Today, I’m speaking to the people who do NOT know what the boreal sport of “curling” is, as I was in the same circle of ignorance until Take-Out Weight Curling 2 entered my life. I really have no excuse for being unaware of this apparently quite popular sport in the Northern regions, but I would also attribute that same benightedness to my blind eye for the Southern pastime called “frog sticking”. Besides, anyone who’s into curling should already own this game – I’ll say that right away.
When Global Star Software picked up the first Take-Out Weight Curling
, developed by the lone high school curling zealot Nathan Sorenson, they tapped the woefully under-appreciated market of the rock-gliding sport. One year, and several feature enhancements later, the sequel takes the curling stage by storm once again in an as-yet unrealized well of niche fans and oddly addictive gameplay.
The basic premise is very simple: two teams of four people are pitted against each other in a lane, and ultimately are attempting to slide eight 42 lb. “rocks” to rest in a targeted area about 120 feet away. Herein lies the simplicity of the game, and the beauty of its accessibility to just about anyone willing to try it. In Weight Curling 2, that simplicity allows for easy adjustment into the rules of play for beginners, but the point-gathering and the croquet-like removal of the opponent’s rocks from the target area hides a complexity that relies as much on the whims of chaos as it does the skill and calculation of the player. There is just no substitute for this combination of ease and depth in a video game, and Take-Out Weight Curling 2 superbly captures that old school methodology.
The gameplay is silky smooth all the way through. From reviews of the original, rock movement and physics were pretty much dead-on to begin with, and any improvements in the second one are over and above what’s truly needed (meaning it really only got better.) Character animations are pretty minimal, but are convincing in a practical sense. Where the physics and accurate motion really shine are in the rock movement to its target. Smooth animation, accurate friction coefficients (to the human eye, anyway), and suitable path deviations based on the “curl”, or slight spin, of the rock bring the game of curling to life in this piece. Even the act of knocking an opponent’s rock from the lane shows how much care went into the transfer of motion and energy. Before I start - in every sense of the phrase - kicking science, I should mention that this basic set of motion physics is at least as integral to the play accuracy of curling as it is to, say, the ricochet ball action of billiards.
Along with the rudimentary tutorial presented in the menu, the single player and bonspiel (tournament) options have returned. Single player offers a relaxed approach to competition, and helps to perfect the art of sliding granite across ice. Get a little One-on-One action with the computer, or play against one of your friends/enemies to humiliate them in new and interesting ways. The bonspiel section also allows for multiplayer involvement, with up to eight different teams of human or computer controlled adversaries. Online play is hosted by GameSpy, which is easy to set up and get into, much to the relief of the geographically dispersed fans of the game. To add to the replay value and personal investment in Weight Curling 2, a career mode has been included. Moving through the various competition arenas in career mode merits your team different trophies which you can visit from a special section, in case you’re the type that likes to look at yourself in the mirror all the time. Also new is the Skins mode, which allows for a little side betting action (meaning cash for your victories) to increase the already intense curling sessions. And if you’re into the little things, game options like number of rocks or game matches and difficulty are adjustable, along with the appearance of your players. In Create A Team, there’s a great deal of freedom in choosing everything from the play balance of the character (do you want more power or accuracy?) to the compendium of freakish heads and color-happy jerseys. It occurred to me while putzing through the options that even though there are not a great number of things that need attention when creating a fantastic curler, building the perfect beast in Weight Curling 2 is not overwhelming and strengthens the appeal.
Graphics haven’t taken a huge leap forward, but there is a noticeable difference in some character articulation. Bodies look blocky, and the faces appear as if they were cut off the front of a cereal box and tied around the front of one’s head. Environments look to have borne the brunt of the aesthetic enhancements, with better mapping and lighting, and a more lifelike background. I especially took notice of the creepy looking clone-audience; having a row of five photo-realistic guys in a black leather jackets all staring at me with goofy smiles and vacant eyes is nightmare material. Their presence is ultimately entertaining, though, rather than annoying. I appreciate that every person in the stands focused their 2-D image on the camera at all times, to avoid the “cardboard cutout fan” look. It was like the Mona Lisa’s family had come to watch me curl. Where it matters, the graphics are functional, and you don’t need a great deal of glitz to present a game like this.
Sounds were also conspicuously secondary, but again, this is a game built not on superficiality. The audience will cheer you on or moan in shame depending on the success, or lack thereof, in your rock-pushing skills. I suppose all the other ambient noises did their thing just fine; provided an unabashedly low-key, but realistic sound-scape for a curling game. A special song about curling was added to the opening and ending scenes, a light-hearted homage/jest to the majesty of the sport. It’s a small touch, but gives the game a special flavor of familiarity.
I could score this game lower if I based its merits on today’s predominant standards, simply because there are not gallons of blood flowing freely, nor is there a world-class graphics engine chugging away in the background. But taking into account the singular developer (meaning a team of one person), the loving care that went into the creation of the game sequel, and the polished, satisfying gameplay, I have to give it good marks simply for existing. Despite its nature as an esoteric sport, Take-Out Weight Curling 2 can easily be appreciated by rabid fans or the ignorant masses, myself included.