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The Kids Have Grown Up

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Snowboard Kids was originally released on the N64 and can easily be summed up as a snowboard version of Mario Kart. It immediately stood out from the crowd with its goofy looking big nosed characters, great weapon purchasing and usage system, and intensely heated multiplayer mode. A sequel was created on the same system a couple of years later. A new trick control method was introduced as were new characters and stages. Both games were a total blast to play and fit nicely on the N64 system. A follow up game on Nintendo?s newest handheld seems like a likely fit, but this DS version isn?t as good as the originals.

Blending the weapon style of Mario Kart, the over the top arcadeyness of SSX, and a touch of the more serious 1080, Snowboard Kids is an entertaining game. The player chooses from a number of characters while competing in races to the finish. While touring each level, weapons must be fired and tricks must be performed if you wish to see the gold medal. Gone are the on-slope shops of the N64 games. Now, each playable character has a specific weapon in their arsenal to differentiate themselves from the other racers. Once enough tricks have been performed and the trick meter filled, this character specific weapon will become active and can be launched at will with the ?R? button. Other items/weapons can be found while traveling down each stage by running through boxes, similar to gaining weapons in Mario Kart. These items are triggered with the ?L? shoulder button.

This weapon system is different from the N64 games. The original games had the player perform tricks to earn money. Money could then be used to purchase items and weapons by smashing through on-slope shops. The only difference between characters was control style, speed, and turning ability. Now in this DS game, the player has to worry about getting a useful character specific weapon. For example, one character?s weapon is a fireball that blows up anybody in its path while another character?s weapon is a shock ball that only stuns opponents. This shock ball is not a sure way to slow opponents down because they can revive themselves if the buttons are smashed fast enough to break free of the hold. So your favorite controlling character might have a crappier weapon. How do you choose which character to play as? Do you go with speed and control, or a good weapon? It adds an extra element of strategy, but it almost seems a little unfair, or unbalanced.

Performing tricks has always been a staple in the Snowboard Kids series. Tricks are performed differently than in the N64 games. When player jumps into the air, the direction that the D-pad is held will cause the character to spin respectively. However, the direction in which you spin can be important. When spinning horizontally, the player can reflect any incoming attacks, but flipping forward or backward will generate a slight boost in speed upon hitting the ground. However, reflecting incoming attacks is more based on luck than on skill. Because the camera is close to the player?s back, and the bottom screen radar only displays the location of each character on the mountain, it is very difficult to time an incoming attack. This bottom screen radar would have been more helpful if they took the Mario Kart DS route and also showed items instead of simply displaying the location of your opponents on the track. The face buttons are then used to grab the board while in flight. Once enough tricks have been performed, the weapon meter will grow, allowing the player to fire his character specific weapon.

The findable weapons and items are fun, but not as exciting as the N64 weapons. Instead of shooting opponents with parachutes, snowmen, and bombs, the player must now make use of screen foggers and land mines. These weapons seem like the standard weapon in every videogame and do not stand out in anyway. The creative weapons of the first two Snowboard Kids also added to the unforgettable gameplay. The developers tried to go a different route by using the DS?s hardware to their advantage, like blowing into the mic to get rid of fog, but it winds up being on the plainer side. Blowing into the mic when racing in a fast paced game is more of a bother then adding entertainment value. Again, it is another good idea but misses the mark.

On occasion, the game?s action will shift focus to the bottom screen where uber tricks can be performed. On bigger jumps, the game will highlight parts of the bottom touch screen. If the player touches all these spots while in the air, the playable character will perform a high scoring trick. However, shifting focus to the bottom screen, even if it is just for a second, can make the player lose track of what is going on in the top screen. Plus, by the time the player realizes that a super trick can be performed and touches all the correct panels, it is usually too late and the player will land face first into the snow, losing precious seconds. Again, this super trick mode is a cool gameplay element, but it is a little too inconvenient and inconsistent.

Upon first booting up the game, the player will need a solid hour to fully learn how the game operates. The play control and trick style take some time getting used too. The game does offer a tutorial movie to watch, but it is not the best educator. Because the game?s initial learning stage is a little longer than most games, some gamers might be turned off. However, if some time is spent learning the mechanics of the gameplay, players will realize that there is still a good time to be had with it.

Performing tricks not only boosts the weapon meter, it also acts as the game?s currency. Once enough points have been collected, extras can be unlocked. New levels, new characters, and new boards are just some of the things to unlock. Because each unlockable item costs a lot of points, the game must be played for extended periods of time. Each purchase must be selected carefully because it will be a while before the next unlockable becomes available.

The game offers three modes of play: World Tour, Slalom, and Boss Battle. Slalom is more of a mini game as it will offer a single stage to gain some quick points. The player must race down course while passing through rings that grant more time. This mode can be fun, but only one course is available at the start. The other must be unlocked later. This is a bit short selling.

Boss Battle is a good concept, but falls short. Each boss battle is exactly the same. You even fight the same boss in the same exact manner. The only thing that changes is the cosmetic look of the stage. Repetition of this caliber is unacceptable in this day and age. Bosses even move in the same pattern every time. The player has to hit this robot snowman with four shots. But in order to gain the ability to shoot, the player must perform tricks. But because each stage is on the shorter side, the player will only have exactly four chances to shoot at the boss if a solid trick is performed at each jump. So not only do the boss battles repeat in the same way, the player is also forced to play them absolutely flawlessly. Having bosses is great idea for this type of game, but needs a complete revamping.

World Tour puts the player against a string of challenges that includes every type of the match the game has to offer. The player?s first match will be a race to the finish with the only requirement being not coming in last place. If this requirement is met, then you move onto the next stage. This next stage might have the player fight a boss, have a trick competition with the computer A.I., or play another race to the finish match. Once the World Tour has been beaten, harder versions are unlocked. However, these harder versions are more of the same. The only real difference when playing on a higher difficulty is playing a race to the finish with all player?s projectiles turned off. Not only does this make winning a little harder, it also makes it boring. Turning off weapons is exactly what players do not want.

The graphical quality is quite high. The frame rate is a very smooth 60 frames per second and will never experience slow down. It is actually quite surprising how fluid the DS can be. However, the blocky big nosed characters from the first two games are sorely missed. This was one of the reasons the game was so memorable. Each character now has grown up and resembles a more realistic looking teenager. It is not that these characters look bad, it is just that the old versions were much more compelling and unforgettable.

The music is nowhere near as good as it was on N64. The N64 games had killer music that fit the high speeding fantasy racing quality of the game. This DS version?s music is decent at best, but doesn?t satisfy the mood and theme of the game as well as it did in the past versions. The N64 games even had better sound effects too. When each character was hit with a weapon, they would create a painful but hilarious screen while the attacker?s character would laugh sinisterly. This over the top meanness also fit extremely well with the goofy big nosed characters. The DS version adds more voice to the game, but this takes away from the comic relief. And it should be noted that?s Jam?s stereotypical voice is quite annoying.

The game does offer both a single and multi card mode for up to four players wireless link, but I was unable to test the single card link function because it was disabled in the test review copy that I received.

The truth is, Snowboard Kids DS is not a bad game. But having this game released so soon after Mario Kart DS (especially with the online mode), it is hard to give it a higher score. Had Snowboard Kids been a launch title, this would have been the killer app purchase along with the system. But the game is still entertaining despite being repetitive and hindered in some areas. Once the learning curve has been overcome, players will want to spend time with this game. And adding the tons of unlockables only increases the replay value. In the end, it probably would have been better if Atlus decided to stick with a sequel that was more true to the originals than by starting in a new direction. The gameplay totally worked on N64. Why change it so much? Snowboard Kids isn?t exactly the sequel that fans of the original wanted and will feel a bit disappointed, but perhaps newcomers can appreciate it a little more.

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