A Breath of Cold Air
It’s hard to beat a good arcade racer; as they feature all the high-speed adrenaline of a racing sim with none of the cumbersome realism. That’s basically what Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge does for snow racing. It’s a very fun game with a sense of speed and a discount price, and those who’ve grown sick of the major arcade racers (Burnout, Need for Speed, Pure, etc.) would be wise to give it a shot. However, there are plenty of flaws to bear in mind before plunking down your $30.
The basics of the control setup will be familiar to anyone who’s played a racing game lately (accelerate with the right trigger, brake with the left trigger, and steer with the left joystick), but quite a few nuances come into play when driving a snowmobile rather than a car. Most importantly, you can lean forward and back by pushing the left joystick up and down, respectively; leaning forward puts the weight on your steering skis, and leaning back helps you accelerate. Leaning forward is particularly important, especially when handling tight curves, and it can be quite a bear to master. Also, during jumps, you have to take care to make sure your snowmobile is correctly aligned to land.
Another unique aspect to this game is that when you jump, you can pull off tricks by simultaneously pressing a bumper button and holding one of eight directions on the left joystick. Keeping the buttons held prolongs the trick, and on long jumps you can even pull off two separate tricks. Tricks earn you “adrenaline,” akin to Burnout’s boost, and when your meter is full, you can use your adrenaline to gain a significant speed increase. Bumping into other racers (at the risk of crashing or spinning off-course) also earns you adrenaline.
Single races are available, of course, in addition to split-screen and online multiplayer. All of these work well, though we found few people online. The heart of the game, however, is its career mode. Here you’ll take on a series of challenges, unlocking new courses and new snowmobiles as you go. You earn money from winning and can spend the cash on upgrades to your vehicles, making them faster and more maneuverable. You can also customize your ride visually, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The races, for the most part, are rewarding and challenging. There’s a great sense of speed, especially when you turn on the boost, and it feels like an accomplishment to truly master a course. Many of the tracks are complicated ordeals, demanding that you speed up, slow down, pull off tricks, and use your boost at just the right moments if you want to win. This isn’t to say mistakes aren’t forgiven, though; there’s enough rubber banding that you can catch up by driving well, and with the push of a button you can reset yourself to the middle of the track, though you’ll lose your momentum and adrenaline when you do this.
The racing could have used a bit more polish, however. There’s no tutorial; just a few pointers presented as text during loading times. The A.I. tends to make the opponent racers cluster in a very small group, meaning that you’ll tend to be in last a lot and first a lot, but not so much in the middle; this also means that getting from last to first entails working your way through a dense cluster of snowmobiles that can knock you off course. Also, we would have liked to have seen a more gradual ramp-up of the challenge, because we blew through the first few races without letting up on the accelerator, only to find ourselves dumped in some veritable mazes of twists and turns.
Some will also find the stunt-only courses a little annoying; little more than a distraction from the core racing experience. They’re a frustrating distraction, at that, because it’s hard to keep track of, not to mention accurately select with the joystick, eight different tricks that take different amounts of time to pull off. You’ll be wiping out a lot until you get the feel for it.
Perhaps our biggest complaint about career mode is that there’s no way to adjust the difficulty. It would be nice to get the hang of the game on an easier setting, and then ramp it up, rather than being dumped into a difficulty that will be too much for some and too little for hardcore racing fanatics. Even though the game lets you retry races immediately as many times as you’d like, if you leave a race or stunt course too many times before beating it, you can actually fail it.
In terms of presentation, the game is usually acceptable, but it’s never dazzling. The graphics aren’t very detailed, and hiccups in the framerate, while occasional, can get distracting. The sound effects work well, but the music is a repetitive blend of pop-punk tunes, some of which are too whiny to fit the adrenalized mood of the game, and all of which get old quickly. The loading times are far longer than they should be, especially when all that’s loading is an image of a snowmobile you just unlocked. Most frustrating is that we managed, on several occasions, to get locked into loading loops: we’d wait for the game to load, it would tell us to press start and we would, it would start loading again, and the whole process would repeat. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem as if we lost any save information that way.
Still, all in all, the fun racing action and the budget price tag incline us to recommend this game. It’s a lot of fun and takes a good day of gameplay to conquer, making for a nice value-to-cost ratio.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The visuals are fine, and they’re usually moving pretty quickly, but there’s not much detail and nothing really stands out. 3.8 Control
You have good control of your snowmobile, right down to leaning forward and back, though it can be frustrating trying to pull off the right trick. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects work, but the music is repetitive and doesn’t always fit. 3.7 Play Value
It’s fairly short for a racing game and has its share of flaws, but it’s half the price of the major racers, and those who’ve had their fill of those games will have a good time. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.