Reviewed by Scott McCall
How many Mario Kart-type games are out there? Surprisingly,
there aren't all that many. Even though the original game had
a massive cult following and sold millions of copies, it didn't
spawn an insane number of copycats like, say, Doom. Let's see,
I can think of Street Racer (SNES, PSX), Super Karts (PC),
Atari Karts (Jaguar), Sonic Jam (Game Gear), and Diddy Kong
Racing (N64). With the exception of Diddy Kong Racing, how
many are actually good, let alone great? None. Well, now
there is a new game to place along side Diddy Kong Racing,
and it's much better than that game in the multi-player mode.
Welcome to Snowboard Kids.
Snowboard Kids certainly doesn't win any awards for knocking
your socks off graphics-wise or sound-wise. In fact, there's
even a chance you won't be all that impressed when you first start
playing. But after you get past the initial learning curve, you'll
find that Snowboard Kids is a game loaded with tons of subtle
strategy and technique -- the same kind that made Super Mario
Kart so great and the same kind that was partly missing from
Mario Kart 64.
Snowboard Kids is actually a little bit more different from
Mario Kart than I thought it would be. But that's fine by me.
First of all, there are always four racers on the track at one
time. In the one-player mode, you race against three computer
opponents. In the two-player mode, you and your friend race
against two computer opponents. In the three-player mode,
the computer controls the fourth kid. Although I kind of wish
there was more computer-controlled competition, it really
isn't a detriment to the game like I thought it would be.
There are six initially available tracks in Snowboard Kids,
with three hidden ones in there. The tracks vary quite a bit
a design. On the first board (Rookie Mt.), for example, a lap
only takes about 30 seconds and there are five laps. The track
doesn't have many sharp turns and has short jumps. Other
boards have night racing, racing on grass, and racing on a
desert! Those alternative types of terrain control exactly
the same. The boards also vary greatly in track length. Like
I said, the first board takes about 30 seconds per lap while
a later board can take three minutes for a lap. Fortunately, the
tracks aren't all that wide like Mario Kart 64, and while they
do contain a lot of fences or hills to keep you on, there are
numerous places to fall off on some boards, especially at
places where you need to be going fast enough to make a jump.
If you do so happen to fall off, you'll be put back onto the track
within a few seconds. You then have to lightly press A a few
times -- but not too hard -- to get your momentum started again.
The next interesting thing is the way the laps work. Yes, there
are laps in Snowboard Kids. Depending on the board, there can
be anywhere from two to nine laps on a race, with three being
the most likely. You start at the top of the hill. And when you
get to the bottom of the hill, you take a lift back to the top.
But the best thing is that you can use the lift to screw people.
See, only one person at a time can enter through the gate and
get on the lift. (By the way, you get on the lift automatically
once you're through the gate.) So if someone is right behind
you, then you can hurry up and get to the gate first. You'll
get on the lift and go up while they get smacked by the
closing gate! Then they have to get up and try to go through
again and hope that someone doesn't sneak ahead of them to
screw them over yet again! You really begin to appreciate this
once you get into some heated competition.
The power-up scheme is also different. First, there are two
different types of boxes on the track called "shops." The red
one is the weapon shop and the blue one is the item shop. The
weapon shop (red) gives you offensive weapons to launch at
your opponents. For example, there are items to freeze them,
blow them up, launch them into the air so they slowly fall,
turn them into a snowman, and slap them (knock them to the
ground). The item shop (blue) gives you defensive/offensive
weapons. There are items to slow down an opponent, to
increase your speed temporarily, to drop a small yet hard-to-see
rock, to steal everyone else's coins, to make you invisible to
avoid offensive attacks, and to do the dreaded pie pan attack.
Because these are technically shops, you need money in order
to run into them. If you don't have enough money and if you run
into them, you'll most likely stop dead in your tracks, though you
can be "brushed" aside if you're lucky. There are tons of coins
scattered on each track. Each coin gives you 100 gold. The coins
do reset each lap, by the way. You can also get coins by doing
tricks. You do tricks going off of jumps. The more difficult the
trick, the more money you'll get.
This leads us into the control. Control in Snowboard Kids is
fairly straightforward. Since you're going downhill and since
you're on a snowboard, there is no "gas" button. The A button
is used to jump. The jump can be used to avoid certain attacks
if timed correctly. It can be used in conjunction with other
buttons to perform cool tricks. It's also needed to get started
if you stop in your tracks by smacking something or by falling
off a ledge. Try pressing it rapidly before the start of a race to
get a boost. The B button is what you press to use an item (blue
boxes). The Z button is what you press to use a weapon (red boxes).
Yes, that means you can carry one weapon and one item at one time.
There are two boxes on the screen for them. The left box is for the
Z button and the right box is for the B button. The C buttons are
also used to do board grabs when going off a jump.
The Control Stick is also used very nicely in Snowboard Kids.
There is no need to press the R button to power-slide in
this game. Pressing directly left or directly right is called
a soft edge. But as the direction moves down to the corner,
you start to take sharper turns. Pressing the Control Stick
completely to the diagonally lower left or right corners,
which is called a hard edge, will enable you to take the
sharpest turns. You have to be careful with pushing it fully,
though, because you can turn your board around and mess
yourself up. Shifting your body weight back and forth (i.e., moving
the Control Stick left or right or one side to the other for the
various situations) will give you full control over all turns
in the game. It doesn't take all that long to master this, and
it really does fit the snowboarding concept rather well.
In addition to collecting gold to pick up weapons and items,
you can also accumulate gold and save up for new snowboards
in the one-player mode. Then the new boards can be used in the
multi-player mode. There are three different types of
snowboards in the game (excluding any hidden ones): Freestyle,
All Around and Alpine. Freestyle turns quickly and is easy
to control, but it's slow. It's pretty much only recommended
for the half pipe in the game. All Around is just a completely
average board when it comes to speed, cornering and tricks.
Alpine is a very fast board that's kind of difficult to steer.
All of the boards can be powered-up to level three. It takes
about 10,000 gold to go from one level to the next. Each of
the higher level boards is faster and has better handling.
I'm going to gloss over Snowboard Kids' various modes. First
of all, there's a "Lesson" mode that teaches you about the
game's basics. It's not all that great, though. There's also
an Option mode that enables you toggle options for the
multi-player mode, such as number of laps for each course,
if you want shops (weapons/items) on the course or not,
and if you want coins on the course or not. I personally do
not mess with any of these options.
Then there are the game modes. In the one-player mode,
you have your choice between Battle Race, Skill Game
and Time Attack. Skill Game contains three miscellaneous
game modes. Speed Cross is where you are supposed to
pick up fan after fan (for speed boosts) in order to reach
the goal as fast as possible. Shoot Cross is where you have
to shoot as many snowmen as possible in one run. You have
an unlimited number of shots, but it isn't easy to be accurate.
Trick Game is the half pipe in the game. Next is the Time
Attack. It's the quintessential time trial mode. You get
one fan to use, and the goal is to finish one lap as fast as
possible. All of your records for these modes are saved
along with the board type and board level you used.
But the real action is in the Battle Race. The is the
main mode in which you race with the computer. In fact,
it's the only mode you can play when there are two or
more human players. Forget those other novelty modes,
because this is what you'll be playing constantly.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Snowboard Kids, though,
is the fact that races are exciting and very close most of
the time. And there isn't any computer assistance in this
game like Mario Kart 64! There are a few minor things that
help make the game fair, though. For example, if you're in
first place, then you can't get frying pans, but you can get
a fan or a ghost every now and then. And since there's no
brake in the game, you can't stop to let someone else pass
you to get a better item. Otherwise, you'd be screwing
yourself if you messed up to do that. And more in line
with the original Super Mario Kart, just because you're
in last place, that doesn't mean you're going to get frying
pans all the time. You'll might get a few crap items in the
row, and if you so happen to be out of money, then, well,
you're in trouble for that race. The only place where
there's really any mercy for the people trailing is when
a lap is completed. When being dropped off the snow lift
to start a new lap, you might notice that the third and
fourth place racers will get a better rolling start than
the first place racer -- but that's it. There aren't any
kind of mysterious speed increases during the actual race.
The actual racing itself is very intense. My friends and
I always had a saying in Mario Kart -- "There's always
hope..." -- and it certainly holds true here. On a three-lap
race, you could be in fourth place the first two laps, and
then if the people in front start screwing up, coupled
with a frying pan or ghost or two, you could find yourself
in first by the end of the race. Positions often change with
a blink of the eye.
Some of you are probably wondering a little more about the
weapons, so I'll go into a little more detail. First of all, there
aren't any cheap weapons. The frying pan is arguably the ultimate
weapon, though. It affects all other three racers -- that is,
unless they're on the lift, unless they've fallen off the track,
or unless they're invisible. One of the great things about the
frying pan -- besides its instantaneous hit -- is the fact
that a person could be up in the air, doing a trick, and then
the frying pan would smash them to the ground instantly.
And what about the offensive weapons? None of them home as
well as a Mario Kart red shell, but some are much more homing
than others. Depending on which of the five weapons you pick,
a weapon could seek out an opponent on slightly curving parts
(the slap), could bounce around aimlessly (the snowman), or
could miss altogether unless you were dead-on accurate with
your aim (the bomb). These weapons can also affect you,
too. For example, if you freeze someone, they turn into a
big ice cube until they thaw out (it takes a few seconds).
But if you come smacking into them, then you'll stop. And
with the bomb, if you touch the blast radius, then you'll be
stopped, too! Then there's the awful parachute. This is one
weapon you like to hit people with but don't like to be hit
with. If you hit your opponent with this, it sends them up
into the air and makes them slowly float down. Now imagine
compounding this effect if they were going off a jump when
you shot them! The frying pan may be bad because it's an
instant hit, but at least you're back in business after two
seconds. Depending on how high you were sent when shot by
a parachute, it may take a good five or six seconds until you land!
Multi-player action in Snowboard Kids just rocks so
unbelievably hard. Even with a total of four racers on the
track at once, the two-player mode is a ton of fun because
the computer is actually intelligent. It actually picks up
weapons, items, and coins and uses stuff against you.
But the real fun comes with three- and four-player racing.
It's great how the computer takes control of the fourth racer
in the three-player mode. Of course, you got the scrunched screens,
but you should be used to that by now. The game does take a
slight speed hit compared to the two-player mode, but it still
seems faster than the one-player mode. Fortunately, the horizon
is far enough into the distance, too. The only minor problem with
the multi-player mode is that Snowboard Kids just doesn't look as
sharp as other N64 games. So it can be slightly difficult to
discern some of the weapons, items, boxes, and racers. Still, you'll
get over it and will really start to enjoy the game with all of its
action, jumping, tricks, and ways to screw each other over.
I guess I should quickly mention graphics and sound. This goes
to show how unimportant they are to Snowboard Kids. The
graphics are solid and fast, but it doesn't look very pretty
compared to other N64 racing games. As a matter of fact, it's
not very sharp or clear. You'll also find a lot of simple polygons
and even some two-dimensional sprites. There is a slight
amount of clipping and pop-up, too, but it isn't as bad as any
32-bit game. The sound in the game isn't all that great. There
are some interesting voices for the menus and kids, but they
don't have the personality of Mario Kart 64. The music is some
kind of weird Euro music that is upbeat and original, but it's
nowhere near memorable. But you'll be so engrossed in the
game that you probably won't notice it.
Wow. Snowboard Kids is the epitome of fun; it's the reason why
I don't average the overall score. The averaged overall score (4.2)
wouldn't show how much I actually love (4.8) this game. It's
simply one of the best multi-player games around on any platform.
In fact, dare I say it, Snowboard Kids could one day have the cult
following that Super Mario Kart had. It just seems like the more
I play it, the more I realize how much depth the game has. If you
don't have enough friends for three- or four-player action, then
you better go out and make some, because Snowboard Kids is not
to be missed.
Graphics: 3.4 out of 5
Sound: 3.3 out of 5
Control: 4.5 out of 5
Gameplay: 4.9 out of 5
Lastability: 4.9 out of 5
Overall: 4.8 out of 5