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Snowboard Kids Review

Publisher - Atlus
Developer - Racdym
Platform - N64
Type - Racing
Score - 8/10

Snowboarding is gaining in popularity, and video game manufacturers have caught on to that fact. Nagano Winter Olympics included snowboarding among its sports, and there are several dedicated snowboarding games along the way. The first one down the hill is Snowboard Kids, a game with a lighthearted and fun approach to snowboarding.

Snowboard Kids gives you a group of ten year olds on snowboards going over a variety of terrain. Yes, there's snow, but there's also grass and water, among other surfaces. Throw in Waverace style stunts and Mario Kart weapons, and you begin to understand the style of the game. Four kids race down the mountain, picking up coins and doing tricks to earn money so they can buy powerups. The powerups come in two classes, including shots that have varying effects when they hit, such knocking other racers down or turning the other racers into snowmen, and more whimsical things, such as a fan to propel you down the course and pans, which fall out of the sky and crush all the other racers. You can have one red powerup (the shots) and one blue powerup (the rest) at a time. Like in Mario Kart, effective use of powerups is dependent on both timing and luck. You can't control what you get, but you do choose how to use it.

Since this is snowboarding, you start at the top of a hill and race to the bottom, but in spite of that each race has several laps. You're probably asking yourself how that works, and the answer is that there's a ski lift at the bottom. As the kids come careening to the bottom, they all fight for position and try to be the next one on the lift and back up the hill. It's annoying when you get pushed out of the way, but satisfying when you time it right and pick up another position.

There are several other game modes in addition to racing and to the required time trials. The Skill Games, as they call them, are Speed Cross, Shot Cross, and Trick Game. In Speed Cross, the goal is pure speed. There are fans on the course to keep you moving, and learning the correct path to hit all the fans is an important part of mastering the course. In Shot Cross, there are snowmen all over the course, but you have an unlimited number of shots. The goal is to explode as many of them as you can. The Trick Game takes place on a special course which includes a halfpipe and a rail slide to show off on.

There are five racers, some of whom are faster but less maneuverable, and others with good cornering but a lower top speed. To compensate for a racer's weaknesses, you also get to choose one of three boards. Again, there's a freestyle board for cornering, an alpine board for speed, and the all around board, which is average. As you win races, you get money so you can buy better and faster boards. The game also has a paint shop, which lets you select one of 14 paint jobs for your new board. If you don't like your look, you can always go back in and change it. Initially, there are six courses to race on, ranging from short and easy to reasonably challenging, in addition to the stunt course. The game promises additional courses once you master the first six, but be prepared to practice. Unfortunately, you need an entire memory pack to save your boards and the races you have opened.

Like in Mario Kart, mastering the course isn't all you need to take first place. All the powerups make it difficult to stay in first once you get there, and all the other racers tend to stay right with you. Be prepared to be in first late in the final lap, get bombed by the other racers, and limp to fourth. The weapons naturally work to your advantage as well. One well timed set of pans, and you'll be cruising by the other racers for that first place finish.

Also like in Mario Kart, Snowboard Kids knows the importance of multiplayer action. Up to four players can race, and you can use your customized boards from your memory packs, so experience in the one player game translates to experience in the multiplayer game. With all the other comparisons to Mario Kart, you have to wonder if Snowboard Kids has a battle mode. Unfortunately it doesn't, but there's enough action while racing that this isn't a huge loss.

Another piece of fun is the tricks. There are jumps all over the courses, and if you hit them right you can do flips, spins, board grabs, and special moves that each character has. Of course, if you don't get enough air, or hold on to the board for too long, you'll have an unpleasant landing, but the tricks earn you money, and look cool too.

This is definitely a pretty game. The snow looks good, and the polygonal characters are well animated. While there is draw-in, it's like Pilotwings. It's so far away and so smooth that it really isn't a distraction. While there are no really spectacular special effects, the powerups look good and the tricks add flair. The kids are all in Japanese super-deformed style, with huge head and compressed bodies. They all also have huge noses and dramatic hair, but it makes them all fun to look at. Performance in multiplayer mode suffers a little, but not too much. The animation gets a little choppy, but there are no real slow downs, and the draw-in is kept under control. This game goes without fogging, and it never needs it. About the harshest criticism that can be made of this game's graphics is that it's cute, but even there, it's a comfortable level of cuteness.

The music is quite excellent synth-pop that basically is a reminder that this game is fun. With the music bopping away in the background, you'll have a hard time taking anything too seriously. The music varies from track to track, and appropriately captures the attitude of each one. The kids all make cute noises as they shoot the other racers or get shot themselves, when they run into things, and when they win. The kids and the other sound effects are right in line with the overall feel of the game, and I have no complaints. There's no announcer in the game, but it's probably better because of it.

The control is probably the one significant letdown of the game. Before you start worrying, I should say that the control is tight, and definitely dependent on the racer and the board, the way it should be. Unfortunately, it's not very dependent on the terrain. With all the different surfaces the kids ride over, I would expect them to feel significantly different, and I can't really say that I feel it. Aside from that, the controls are good. There's no gas or brake. You have to rely on gravity to get you going down the mountain, and after that there's no real reason to slow down. You get a hop button, necessary to make some jumps and helpful for getting big air to pull off cool tricks, two item buttons, and the C-buttons to choose which kind of grab to do when jumping. That's about it. The control stick is used to control turning and leaning, and for tricks. Pull back on the stick when hopping, and you'll flip. Push to the side, and you'll spin. Just like Waverace. In all, the controls are responsive, but I would have liked greater variation based on terrain.

Snowboard Kids is the first game I've played that advertises Rumble Pack support on the title screen, but in spite of that it's pretty weak. The game has plenty of opportunities for rumbling, land after jumps, getting shot, and rough terrain for starters, but it misses most of them. It's disappointing, but it doesn't damage the game.

I've compared Snowboard Kids to Mario Kart frequently in this review, and while I don't want to overstate the similarity, if you like Mario Kart you will like this game. The weapons and racing lead to the same sort of competition as Mario Kart, but the tricks add another dimension that should not be missed. The cuteness of the game will appeal to younger players, while the intensity of the gameplay will draw an older crowd. Don't overlook Snowboard Kids.