Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Second Opinion: 1080 Snowboarding vs. Snowboard Kids

Despite the current lack of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, I recently got my hands on two snowboarding games for the Nintendo 64: Snowboard Kids by Atlus & Racdym, and 1080 Snowboarding by Nintendo.  Both are titles I have fond memories renting as a kid, and both are titles I haven't touched in years.  So which is better than the other?  Well... they're different.  But to explain which of the two quantifiably does what it does better... that would take more... explaining.  In pondering such an... explanation (somebody give me a thesaurus), I flashed back to a certain review by the Video Game Critic.  No, it's not Sonic 4, although it did generate negativity where I saw none.  Yup, he/she/they gave Snowboard Kids a C+, whereas 1080 scored an A-, and apparently, that is cause for my concern.  Looks like it's time to dust off the Second Opinion brand again!


1080 Snowboarding
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release:
    • Nintendo 64, 31 March 1998
    • Wii (DLC), 28 January 2008
  • Genre: 1-4 player Sports/Racing
  • Save: Battery, 1 file
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • N64: Common, US$5-15
    • Wii: DLC, US$10
Snowboard Kids
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Racdym
  • Release: Nintendo 64, February 1998
  • Genre: 1-4 player Sports/Racing
  • Save: Controller Pak, 121 Pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate, US$15-25
Design:

First of all, I can tell you up front that 1080 Snowboarding is more or less a straight-up racing game on snowboards, in which the main mode involves series of one-on-one races.  Snowboard Kids, on the other hand, plays with that formula.  One, you can pick up items  to slow down your rivals or boost yourself.  For this reason alone, the Video Game Critic aptly describes this as "Mario Kart on snowboards".  So what kinds of pickups can one expect?  More than can be described in his/her/their traditional one-paragraph reviews, that's for certain, but he/she/they do have something to say on the the matter:
[SK] Some weapons are incredibly cheap, like one that simultaneously drops pans on all of your opponent's heads (really?).
Ah yes, the dreaded pie pans.  (Or possibly washtubs; I hear that's a real thing in anime.)  Now, what he/she/they don't tell you is that there's actually a fair balance to the item allotments.  The more effective goodies like the pie pans are more frequently given to players falling behind, whereas leading players are more likely to end up with lowly rocks (for tripping opponents with).  Compare it with the Mario Kart series, and let me know if you manage to find a Blue Shell within the top three places.

And two, despite the one-way nature of snowboarding, the game manages to work in a lap system: at the finish line, you scoot over to a gate and ride a chair-lift to the top of the course.  But it's not all good, as the VGC describes:
[SK] Each race requires several "runs" down the slope, and you need to enter a tiny lift gate at the bottom of each hill to ride back to the top. Why did they make these gates so tiny? They are so easy to miss! [...] The races are longer than Lindsay Lohan's rap sheet, so if one guy pulls way ahead it turns into a dull affair.
Alright, I will concede that fighting with your opponents to get the next seat on the chair-lift is not the best way to put this concept into practise.  Why not just make it a cutscene -- or better yet, a skippable cutscene?

[1080] There are a nice variety of modes including match races, time trials, slalom events, long jumps, half pipes, and "contests" that mix up the challenges.
[SK] The single-player mode challenges to beat all the tracks, and you shouldn't overlook the mini-games which include a rapid-fire snowman shooter.
Both games feature stand-alone time trials and score trials, where you pull off stunts for points.  By virtue of its unorthodox format, SK offers an exclusive mode where you shoot stationary snowmen.  But unlike SK, in 1080 you can attempt these auxiliary modes on any track available in the central mode, and then some.  However, what the Video Game Critic doesn't tell you is that "Long jumps" and "half pipes" merely refer to individual courses playable in one Trick Attack mode.  Draw.
[1080] A nice two-player split screen mode is included and the cartridge automatically saves high scores.[SK] The problem is, saving your progress requires 121 pages on a controller pack [sic], and that's pretty much the whole thing! 
Yeah, that's a lot of space, I said understatedly.  Frame of reference: a regulation-size Controller Pak holds 123 pages of data.  This is one reason why my youthful preferences drifted more towards the N64 and away from the CD-based PlayStation: the ability to save progress without and additional purchase.  The chance that my file might not be on the copy I rented the second time around was a chance I was willing to take.  Point 1080.

Control:
[1080]The trails are more narrow than other snowboarding games, but it's not a problem since analog stick provides just the right degree of control. [...] Also, I noticed that some characters have trouble nailing their landings even after performing simple tricks.
[SK] The tracks are wide enough and the analog controls make it easy to carve.
Okay, this is where I beg to differ.  In my experiences with 1080, the game offered me anything but the right degree of control.  I could literally (not literally, mind you) never get my boarder to coast in a straight line, since every single turn left him or her faced at some angle.  Which becomes problematic because there's a health meter, if you can believe it, and when it drains you have to trade in one of your limited "lives".  Whilst ultimately playable, the unstable controls of 1080 provide for a serious case of "Your Mileage May Vary".  At the very least, 1080's control setup boasts a feature missing from SK's: holding Z makes you duck down and go faster, without having to jump once you let go of the button.    Point SK.


You can hardly ever keep straight in 1080 Snowboarding.
If I may be permitted to make an observation of my own, I shall compare the trick systems of both games.  In 1080, the B button and Control Stick are used for grab tricks and the R for spins.  On the other hand, to do spins/flips in Snowboard Kids, you have to hold the Control Stick before jumping, not in midair.  You can also do grabs by pressing and holding one of the C buttons, but for some reason you can only perform one grab per jump.  Combined, these rules make the stunt system in SK far more awkward than in 1080.  And when doing tricks yields rewards other than points in a separate mode, it's kind of important not to mess that system up.  Still, both these titles were planned and released before Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (PlayStation et al., 1999) came and standardised the extreme-sports genre, so either way you might encounter a degree of early-installment weirdness.  Point 1080.

Graphics:
[1080] The graphics are superb, with awesome mountain backdrops, icy ridges, and blowing snow that looks so real you can feel the chill!  I actually had to wear a hat, ski pants, and ski boots just to review this game.  Most of the six courses are fairly realistic, and even the more unusual courses never go completely over-the-top like those in SSX (Playstation 2, 2000). [...] The sound of crisp snow crunching under your board is awesome, and I like the way snow flies as you slice through it.
[SK] 
The courses are very inviting with their well-groomed trails and bright blue skies. The night track is downright spectacular with gorgeous lighting effects and a quaint town backdrop. The tracks feature plenty ramps, cliffs, tunnels, and bridges to keep things interesting. [...] Most trails have appealing winter themes, but what's up with the "grass valley" stage? Who in the [expletive] [sic] wants to snowboard on grass? That doesn't even make any sense! There's also an amusement park track that's equally dumb - and unnecessary.
Somebody's gushing about games they like.  Alright, bias aside, I can safely state that 1080 goes for a straight snowboard simulation, whereas SK takes a more fantastical bent.  Both are reasonably competent at what they set out to do.  On the one hand, 1080 fits in more details, like the trail of compressed snow behind your boarder, and the wind whipping at his or her clothes.  But I don't know about "superb"; slowdown is occasional, the camera seems to have a fetish for "Dutch angles", and character animation is on the lifeless side.

As for Snowboard Kids, yes there is the occasional stage which takes place on non-snowy surfaces, like Green Valley (pictured below), Dizzy Land, and the unlockable Sand Mountain.  And you consider that as valid grounds for criticism?  Seriously, dude?  Whatever happened to your spirit of whimsical fun?  I mean, when your game features (alleged) 10-year-olds smacking each other about with snowmen, pie pans, and Cartoon Bombs, what else could you expect but something a little off-the-wall?  And besides, it's not like grass, rocks, or sand have different physics than snow, so in essence, they all play the same!  ...Granted it would be a nice technical achievement for them to have done so, but hey, gotta save something for the next console generation.  Besides, why not talk about the character models, each easily discernable from one another and decked out with these giant noses, it's just... so... KLOOOOOOOOOOT!!! =^_^=

...

Yes, folks.  A cat-emoticon.  You see what ya made me do, Snowboard Kids!?  Draw.


Grassy courses in Snowboard Kids because why the [verb] not.
[SK] Power-ups and weapons are provided by creepy clown icons.
And another thing: no, that's a dog on the item boxes.  You know, the same dog who runs the board shop from the main menu?  Do you even do research for your reviews?  Oh wait, you ignored Dimps' heavy involvement in Sonic 4, so I guess not.

Audio:
[1080] One negative aspect of the game is the soundtrack, which dishes out some of the most repetitive [noun] I've ever heard in a video game.
Alright, I'll agree with you there.  The music in 1080 tries to emulate real house and rock music, which given the limited music synthesizer and storage space for samples proffered by the Nintendo 64, is no small feat.  Unfortunately in doing so, they made some of the songs just plain annoying, in particular the track from the first level, Crystal Lake (no relation to Friday the 13th).  SK, on the other hand, has decidedly more in common with "traditional" video game composition, with a stronger emphasis on instrumental melody, and is stronger for it.  I for one especially liked the minor-key theme from the Night Highway course.  Point SK.

Final Statements:
[1080] [...] 1080 is a phenomenal title that's hard to put down.  Before SSX came along, nothing could touch this.
[SK] 
Bonehead design decisions not withstanding, this lighthearted racer will keep you in good spirits during the cold winter months.
Dear Video Game Critic, forgive me for not indulging in such gushing praise of 1080 Snowboarding.  I still maintain that the unstable motion physics leave much to be polished up, but the straight-up racing and trick mechanics provide more than their share of satisfaction.  But if I had to pick a proverbial deserted-island game, I'd personally prefer Snowboard Kids, for its creativity and innovation not only in the snowboarding sub-genre, but the kart-racing sub-genre from which it claims inspiration from.  Yes, execution is nine-tenths of the law when it comes to reviewing video games, but it's also important to understand the designers' intentions, and I do wish the Video Game Critic could be more receptive in that regard.


1080 Snowboarding:
Control: 2 out of 5
Design: 3 out of 5
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Audio: 2 out of 5
The Call: 65% (C)
Snowboard Kids:
Control: 3 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Graphics: 3 out of 5
Audio: 4 out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

So that's my review, but before I go, I've got one more punch to throw.  Subsequent with his/her/their review on Snowboard Kids, the Video Game Critic published a review of its sequel Snowboard Kids 2 (Nintendo 64, 1999), which unfortunately had bestowed upon it a D+ rating.  Whilst some valid complaints were brought up about some less-than-desirable mechanics being carried over from the first game, the majority of the review was just him/her/they kvetching about its choice of non-traditional settings.  No seriously, comments relating to the snowy settings -- or lack thereof -- literally compose half the review -- and mind you, I've been real particular about the use of the word "literally", mind you.  And to that I say, OH MY GOD WHO THE [verb] CARES!?  IT'S FUN!!  Yes, pure simulations have their place in the market, and a well-deserved place at that.  But when you have the immense power of a virtual world at your disposal, what's wrong with letting your imagination run wild?  It would've been nicer if you spent more time examining what did get improved from SK, like the trick system; you can now do more than one grab per jump!  So yeah, the same experience as SK, only with more and better content.  If you don't mind shelling out an extra ten bucks for a used copy, I'd easily recommend Snowboard Kids 2 over its sequel, plus a bunch of sour grapes to the haters.

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