Snowboard Kids
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Racdym
  • Publisher:
    • Atlus
  • Released:
    • JP 12/12/1997
    • US 03/15/1998
    • UK 03/16/1998
Score: 80%

This review was published on 04/03/2016.

Snowboard Kids is a snowboarding video game published by Atlus and developed by Racdym for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on December 12, 1997, North America on March 15, 1998, and Europe on March 16, 1998. There was an enhanced port called Snowboard Kids Plus released for the Sony PlayStation exclusively in Japan on January 21, 1999. In the late 1990s, when 3-D gaming became prevalent on consoles, extreme sports games rose to prominence. Of these extreme sports, snowboarding was a popular pick. On the N64, 1080° Snowboarding was considered to be the leader in the snowboarding games hysteria, but there were a couple of other titles in the genre that deserved more recognition. Snowboard Kids is one such title. This game combines the hectic nature of Mario Kart with snowboarding to make something profoundly unique. Honestly, Snowboard Kids should have been the one to lead the snowboarding game craze back then, because it's pretty great.

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According to the tutorial, Snowboard Kids is a racing game without brakes. That's not a bad way to put it, considering you're on a snowboard and not driving a car. Because this is snowboarding, the courses are designed with a downward slant, so you'll automatically slide down without doing much of anything. In the event that you aren't moving much, you can do a short hop to jumpstart yourself, but that's usually only necessary if you fall down. As a result of this, you don't have to worry about acceleration or braking like you would in most racing games, placing the focus entirely on turning with the analog stick. To make a tight turn, all you have to do is pull back slightly on the analog stick while turning. This makes controlling the game very simple, allowing virtually anyone to get with the program in seconds. Don't think the simplicity means there's no depth, though, because there's loads of it. In fact, there's so much depth that I'm going to have to break it down into multiple paragraphs.

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If you hold down the A button, you'll squat, and once you let go, you'll jump. Tapping the A button lets you do a quick hop. The main purpose of jumping is to pull off tricks. When you jump off a high place like a ramp, you'll have the opportunity to perform fancy flips while midair. All this requires is that you hold the analog stick in a direction before jumping. Holding different C buttons will cause your character to grab and hold onto the board, further adding style to your trickery. You can grind on rails, too. Additionally, there are tricks specific to each character, which are generally the hardest to do, since they each require different inputs. However, if you do a trick too close to the ground, you'll fall over like a moron. As for the purpose of tricks; in addition to looking cool, they earn you money. This is important inside and outside of races for many reasons, so you'll want to do as many tricks as possible. Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids!

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Like the Mario Kart series, you can obtain and use items during a race to gain an advantage. Items are found inside boxes scattered across the course, with red boxes holding offensive items and blue boxes containing defensive ones. Offensive items include things like explosive bombs, parachutes that home in on other racers to launch them into the air, and shards of ice that freeze opponents. Defensive items consist of stuff like temporary invisibility, fans that attach to your board to temporarily increase speed, and a rat that steals everyone's money. You can jump over or deflect some offensive items with your board if you get the timing right, but this is extremely hard to do. Anyway, the catch to using items is that they cost money, so you'll either have to do tricks or grab scattered coins to use them. Essentially, playing well means you get more items, further increasing your chance of success. It's a neat concept, though it can be frustrating when used against you.

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Five playable characters are available right from the start, and there's a sixth one that can be unlocked later on. You've got a spiky haired boy named Slash Kamei, a sweet girl named Nancy Niel, a Rastafarian dude named Jam Kuehnemund, a spoiled brat named Linda Maltinie, a fat kid named Tommy Parsy, and a ninja known as Shinobin. The character design is a little on the odd side, as all the characters have astronomically big noses. While somewhat unsettling, there's something strangely endearing about it. In addition to looking and sounding different, each character has different stats that will determine their snowboarding performance, like how fast they go, how high they jump, and how good they are at taking turns. Thankfully, the stats are listed on the character select screen, so no guesswork is required. The only real negative thing to say here is that the cast of playable characters is a bit on the small side. The enhanced PlayStation port does have more characters, but that's of no consolation if you don't have it.

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Winning races gives you large sums of cash that you can then use to purchase boards at the shop. Much like the characters, each board has different statistical attributes that have an impact on races. There are three main categories of boards: Freestyle, All-Around, and Alpine. All-Around boards are evenly balanced, Freestyle is for tight turns and doing tricks, and Alpine is for pure speed. Eventually, you'll also come across a few special boards, one of which is the feather board. This fancy board lets you float briefly in the air after a jump, making it great for pulling off tricks. On top of all that, you can change the paintjob on any of your acquired boards. The primary drawback to the whole shop system is that you'll have to do some serious grinding to get the more expensive boards, and this'll undoubtedly make you bored.

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There are nine courses to snowboard across in the land of Snowboard Kids. Most of the courses consist of snowy mountains and hills, which is the kind of thing you'd expect out of a snowboarding game. However, there is still a good bit of variety, because some courses feature environments that are completely unorthodox for snowboarding. For example, there's a grassy valley, an amusement park, an urban highway, a Japanese village, and even a desert. Each course has a different layout littered with obstacles, and there are occasionally multiple paths. Everything looks and sounds nice, with decent graphics and awesome music. When at the end of a lap, racers must enter a chairlift, single file, to be taken back up to the beginning of the course to do the next lap. It doesn't take long for you to get back to the top, though; you're essentially warped there in a few seconds. You can also block other racers from getting into the chairlift, but they can block you, too. The courses are all pretty cool, but there could be more of them.

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If you want modes, Snowboard Kids has got them. The main mode is Battle Race, which is a four player race comprised of humans, computers, or both. Then there's the obligatory time attack mode that lets you play courses solo to best your best times. After that, you've got three different sub-modes all listed under a category known as Skill Game. The first one is called Speed Game and it's similar to time attack, except the course is filled with fan items to help you get even better times. Next is Shot Game, which tasks you with shooting snowmen using an unlimited supply of bullets, all the while snowboarding to the finish line. Lastly, Trick Game has you doing tricks on an exclusive course to earn points. With the exception of time attack, every mode earns you cash. The variety provided by these modes is nice, but most of them take place on the same courses, so they do get old after a while.

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As far as snowboarding games go, Snowboard Kids is one of the best. I mean, it even has snowboard in the title! You can't go wrong with that. Racing in this game feels great, especially when coupled with the tricky trick system. The only issue with the game is that it's a bit lacking in features. To be more specific, there aren't enough characters and courses. This is a problem that's remedied in the sequel, Snowboard Kids 2, but that's another review for another time.

Word Count: 1,441

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