Snow Bros. (Arcade) review
"Nick and Tom are snowmen. They wear little hats on the backs of their heads, and are dressed down, trailer park style in overalls, with no shirts. The two always smiling wonders have a daunting task on their plates - no less than 50 levels of one-screen-at-a-time action demands conquering, and the monsters patrolling each one-level screen or 'floor', have only one mission in life, and that's snowman homicide. "
Nick and Tom are snowmen. They wear little hats on the backs of their heads, and are dressed down, trailer park style in overalls, with no shirts. The two always smiling wonders have a daunting task on their plates - no less than 50 levels of one-screen-at-a-time action demands conquering, and the monsters patrolling each one-level screen or 'floor', have only one mission in life, and that's snowman homicide.
For 50 levels, enemies that are all essentially spherical in shape will assail you. Most of the cutesy ghouls and monsters will simply try to bump into you, and if they succeed, you'll die instantly. Your only defense is your offense. As Nick or, if you're the second player, as Tom, you must fire your snow attack at foes to encapsulate them in a shell of snow. Put another, better way, you have to make snowballs of them. It will take several hits from your snow attack to facilitate this. Once an enemy is all balled up, you can push the balls around, from left to right, and can jump atop the balls. (Things get interesting in later levels where you simply must use the enemies as steps to otherwise unreachable platforms.) But most importantly, Nick and Tom get to kick balls.
As you might expect, kicking balls hurts. It hurts just about everyone. Remarkably, as the would-be owners of these balls by force, you are the only one not hurt by kicking them. The enemies inside, and the enemies in the path of the careening balls are not so lucky. They all die. So it quickly becomes apparent that your goal should be to create as many balls as you can, on the multi-platform screen, then jump to the very top platform and push say, the top left ball towards the right, so that it crashes down the horizontal platforms, usually zigzagging and smashing all the other balls during its reckless descent. Just picture yourself as the big ape himself, bowling barrels down the platforms at Mario in Donkey Kong. This is how you clear a floor, and gain access to the next one up. Take too long on a floor, and a relentless, floating, pumpkin-head thing will pursue you to the death.
Besides the pumpkin-head, the only real curve the game throws at you is that the creatures you've encased in crystalline snow don't stay that way. They get out. So you'll want to keep tabs on them all, firing a shot or two where needed to keep them imprisoned. Playing with a friend will help, and will make things a lot more enjoyable. Power ups will help too: there is a yellow potion that gives you greater range with your shot; a red one that will increase your foot speed; a blue one that gives you a bigger shot, which helps you to trap foes faster; and finally, a green power up that blows you up like a balloon and allows you to float about the screen killing every monster you touch. Killing enemies in efficient fashion will yield potions, so it stands to reason that the better you do, the better you are able to do.
I used to play this game at lunch time in my middle school days, and I always found that it was an addictive game, certainly worthy of our attention even when the Penny Market had it surrounded by flashier coin-op machines. Certainly the draw of a game that is easy to get into, but hard to master, has a timeless power. So now that I'm revisiting the game years later, I confess that I had high hopes that Snow Bros. would not be diminished in my eyes by the departure of the mask of nostalgia the years has bundled with it.
My reactions are mixed. Snow Bros. is easy to get into. That much is irrefutable. But it's not as difficult to master as time away had led me to believe. What is more likely is that we were unable to give it adequate time and attention during our short lunch periods in order to master it fully. The game is actually quite easy to become adept at; it won't take very long at all for you to begin putting together strings of levels where you're able to kill all your enemies with a single snowball (doing so earns extra points, as you might expect), or failing that, just two. And because it's so easy to master, for the game to succeed, it really needed to be incredibly varied to hold your attention for 50 levels.
It's not. 50 floors really means five areas with ten floors each, the tenth of which is a boss floor in each case. What this means is that each area forces you through nine very similar variations on the same basic setup before you meet up with that area's head honcho. And because most of the enemies do nothing more than try to ram you, things can get pretty sleepy. Thankfully, there are the green fire spitters, who can toast you from afar, and the blue whirlwinds, who are able to fly through walls, impervious to your fire while they spin. I found that these cooler enemies did demand more careful attention from the player, but they just weren't enough.
Far more variety was needed in this monster menagerie. The developers may have recognized this weakness, but rather than come up with more devious level designs and a few more foes, later levels are 'spiced up' by inundating the screen with scores of the blue whirlwind monsters. While this move does make the game more challenging, it also crowds the floors obscenely and frustrates you.
The bosses in Snow Bros. are an engaging bunch, ranging from a bipedal leaping lizard of sorts to a pair of flying phantoms. All of them fire spherical projectiles that must be balled up and kicked back at them. Unfortunately, there are only five bosses. It's strange really. Having five bosses for five areas leads us to believe the game is short. But since each area has ten floors apiece, and variety is severely limited, the game seems actually much longer than it should be.
Vast improvements could have been made with little effort: the game should have had several more areas, with fewer floors per area. This would mean more bosses, and less repetition. The game's graphics are very colourful and vibrant, and the musical themes are appropriately cute and hum-worthy. You'll even remember one or two tracks as they permeate your brain on an almost Super Mario Brothers 3 level of persuasiveness to the ear. But it's hard to rate the sounds and sights high when it's natural that the same repetition problem affects the presentation of the game as well. Do you really want to see the same graphic theme, and hear the same musical theme for ten levels at a time?
I thought not. Snow Bros. is probably best played at the level of seriousness we engaged it with during middle school. With friends, food, and limited time and attention to give it so that its relentless sameness doesn't have a chance to manifest. If you have thirty minutes or less on your hands, it's a good time waster, especially with a partner along. Any more time and you'll both realize that by playing it, you're wasting your time.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 15, 2003)
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