Unfinished venues? Sluggish ticket sales? Red-hot curling action on the outer networks of NBC? Yes, it's time for the Winter Olympics again, and to commemorate the Summer Games' frigid cousin, 2K Sports has released a game more excruciating than an evening of ice-dancing preliminaries. Torino 2006 boasts 15 different events in its main competition mode, where single players get a chance to square off against the world's best athletes, like "Computer 1" of Norway and "Computer 7" of Switzerland. That may sound like a lot of variety, but at least 10 of those events involve skiing, often down what looks like same mountain slope, and the luge and bobsleigh events are completely interchangeable. That leaves three heats of speed skating, a two-button left-right rhythm challenge that requires such mysterious feats of timing that it would take years of rigorous Olympic training to get it right. After about five minutes, you're looking for ways to fall on your ass, skate into the wrong lane, or otherwise get disqualified, but even that proves impossible.
Conspicuously absent from Torino 2006 are popular events such as figure skating, hockey, and snowboarding, perhaps because they'd require more sophisticated controls than steering and tapping a few buttons. Granted, many winter sports involve either speeding down or along an icy surface, so the challenge much of the time is just keeping form, which is a limiting restriction for game developers interested in using more than just an analog stick. Torino 2006 could stand a little more nuance, but then again, the more buttons and power meters are added to each event, the more maddeningly counterintuitive they become, until operating the controls is like simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your stomach.
Beyond the game: The stripped-down presentation allows for none of the pomp and circumstance of opening and closing ceremonies, or even more than a smattering of applause. In fact, the game doesn't splurge on extras like national anthems during the medal ceremony. Are MIDI files really that expensive?
Worth playing for: A sense of how much standards have improved since the button-tapping sprints of Olympic arcade games past.
Frustration sets in when: From the moment you click past the rudimentary menu screen, the frustration never stops.
Final judgment: You know you're in trouble when an Olympics game immediately inspires you to bring the most shame possible to your country.