Sport games are common place in the video game market, from the standard sports of football, golf and Ice Hockey to name but a few however there were more extreme sports, some of which include skateboarding and winter sports – especially skiing. Being a young boy in a suburban town of England there wasn’t the opportunity to partake in such dangerous extreme sports in real life like rolling around in the snow and skiing however thank goodness for companies like Enyx and Ultra games, who knew kids like me would love the thought of such dangerous pursuits without leaving the comfort of our own homes. One of these games in particular, Ski or Die (a question I really hope isn’t asked of me in my life) was released for the NES in 1990, so how does the game play – is it more gold medal or Eddie the Eagle type novelty hogswash?
Ski or Die is made by Ultra Games (or Palcom for the European PAL market), and is a winter sports game that follows on the same concept, design and execution as Skate or Die, but based on winter sports. For those not in the know about the game, rather than have one type of level and progressing your way through the game, it is in fact split into 5 mini-games for you to master and succeed in: Snowboard Halfpipe, Innertube Thrash (which doesn’t remotely sound like anything to do with babies in pregnancy), Acro Aerials, Downhill Blitz and Snowball Blast. However before you strap your skis and your horse riding helmet to protect the old noggin with, you need to get acquainted with our friend Rodney Recloose, who was in the Skate or Die game as well. When the game is turned on your treated to fantastic digitised voices saying Ski or Die without knowing if it was in fact a high pitched child saying it or a mild schizophrenic. Either way your then treated to the main menu which can’t be faulted for its craziness.
You meet Rodney with his wild bug eyes, purple “do” as he likes to call it and apparent jazz hands, from which you control the cursor to choose where to go and what to do. Placing the cursor on certain locations makes Rodney react often to bewildering effects but sometimes advises you of how to proceed. The first thing you’ll want to do is enter your name on the register like your back at school, where you can have 6 players playing on the game, which is fine if you didn’t have your copy of Anticipation to hand. After entering your name, you then have the opportunity to practice any one of the 5 events that is in the game, or to go for gold and compete in the events with competition. Naturally it makes sense to practice first of all so clicking on practice will bring you to the level select screen, where you “ski” your character to which ever event takes your fancy, where the fun really begins.
Starting with Snowboard Halfpipe, you control the character down the course going from side to side mashing any button in any direction in the hope of doing tricks that earn points, while some jackass down below criticises your every move. Innertube Thrash much to my chagrin, has nothing to do with pregnancy but with your character riding an inflatable tyre-looking tube down against a computer opponent seemingly never getting more points than your opponent. Acro Aerials resembles a very short ski jump where you push your character off the edge and randomly mash buttons so that your character can perform tricks to earn points to impress the judges – the round is very short and you need to land perfectly which isn’t that difficult. Downhill Blitz is a standard downhill skiing race, completing the course in the quickest time, jumping off ledges again randomly pressing buttons to do something exciting but more often than not falling flat on your face. The controls seem simpler this time compared to the other events. Last but not least, that well known Olympic event Snowball Blast, which is exactly as it sounds like where your having a snowball fight, reducing the number of enemies from 50 to 0 in a certain amount of snowballs, looking at four different view points where the enemies can be found. If you beat the level the number of enemies increases whilst keeping the snowball level the same so you need to have good aiming as the levels increase.
The copy of the game that I have did not include a manual to read if it showed the controls on the differing events, however the most common complaint I found with the game is that it is not clear what the controls are or how to perform tricks and moves on certain events. For example with the snowboarding and aerial game, your reduced to mashing buttons like your doing the 100m on Track and Field, to which inevitably you’ll fall flat on your face with your legs in the air trying to pull off a good move. The downhill event is standard controls, with the down button making your skier go faster and at random points yet again pressing different buttons to try and do something off the ledge. The Snowball Blast level is interesting inasmuch that to the bottom right the map is split in to four sections, and to view each section you hold the d-pad in that direction and press A, where it shows how many enemies are on that part of the screen, and B button throws the snowball being aimed by the crosshair that is controlled by the d-pad. But how on earth would you know any of this, because without any controls on screen or any in-game advice, it’s a question of trial and error that could have been avoided.
The colours are a standard wintery hue of various blues and whites, so at least it keeps some sort of relevant theme, although my recommendation is to not play this in a darkened room with the brightness of your TV set to extreme otherwise you’ll suffer from snow blindness, an affliction rarely seen outside of a mountain. The music is upbeat and jolly throughout, it does differ between the mini games however is always the same bars of music on the main menu and level select screen. The sound effects are standard collision noises and whooshing noises at points, though the digitized voicing leaves a lot to be desired. It’s understandable that for the time there would be no full voice acting, but when starting a level it’s hard to know what the voice is saying, sounding like “Death Star” but maybe that’s because I got Star Wars on the brain. As mentioned the controls are clunky and without either a manual or the patience to replay each level, it’s hard to know what the controls are or how to get good scores in the different games.
All in all, Ski or Die is a game that should only be played if all other multiplayer games are exhausted and your looking for a challenge that may or may not induce winter-based medical injuries. Even if you practice your heart out and decide to compete for 1st place in the game, you get the feeling that time could be spent doing better things, such as learning to ski properly or going up to a big hill and in an inflatable dinghy hurtling down an icy hill. Copies of the game are plentiful in all good retro shops and on our favourite auction website eBay at reasonable prices, so although there may not be a sudden rush for this game, you can easily pick up a copy to add to your collection. Saying that not even Rodney and his bulbous eyes and his hair stuck up with wood glue and shaved at the sides can help this poor game, so try it if you want a challenge and do enjoy winter sports based games, but without many winter-based games to choose from the NES unless you like Ice Hockey, so if it’s a question of Ski or Die, unfortunately it doesn’t seem like I’ll be skiing anytime soon…
Rating – 2 out of 5