Ski Or Die NES Review

skibox

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?

And they say drugs were bad fo you...

And they say drugs were bad for you…

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.

S'no way? That's not an "ice" thing to say is it, bro?!

S’no way? That’s not an “ice” thing to say is it, bro?!

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.

It puts the Isle O' Hags overworld to shame

It puts the Isle O’ Hags overworld to shame

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.

Who could throw a snowball at that cute face? Well, I guess you could throw stones at it instead...

Who could throw a snowball at that cute face? Well, I guess you could throw stones at it instead…

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

Slalom NES Review

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.

It’s hard to know why his head and his arse have swapped positions

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.

Going off-piste is never as fun as it seems, leaving you with skids in more than just the course title…

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.

Would rather eat a Swiss Roll than a Swiss tree

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