Played on Windows.
Also Available on macOS and Switch.
It’s time to return to the indie roots. I found When Ski Lifts Go Wrong based on some gifs the creator had posted on Reddit. It had a compelling development story about a guy, his brother, and his friend making the game. I’m not one to consider team sizes. What did impress was the look and gameplay he was showing off was impressive, and I wanted to see if it lived up to the gifs.
I originally saw this game when it was still being worked on in early access, and the name was Carried Away. Now with the full release, the game is called “When Ski Lifts Go Wrong” and I’ll be honest, it’s a much better name, especially because it correctly identifies what happens with almost every ski lift I’ve designed in the game.
When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is a physics-based construction game. This is similar to Poly Bridge, or Bridge Constructor, though with an obvious focus toward ski lifts, rather than bridges. It does even more than that though, and that’s what makes this a fresh new experience as well.
Beyond just designing ski lifts, When Ski Lifts Go Wrong focuses also on designing ski jumps and more for a variety of vehicles. In addition to the ski lifts, there are also gondolas, skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and snowmobilers. The game has different tasks for all of these characters, though they all rely on getting at least one rider from the start point to the goal of each level.
The players have a few tasks, but most involve designing and building structures for the ski lifts to go over, or ramps for the people to jump off of. This is where the comparison to Poly Bridge is strongest. The player designs these structures, usually with some limitations from the level design, and from there is able to simulate out the results. The player is awarded three additional medals for a structure that doesn’t break, coming in under budget, and getting a bonus medal in the level. Some levels have additional goals for completion, such as a medal that must be collected but this how most levels are structured.
These are the typical goals of almost every level.
The one major difference besides the designed goals of When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is that the player has control of the skiers on some levels and is able to move them around. The amount of influence depends on what vehicle the character is controlling or riding in, but when the character is controlling everything but a ski lift and a gondola, characters can jump and lean, with control over acceleration and braking on motorcycles, bikes, and snowmobiles are also available.
The ability to move the characters does change When Ski Lifts Go Wrong quite a bit as it adds a form of platforming to the typical bridge construction genre. How you’re leaning changes how you might land a jump as well as at what point you do leap. It’s a novel feature and honestly, I had a lot of fun with trying to play the levels.
When you fail a challenge your characters will usually end up with mortal damage, either from landing on their head or falling off a ski lift and such. It’s not very violent or gruesome but you can hear in my first look when I first see, it’s over the top for a bridge building game but it works here. It’s humorous in probably the wrong way, but it still is humorous no matter how many times I see it.
While I enjoy the platforming portion of When Ski Lifts Go Wrong, I struggle with the construction parts. It’s a similar issue I have to Poly Bridge in that I don’t understand exactly what I’m supposed to do to build. The game shows a few basic Ski Lifts, but it’s not clear why ski lifts I build on my own start to fail. Are my triangles too big, too small, is it not the right material (they have various ones, but usually only one on many levels). Not enough support, too much support?
I know where the breakage happens, and the game actually has a very nice display to show me the first collapse, but to try to fix that becomes confusing for me. Adding braces doesn’t seem to work, though hints from PolyBridge do work here so it seems they have a similar engine. There’s a bigger issue though.
You see the simulation in When Ski Lifts Go Wrong has a major flaw. If you run the same failed design multiple times, you can sometimes get different results. The problem is the simulation is not deterministic, by that I mean if you run a successful simulation a second time, it can fail. Not every design does this, but a few I made was successful after a second attempt when I was trying to find out what was wrong.
Snowmobile are fun, in fact there’s a lot of interesting platforming.
Sometimes one joint will fail, sometimes another. That’s a problem, however, the fact that sometimes you might succeed and sometimes you might fail on the same build becomes an issue. This isn’t a problem of interaction. When I’ve found these problems I wasn’t controlling the skier as I mentioned is possible. The simulation just has a random output. This can be good or bad, as it might get you over the hump at times if you’re close enough, but seeing a solution fail, and then succeed on two different attempts with no other change adds a lot more frustration than it should. It often requires a player to run the simulation more than once in the hope that they’re close enough to the right solution.
Beyond that, I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the construction genre, and admittedly I got the wrong impression from the game before I picked it up out of curiosity. That doesn’t mean this is a bad game, but I don’t think this game will change anyone’s mind.
Though there are some great improvements to the genre here, the UI for When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is very intuitive. I constantly was able to just think about what I want and instinctively my fingers would do it. The Undo, Redo, Deleting nodes, and more, is exactly what you expect them to be (Z, Y, and mouseovering and a hit of a delete key respectively). Grabbing a node and trying to move it gives you an outline of where the node can move. It’s a great addition to the UI and makes it clear how much flexibility that piece has.
In addition, the ability to choose any point on a joint and drag out a new node with two connecting branches is a fast and easy way to create a new structure and makes the construction flow even better. It’s a very intuitive system and that I do applaud HugeCalf for.
The range of motion is very clear to see when dragging nodes.
Even with the improved UI, When Ski Lifts Go Wrong has all the same issues that PolyBridge has and similar strengths. If you enjoy building bridges, building ski lifts isn’t that far off. The ability to move your player is an interesting twist but the goal is still to make a jump, bridge, or ski lift for them to traverse. The character movement is only about using what you eventually will build successfully.
Graphically, the game is nice, and simplistic which is understandable because of the heavy focus on the construction aspects. There’s a definite trade to allow weaker graphics for stronger physics simulation and that works here.
Ultimately, if you have PolyBridge, you’ll get similar enjoyment out of here, and I do hate to tie these two games together so heavily but they are similar. Though each has a different goal or structure to build. The question for a new player will be how much they’ll enjoy building and learning about architecture. Much of the game is dealing with engineering problems and trying to strengthen structures, and that can be fun, but I think it’s only going to be enjoyable to the right person.
This game is the engineering equivalent of Zachtronics games. I enjoy Zachtronics games because I love programming, but others will struggle with it. If you enjoy engineering structures, this game is perfect for you. All others, your mileage will vary depending on how much time you want to spend learning how to build.
I give When Ski Lifts Go Wrong a
That’s a similar score to PolyBridge for similar reasons, but I will say I love this UI a little more, and as such it gets a little nudge above PolyBridge.
Final Thoughts: An excellent construction game. You not only build ski lifts, but ski jumps over chasms. There are a great UI and some twists on the construction genre, definitely one to take note of.
Stats: 5.8 hours played, 17/40 achievements earned. I finished 20 levels while considering the game, played about 5-10 more levels while doing pieces of the review.