If you remember from the last review, in which souls were sacrificed just to get through to the other side, we discussed how the game was made by the same folks who brought us Goldeneye and Banjo Kazooie – Rare. Maybe it is with a sense of British pride and biased from myself that they made some great stuff, however they also made some absolute spawn of camel’s discharge, a shining example of this being “Anticipation”. *Shudder* But where did it all begin for Rare, was there a big-bang type event or a spin-the-bottle evening with blue-sky paradigm-shifting business-waffle speak ideas? Well, in the UK at least back in October 1987 here it is where it all began, with this game – Slalom for the NES. So nearly 25 years on, how does this game developed by Tim and Chris Stamper fare up, will it leave you wanting to book your next holiday in Aspen or leave you feeling “piste” off?
Slalom is a skiing game in which the character who looks suspiciously like a cooked turkey on the box and in the game, has to ski his way down 3 different types of slopes in varying increasing difficulty, skiing past flags, dodging mounds in the snow and other seemingly suicidal middle-class pretentious skiiers and sledders who really can’t ski but try to keep up with Joneses eating their Gruyere sipping Cabernet Sauvignon in their wooden lodges…ahem sorry about that… The course has to be completed within a certain time limit, to which you progress to the next level so your skiier has to dodge these obstacles or face the risk of losing time and not completing the course, which is pretty much all there is to the game. When you start the game you get the choice of 1 or 2 players, before then choosing the slope you wish to start from – Snowy Hill, Steep Peak or Mount Nasty, names that wouldn’t seem out of place in adult films or WWE characters. Snowy Hill is the beginner course, Steep Peak intermediate and Mount Nasty living up to its title. For veterans of the game, it is a nice feature that you don’t always have to start from the very beginning and can choose which course to start from.
As the levels progress, aside from dodging the obstacles on the run, the player needs to ski in between the flags like a slalom (hence the name of the title), which if you miss these flags will slow your speed down. Your speedometer is in the top left hand corner, the time remaining in the top right, and just below that a progress bar showing how far you’ve skiied and what is remaining. The game screen is nice and big, and you get to see what is coming in front of you, giving you time to dodge the obstacles. On later levels, when your hurtling down at 180km/h, your reaction times need to be like that of a raccoon eating left-over ice cream, as those obstacles come thick and fast with any hint of hesitation or missing the flags, will make you crash or slow your player down, costing valuable time.
The controls are fluid and responsive, holding up on the d-pad will make your skiier travel faster, holding down slows him down, left and right makes him turn the respective ways and the A/B button causes him to jump. It is written that you can do tricks when your character is in the air, however one of the disadvantages of buying just cartridges and not manuals for games is not knowing the full set of controls. The graphics are reminiscent of a VGA-hue from the 1980’s on PC’s, with purples and cyan’s all over the palette. There are some nice touches with the mountains looming in the background and the snow-capped green forests in the distance, it makes you feel like you are lost in the Alps skiing your way down. The music is very catchy and is a nice soundtrack for your run, lesser games and companies would have just had no sound and bad sound effects, but David Wise did a fantastic job with the music on the game which after a while you’ll be humming long after you’ve turned the console off.
With 24 levels in total, and the difficulty ratched up with each run you complete, Slalom is a fine game to add to your collection. For their first game, Rare did a sterling job, and is a simple yet fun game. It is one of those games that if you had a spare 15 minutes before going out socialising, then its one of the lesser known titles to play. One of the downsides is that when the game is over, your time is displayed and saved as a high score, however with no memory pak as soon as the console is turned off, so do the scores, so unless you write this down on a scrap of paper or go through the lengths of recording your best runs on a VHS/DVD then you won’t remember your best times. With the 2 player option as well its a nice addition, and a worthy title in the black box series, even if it s unfortuanate that the skiier constantly has his derriere protruding on screen. Copies are rare on eBay UK however always check your local retro shops for this, you never know where one may lurk in the wild. All this talk of skiiing is making me pine for hot cocoa and looking up trips to the Val D’Isere wearing yellow nylon shellsuits dodging the Joneses on a mountain peak somewhere…
Rating – 4 out of 5