The two Snowboard Kids titles on the Nintendo 64 were some of the unsung heroes of the console. They provided some good, Mario Kart-style fun, and they’ve held up surprisingly well for N64 titles. Playing Snowboard Kids 2 today, it may not be anything too spectacular, but it still has a charm about it that’s hard to deny.
As stated, Snowboard Kids more or less took the Mario Kart formula, and applied it to snowboarding. From the start, players can select one of six cartoony characters, with three additional characters being unlockable. Each character has their own stats (similar to the earlier Mario Kart titles), with some being faster, others jumping higher/farther, and some being well-rounded.
The characters are all pretty cute, and the game has a fun art direction where everyone has a really big nose (as a kid, I mistook the characters for penguins due to their appearance). The game just looks really cute, and helps to cover up the aged visuals of the N64.
The game features two primary modes: Story mode and Battle. Story mode sees you go through a series of stages, which are interspersed between a small hub world where you can purchase items and additional items for the characters, with different chapters ending with a special boss encounter. There are also cute little cutscenes which, while nothing special, add to the game’s charm. Meanwhile, Battle mode works as a fun alternative for up to four players, where you can select the stages at your leisure, and see who comes out on top.
There may not be a whole lot of options, but what is here all provides some good, simple fun. The racetracks are well-designed and varied (you aren’t limited to snow-themed stages, as there are also tropical islands, castles, haunted houses, and outer space), and just like in Mario Kart, you can pick up weapons to help aid you and hinder your opponents.
Weapons come in two varieties: red and blue. Players can hold one item of each type at a time (predating Mario Kart: Double Dash’s similar two item concept). Red items are mainly projectiles – like ice shards that freeze opponents in place, gloves that slap coins out of the other snowboarders, and my personal favorite, a snowman that encompasses whoever it hits and disables their turning – and are used by pressing the Z button. Meanwhile, blue items are mainly for support, or traps – like rocks that are placed for the next snowboarder to trip on, or a propeller to make you move faster – and are used by pressing the B button.
Another highlight of the game is the music, which is surprisingly energetic, and may even bring the later Mega Man entries to mind. Again, the graphics have aged, but the art direction and music do bring a nice balance to the game’s aesthetics.
Unfortunately, not everything is wonderful in Snowboard Kids 2. Namely, you may find the racing itself to be a bit slow, fun as it may be. It’s not painful by any stretch, but when compared to Mario Kart, the slower pace can be a little disappointing, as it takes a little something away from the game’s energy. Additionally, every time you reach the bottom of the stage, you have to sit through a cinematic where your character rides a lift back to the top for the next lap. Thankfully, you don’t have to see the whole trek back up, but it would be nice to just reach the lift and then have the next lap begin right away. Also, navigating the hub in the story mode just feels kind of off. Your character just moves really slow here, which makes walking to each shop more tedious than it needs to be.
Still, none of these complaints are deal-breakers, and it’s pretty nice to see a multiplayer N64 game that still holds up after all these years. Obviously, if you’re looking to play a chaotic, cartoony multiplayer racer in this day and age, the best option is undoubtedly Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. But if you’re looking for a retro alternative to Mario Kart, you cold certainly do a lot worse than Snowboard Kids 2.