It’s hard to believe but Snowboard Kids will celebrate it’s 15th anniversary next month, hey I’m Xav, this is Retro Corner and yes I’m starting to feel old.
Released way back in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 Snowboard Kids was a racing title that featured power ups much like the ones in Mario Kart. Perhaps the best way to describe Snowboard Kids is simply to imagine what Mario Kart on snow might be like and that’s a mighty fine compliment to Snowboard Kids when you think about it.
To me Snowboard Kids is a special title and maybe not what you would expect to debut with Retro Corner but I didn’t want to do the obvious classics from the NES era. Snowboard Kids isn’t exactly amazing, in fact it’s not even the best snowboarding game for the Nintendo 64, that honour goes to 1080 Snowboarding. What Snowboard Kids does have is plenty of charm and is generally good fun in short bursts.
In Snowboard Kids you’re given a choice of a few characters to select from who all have a different rating within a speed, cornering and trick category. As a kid none of this really mattered to me and I just picked the all around character who was Slash, at least until I unlocked Shinobin which is a cool Ninja with better stats than everyone else. Don’t worry using him isn’t cheap, he loses the ability to use special boards that other characters are able to unlock later in the game.
Snowboard Kids has a decent selection of modes to keep you interested, you have battle race which is your standard racing action and collecting a gold medal on the initial six courses starts to unlock the last three making for a total of nine. Extra modes include skill games which are made up of three challenges, speed, shot and trick. Speed tasks you with collecting all the speed fans, shot requires you to shoot all the snowmen and trick is nothing more than the usual trick attack mode you’ve seen in other games.
Once you actually jump into the game itself you’ll find that it’s a very basic game with not much depth and yet that’s it’s biggest strength. Controls are easy to pick up and pulling off tricks is simply a case of holding down the jump button and releasing it whilst holding the analog stick in one of eight directions. The C buttons are use to grab your board with the top button used for nose grabs and the bottom one to do tail grabs, you can hold the grabs for longer in order to get more gold out of them.
That’s the thing about Snowboard Kids, a large part of it centers around the gold you collect be it from doing tricks or collecting coins scattered around the track. The power up items that you get in the game actually require 100G each so unless you have enough you’re going to be smacking that item box pretty hard. Gold collected can be used to unlock new boards for your rider including special ones like a feather board that allows you to get far more airtime, great for trick attack but not so much racing.
Track design in Snowboard Kids is actually pretty varied, no seriously only about half of the tracks in the game take place in snow. You’ll race in anything from sand to grass to even across water streams as nothing is out of the question in the world of Snowboard Kids. This all helps make each track in Snowboard Kids unique and memorable. Something that was and still is pretty cool is that once you get to the bottom of the mountain you can a lift back to the top therefore requiring players to complete a few laps before the race ends. Watching everyone fight to get in the lift one at a time is always highly amusing especially as you ride to the top and watch the CPU fight for the next spot.
There is no way I can talk about Snowboard Kids without highlighting it’s soundtrack, this is seriously one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. It’s all fairly simple MIDI arrangements but it’s all very happy upbeat tunes that fit the theme of the game perfectly. I’m a sucker for anything with strong melodies and with Snowboard Kids I’m in heaven, I’ll take the Snowboard Kids soundtrack over the generic orchestrated stuff we see these days.
Power ups play a large role in Snowboard Kids much like in Nintendo’s Kart racer but unlike that game you have two different sets of items at your disposal. Red item boxes will often provide you with projectile attacks such as bombs, snowballs that turn your opponents into snowmen that are unable to steer and my person favourite parachutes. Hit someone with a parchute and they shoot up into the sky and slowly drop back down but of course that isn’t enough so instead do it right before a jump and they will take forever to come back down.
Blue item boxes gives you items like the boring rock which causes opponents to trip over but does also provide three frying pans that squash everyone temporarily. You can counter this with an alternative power up which renders your rider invisible for a short period of time allow you to dodge attacks, if only Mario Kart had some sort of counter to that stupid blue shell.
Snowboard Kids was never the strongest game on the Nintendo 64 visually, 1080 Snowboarding which was released within the same year destroys it but that’s fine. Snowboard Kids has extremely cute stylized characters, everyone has big heads and equally big noses. It’s a simple looking game but one that sticks with you thanks to the art direction, no one is going to forget that grass track.
SNOWBOARD KIDS IN 2012
Since the release of Snowboard Kids in 1997 we’ve seen a couple more entries in the series starting with Snowboard Kids Plus for the PSOne. Snowboard Kids Plus was basically a reworked version of Snowboard Kids which was only released in Japan so that’s why you’ve never heard of it. I personally wasn’t a fan with some of the changes made to the game so maybe I’m being biased but I like the Nintendo 64 original better.
In 1999 we saw the release of Snowboard Kids 2, well Japan and America did because the game never saw the light of day in Europe. Words cannot express how pissed off I was and still am to this day, a European version does exist in the form of a very limited Australian release but I only found that out as I was writing this Retro Corner. I sadly had to resort to experiencing it via emulation and I loved it making it’s lack of European release even more painful.
I thought my dreams had come true with SBK: Snowboard Kids for the Nintendo DS in 2005 but man did they screw that one up. To my knowledge it wasn’t even developed by the same team which would explain why NOTHING of what made Snowboard Kids so special is anywhere to be found. Simply put this game does not exist to me, just look at what they did to Slash.
Sadly those looking to experience Snowboard Kids will have to dust off their Nintendo 64 because the series has yet to see any re-release on any of today’s systems. The series Publisher Atlus is still alive and well these days so I’m not really sure what’s stopping them from putting Snowboard Kids 1 & 2 on the Virtual Console, it’s free money on the table.
The future of Snowboard Kids does not look good, I feel it could have a place in today’s market as a fun alternative to Mario Kart but the last game on the Nintendo DS probably outright killed the series. As mentioned Atlus is still around and developer Racdym who later became Racjin is also still making titles so if the stars align a new Snowboard Kids is possible but our best hope is that Atlus re-release the Nintendo 64 originals on the Virtual Console.
Snowboard Kids still remains one of the highlights of the Nintendo 64 and my childhood so I don’t take kindly to those who bash it.