Have you ever had a game from your past that you still absolutely adore, but no one else ever seems to talk about or even acknowledge its existence? I’m sure you do. There are some seemingly obscure older games out there that, after we find them by chance as children, make us feel like we’ve been keeping a special little secret ever since. Snowboard Kids is that game for me.
The number of weekends that this game was rented, I can’t even remember. It all blurs together into one gigantic period of fun. Regardless of the fact that I could never save my progress due to the game’s reliance on a Controller Pak, I rented it so much that it was almost as if I owned the game for nearly the whole of 1998. I could not have been happier when I spotted a copy near the end of the time period where game stores still sold used Nintendo 64 games. I still play the game from time to time and enjoy every minute of it. But yet, after all this love I’ve had for Snowboard Kids, I’ve only ever known one other person who ever even heard of the game, much less played it.
Hit the jump to read more about the little racing game that couldn’t, why almost no one knows about it, and whether or not it really deserves to be remembered.
Story: Five strange looking children get into an argument about who the best snowboarder of the group is. Because actions speak louder than words, they decide to take the fight to the slopes.
Snowboard Kids is a snowboard racing game that leans more towards the ilk of unrealistic kart racing than “realistic” snowboarding, though it still retains a few elements of the latter (such as tricks). Each battle race pits your chosen character against three AI characters, and you must be either the best or most ruthless racer in order to win. Laps are run by making it to the bottom of the course and riding a ski lift back up to the beginning to go through the entire level at least once more. Some of the courses are very long, so it can get a little hard to stay in front, as the AI can be mercilessly brutal if they get a good weapon. After crossing the finish line, you receive a cash prize if you place high.
In order to visit the little item “shops” scattered around the courses, you will first need to earn money. Each item, whether it comes from a red or blue shop, costs 100 gold. The gold can be obtained by picking it up off the course and by doing tricks. Red shops give you three of a projectile weapon, which ranges from bombs to a bullet that transforms enemies into a snowman, making them lose control of their character’s steering. Blue shops give a single item that either aids your player (a fan to make you go faster and invisibility to avoid attacks) or hurts others (rocks that trip other players and a pan that attacks all visible players and flattens them).
Like many kart racers, each character has their own weight class and stats. Some are fast, some are good with tricks, some take tight turns better, and others are a happy medium. On top of this, there are three classes of snowboard to choose from with similar differences – the freestyle board makes turning easier, the alpine board goes faster, and the all-around board is the middle ground. Better versions of these boards, in addition to courses and designs for your snowboard, can be purchased with the money you get from winning battle races. Money can also be earned in skill games, which are courses where you try to meet a goal (such as blowing up snowmen or getting a certain amount of points doing tricks) as fast as you possibly can within a short amount of time.
And, of course, there is a time trials mode, and up to four player multiplayer mode.
Why you’re probably not playing it:
To be completely honest, the game is the poor man’s Mario Kart 64, with a little bit of 1080 Snowboarding tossed in. To most, Snowboard Kids lacks the quality to be able to stack up with the tremendousness of other racing games on the Nintendo 64. Not even most fans of the game believe that this small offering from developer Racdym and publisher Atlus is anything special in comparison to the likes of MK 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, both of which have legions upon legions of fans even today.
The game also sucks the memory out of a memory card. You need nearly an entire blank Controller Pak to save your progress in Snowboard Kids, leaving little room for anything else. While I liked the game enough to start over from scratch countless times, I would imagine that most people would want to save, but could not or would not want to buy a new Controller Pak or delete any of their other save files to make room for Snowboard Kids data.
Many people never knew about the game because it fell into the pit of insufficient advertising. Around the time the game came out was when game magazines finally started to dot the shelves of my local stores, but out of all the times I flipped through an Electronic Gaming Monthly or a GameFan during a trip to the grocery store, I never once saw an advertisement for Snowboard Kids.
The game must have done somewhat okay somehow, as a sequel for the N64 came just a year later, followed by a third, completely horrible DS game that more than likely drove the final nail through the franchise. But the good game that is the first Snowboard Kids is just not as widely known as it ought to be. It’s fun, has some great tunes, unconventional courses (for a snowboarding game), and is a nice break from riding in a kart.
This forgotten gem may be a little rough around the edges, especially where graphics are concerned, but it’s still fairly solid. If you are a big fan of fantasy racing games and happen to come across this somewhat rare cartridge, by all means, pick it up. Here’s hoping that one day, the game may see the light of day again as a Virtual Console release. My poor old cartridge probably won’t hold out much longer. That, and I still don’t have a Controller Pak.