Curling is the Ground Hog Day of sports. When the Winter Olympics roll around every 4 years, it’s like curling is discovered for the first time. Queue up the morning talk show hosts, with their witty banter about this quirky “new” sport and their curling 101 segments. It happens time and again. There’s a buzz around the water cooler about curling, with viewers finding it somewhat funny yet oddly compelling. Most people that take the time to watch a match are often hooked for the two weeks or so that make up the Olympics. It’s my assertion that everyone loves curling, but is just too afraid to admit it!
Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to videogame collections of winter sports, curling is almost always the best game in the package. It almost single-handedly saved Deca Sports on the Wii. Heck, it was even the best event in the Sonic at the Olympics app that was recently pulled from the app store, although that's not really saying much. I've gone as far as importing the Japanese game Minna No Curling for the DS (later ported to Canada as Curling DS) in order to get my fix of virtual curling.
The iPhone has a few curling apps in its arsenal as well, and would seem like an optimal platform for the stone-sliding sport. I found and played a total of 3 dedicated curling games in the app store, so here’s a look at how they stack up….
Arcade Curling is the most bare-boned of all the app store offerings of the sport. It’s incredibly short on features, lacking such things as number of stones per rounds, difficulty levels, music, a tournament mode, the ability to fast-forward the computer's turn, etc. You just pick yellow or red, and go straight to the ice. The game itself employs a rather odd-looking power gauge, and no option to curl the rock as you are shooting it. You can sweep the ice, which is shown by a small black dot, in order to add some spin near the end of your throw. Arcade curling is a pretty lifeless affair that does a couple of things right, and leaves just about everything else out, including the fun.
Cool Curlings takes a decidedly more light-hearted approach. The game tells you up front that it’is not a traditional curling game, as it’s predominately built around a series of challenges. The game has actual characters in them, depicting the members of the fictitious Jamaican curling team. There are 3 members to the team instead of 4, and they do not rotate with regards to throwing the rock. There is a power gauge to start your throw, and you can then use the sweepers to unrealistically curl the rock back and forth. This arcade-like nature to the game has its charms, but the challenges are over very quickly and the game itself sports some inconsistent physics. Cool Curlings is a decidedly indie affair, as there is no AI present for playing an actual match against the computer. Cool Curlings has some fun with the backdrop of the sport of kings, but that’s about it.
Age of Curling
Age of Curling is the most serious and competent of the three. It has a tournament mode, multiple venues, 3D graphics, the ability to set the number of stones/rounds, and the ability to set the amount of rotation of your rock’s throw. Unfortunately, the game is seriously lacking any personality. There is no music when playing, and sweeping is just indicated by a border highlighting the screen. The interface of the game is a bit obtuse as well, as it’s rather non-intuitive with regards to setting up a tournament, etc. For a game that is positioned as a fairly serious simulation, it would have been really nice for it to take into account the changing surface conditions from round to round. The pebbling of the ice should degrade with time, making it faster and harder to apply spin on. There is no interpretation of the 4 man team as well, whether through some sort of visual representation or through differing abilities.
Well, as you can see, all of these curling apps fall somewhat short of the button. While they are all underwhelming in their own ways, it’s still nice to see the sport represented on the iPhone. It might take you another 4 years to stumble upon a curling match on your TV, but at least you can toss a few virtual stones whenever you’d like. And let’s face it, you know you want to…