizarrely elusive, regardless of your screen tapping prowess. More often than not the game seems to miss your input, resulting in a rubbish jump or botched landing, and any attempt to change your timing has no effect. Because there is no real feedback at any of these key moments, it’s impossible to categorically say it’s the controls at fault and not me being a bit rubbish; however even if it is me then the game’s difficultly level is skewed very badly.
There’s the chance to upgrade your character with new equipment, plus send him to the gym to workout specific muscles. All these things cost money, which is earned through completing levels, or if you’re desperate there are lots of lovely in-app purchases too. Not that any of the upgrades make a difference to the way your character skis down the slope and as far as I could tell, activating Flow just made the screen go a bit whiter. Don’t expect to leap ahead of the competition by paying for flashy skis, helmets or suits either, as while you may advance a level higher, all your opponents advance at least two, so you’re just as behind with the added pain of being out of pocket.
It feels like 90% of the development time of Ski Jumping Pro went into its graphics and style, and the remaining ten on the control system and gameplay. There’s a decent winter sports sim in there somewhere, but without an overhaul of these issues, it’s buried under six feet of snow. It’s a shame, as Real Boxing was great and this game gets several things right – it’s universal for the iPhone and iPad, doesn’t force its in-app purchases on you, and is sensibly priced. Despite all this, until an update comes out to improve the control system and its responsiveness, we can’t recommend it.