Snowboard Kids is a game I never really owned, but borrowed so frequently it may as well have been mine, though my older cousin would likely have objected to that. This was the racing game for which we put Mario Kart 64 away and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Since I had my Nintendo 64 out anyway, I decided to revisit some memories.
Though we liked it more than Mario Kart 64 at the time, there is no denying that the game is a bit of a sports-themed rip-off. It’s a racing game for up to 4 players, albeit on snowboards instead of karts, which relies on a mix of tactical movement and items.
The game features 9 courses, though some must be unlocked, and a variety of different modes. Naturally, there is the ever-popular race against the AI, where you try to come in first on every course. You can try and retry any course as often as you want and aren’t bound to any kind of order, so this is a nice, casual way of working through the game. There are also time trials, a mode where you score points by doing tricks, and a game where you race down the track while shooting as many snowmen as you can.
What sets the game apart are its controls. You don’t just steer your character where you want, rather you control the angle of the board. So to make a tight corner, you steer to the bottom-left to maneuver as sharply as you can. It’s surprisingly skillful and I often found myself losing momentum when I oversteered or even getting turned around completely. Each available board has a speed, trick, and control stat which plays into this movement and allows you to figure what works best with your playstyle.
A nice touch in the game’s design is how it treats laps. Naturally, there’s no way to just have a mountain loop in on itself naturally, so instead each lap ends at a ski lift where players need to go through a turnstile… one at a time. It’s a narrow passage and it feels great to zoom up to it and hit the turnstile just right so you pass through with 0 time wasted. The turnstile would often turn into the center of battle as players and AI alike fight to get through first. It’s childish, petty, and absolutely hilarious.
And you’re allowed to be childish because this is Snowboard Kids. The presentation of the game is very charming with bright visuals and a very upbeat soundtrack. A few chipper voice lines and a variety of enthusiastic shouts also adds to the endearing nature of the game. The only design I found mildly questionable was the character model for Linda, who is supposed to be this athletic cool girl, but whose cougar-patterned pants and huge tracts of land make it difficult to accept that this is a kid the same age as the other adorable racers.
Each course is creatively designed and has a lot of fun parts, with the jumps often being the highlights. When you press A to prepare a jump, you are completely locked into your current angle. When you then leap off the ramp or hill you are on, you can press in a direction just before take-off to perform tricks or use the C-buttons for various grabs. These then earn you money that can be used to buy new boards or to mess with the other players.
You see, the course is littered with boxes that you can only break if you have at least 100 gold on you, which is the equivalent of picking up 1 coin on the track or performing one decent stunt. The red boxes have weapons in them while the items in the blue boxes mess with players without having to actually target them.
There are several different kinds of weapons, but they all work the same and all have a homing effect to them, which does make them feel samey. A glove launches at a foe and trips them up, a parachute launches them in the air, and a icicle freezes them temporarely. Only the snowmen work differently and resembles the Mario Kart green shells. They bounce off walls and whoever is hit by them is turned into a snowman, unable to build momentum and locked in a direction until they bump into something or it wears off.
The blue items are mapped to a different button, so you can have 1 of each color. These include a washingpot that squishes all other players, a ghost that slows down the player in first place, or a fan that boosts your speed for a while, among other useful items. It’s a familiar part of casual racing games, though the balance isn’t as good as it is in Mario Kart.
Oftentimes there would be a great battle between 3 players, while a fourth pulled ahead largely uncontested. All the weapons home in on the player right ahead of you, so unless the player in first place is reeled back in, those behind him continuously harass each other and lose their chance of catching up. The items are also, perhaps, too punishing. The icicle first freezes you and then trips you up as well, and being hit by a parachute just before a big jump leaves you immobile until you touch the ground. These waste so much time that races would frequently become a routine of rising to the top and being struck all the way back to last place, over and over again.
It’s a highly competitive kind of gameplay and, outside of races where the winner completely dominated the others, nothing was decided until the very last lap. Some will enjoy that aspect while others will find it frustrating. Either way, the items could have done with some more tweaking and diversity.
Snowboard Kids is a bit light on content, but the courses it does have are full of atmosphere and very well-crafted. Its offering of different modes and the novel ways in which it integrated snowboard controls & logic into a kart racing-style game make it well-worth trying out if you are into games like Mario Kart. It’s not the best it could be, but it rises far above other games that were looking to get in on the kart racing hype, and its lovable characters had enough charm and potential to get future installments out of this.