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Snowboard Kids

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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

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