I’m not quite certain how to start this review. After all, it’s my first review here at this beautiful little steamboat you people call der ‘Cola. I could talk about how awesome it is to have your work plastered onto something other than GameFAQs, where every little Mary Jane that comes by can simply talk about just how great and flawless Sonic the Hedgehog for the 360 really is. I can also talk about how stupid putting underscores in your username really is, and that Big_Blaze and I can never be best friends forever.
Instead, I think I’ll talk about my youth. My childhood days were all about the Nintendo 64. It was God’s gift to man like God never gave before to a kid like me. I would get into arguments in the middle of my fourth grade art classes over whether the PlayStation or the N64 was the superior console, and I’dalways win. And I would always win because of one simple fact. Snowboard Kids on the Nintendo 64.
Actually, it was all the beautiful gems that Rare left behind, but I’m assuming they’ve all been reviewed already. Moving on.
Snowboard Kids, to put it plainly, is the result of 1080° Snowboarding having a drunken three-way with Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 64 on the eve of Wave Race 64’s wedding. It’s a fusion of snowboarding and kart racing that fit in perfectly well with Nintendo’s image of being a kid-friendly utopia for families in the late 90s. It was an early title in the consoles life-span, and it was good enough to spawn another two titles in the series, one of which I haven’t had the absolute pleasure to play, and the other that can go return from the damned asshole of a 50-year-old fatass from whence it came.
The game tells the story of how five plucky young kids ranging from the ages of 10 to 12 sat their egos on the line of a hardcore snowboarding contest. There’s Slash, who serves as the all-around, happy-go-lucky, I-love-snowboarding hero. Then there’s Linda, the older, snobby, rich girl who just happens to have the money to send the snowboarding youngsters on their little battle of the egos. They are joined by Nancy, who wears pink bunny ears and those wash-off tattoos you win at a Chuck E. Cheese’s, and Tommy, the resident fat kid who’d prefer to smother himself in hamburgers rather than snowboard, but who everyone loves anyway cause his name is Tommy, and everyone loves a guy named Tommy. And then there’s Jam, who I thought was a girl for four years until I managed to look at the game’s instruction manual close enough to realize they were calling him a “he” and not a “she.” Nothing good came out of that.
They are joined by a sixth unlockable character who is apparently a ninja, and is so stealthy that he doesn’t actually show up on the select character screen once unlocked. That’s one hardcore ninja. All of the characters have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to top speed, acceleration, and turning, and it’s definitely apparent in the gameplay. Those traits are added onto which board you choose. The choice consists of Free-Style, which is more trick oriented, All-Around, which is extremely self explanatory, and Alpine, which is all about speed and being unable to turn at the slightest angle, no matter how much you twist those hips.
Now, when I try to explain the gameplay of SBK, I call it Mario Kart on snowboards, because that’s what it basically is. As you’re speeding down the hill, you can earn money by picking up coins lying on the track or by performing tricks. You can spend this money at the shops on the hills, which are represented by red and blue boxes, with a two-dimensional image of the shop owner, Mr. Dog, waving at you from the top.
Red boxes gain you shootable weapons that do things to your adversaries like freezing them, flinging them into the air with a parachute, blowing them up, turning them into snowmen, or—my personal favorite—slapping them on the ass and making them roll over themselves down the mountain like actual kids do for fun, except it’s not really fun cause it stains your good jeans and bruises your knees.
The blue boxes hold other items, such as a simple rock to trip up the little buggers behind you, a WICKED COOL FAN that speeds you up, some mouse that steals everyone else’s cash and gives it to you, invisibility, which means that the only thing that can hurt you is the silly little rock, and the ultimate weapon: the Golden Frying Pan, which instantly smashes the racers in front of you flat to the ground and lets you grace over them with a cheeky smile on your 10-year-old face. These weapons are very balanced. Although the weapons home in on foes, the game gives players plenty of warning by means of a cartoony exclamation mark appearing over their heads. If players are skilled enough, they can hop right over the projectile or otherwise use the invisibility power-up and let it grace right over them.
Perhaps one of the coolest things about SBK is the mountains players make their way down. You could say that they are baby versions of what you might experience in the SSX series, but with a lot more nonsense. One track, my personal favorite, is actually on a grassy mountain, which means that there’s absolutely zero snow, and yet you’re bombing down the hill no problem. That’s simple wackiness, and it’s something that every stage brings to the game. You’ll also snowboard down mountains, amusement park boardwalks, giant snowmen, and a snow-covered mountain. Yup, there actually is a normal, snowy mountain in the game, but where’s the fun in that?
One of my favorite parts of each track is at the bottom of the mountain, where you have to board a ski lift to take yourself back to the top for the next lap. This becomes intense during close races, as, after a player boards a lift; another player can’t get on it for a good three seconds, which leaves any player stuck at the lift in a pickle, as they could get shot at by other players behind them and ultimately be left in the dust for the next lap. Getting to the lift first should leave any play grinning in a multiplayer game.
My beef with SBK is that it’s bare bones when it comes to presentation. There are only nine tracks, three of which are unlockable, and, while there are three bonus minigames, they are only playable on three tracks. (With the exception of the trick mode, which is not only a bad idea in a game with such a limited trick system, but also has a short and crappy track to accompany it.) The graphics are standard 1998 affairs, except the frame rate drops horribly during multiplayer races. The audio is all right, although the game does feature two of my favorite tracks in a non-Rare/Nintendo/Bungie game: the background songs for Green Valley and Quicksand Valley. The voices can be irritating in their own right, but this was back in 1998, so I’m not going to worry much when it comes to these matters.
So, now comes the hard part of giving this game a final score, which is difficult for a number of reasons. One, this is GameCola, and their whole FIVE IS EXTREMELY AVERAGE bit is something I’m still getting used to. The second thing I have to think of is how to balance my airquotes “Professional Gaming Journalist” hat with my “Zach Rich is still stuck in the late 90s playing Snowboard Kids” hat. At the very end of the day, Snowboard Kids is a fun idea, a good idea, and a very solid game. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s not average either, and, to my belief, it aged quite well, as I was able to get some friends to play a few rounds of it in between bouts of Rock Band and Halo 3, and my friends were still able to get right into it. It’s a fun, memorable diversion, and while it’s never going to get its place on the Virtual Console it rightly deserves, it’s worth a buy if you find it at a used game store more than that copy of Sonic the Hedgehog your yippy little pal Big_Blaze demands.