T&C Surf Designs (NES) review
"There appears to be no set limit, either; you just keep skating as things grow increasingly difficult, until you've messed up too much and the game ends. The real fun is to challenge yourself for score. It's possible to average around 10,000 points a stage, for example, but as you get into the later zones this grows increasingly risky. Topping 100,000 points is actually quite difficult. Because you're scored based on time remaining, health icons gathered, and life remaining, there's a lot of challenge."
When I think about T&C Surf Designs, I think about a guy with a hairstyle from the 50s, skating through a dangerous park and collecting points all the while. That's because that's what I enjoyed most about the game when I played it more than ten years ago. And when I played it more recently, it turns out that's what I still enjoyed.
T&C Surf Designs is a two-player game that features two different sports: surfing and skateboarding. There are three different options for play, and each can be played by taking turns with a friend, or just by oneself. These modes allow you to play just the skating segments, just the surfing ones (barf!), or both.
Let's get surfing out of the way first, since it sucks and I don't care to spend much time describing it. Basically, you select the 'surf' mode and you pick from two characters. The first one is a cat. The second is Thrilla Gorilla (a character that served as the franchise star when LJN decided to make an almost entirely unrelated sequel).
When the surfing mode begins, you're riding your board from the crest of a wave, pointed toward the bottom of the screen to the lower right. As you surf, the wave stays just behind you. Paddle too far and you're down to the bottom of the screen. Don't paddle enough and the wave swallows you. Therefore, the goal in the meantime is to do tricks and collect fruit until the wave or a passing seagull knocks you off your board. Then you repeat, and repeat again until your life meter is depleted. I've tried all sorts of controller combinations here, and the sad fact is that nothing really comes together to make your surfer even slightly controllable. The best you can do is delay the inevitable.
Meanwhile, the skating option is a lot more fun, and is in fact the only reason I scored the game so high as I did.
As was the case with the surfing mode, the skating mode gives you the choice of two characters. The first is a witch doctor guy (who also appeared in the sequel to this game), and the second is the surfer guy with slicked-back hair and a funky set of pink shades. The skater you choose will not have any impact on your ability to skate, which is a mild disappointment, but it's still nice that LJN provided options.
Once you've chosen your skater and begun playing, you'll find that it's a simple left-to-right scrolling area where you'll be skating. It's quite similar to the roller skating segment of California Games in that regard, only things go a lot better.
Controls for the skating section are much, much tighter than those in the surfing areas. You jump with the 'A' button, and you speed up with the 'B' button (though the skater will never go all that fast; you'll quickly max out his speed). If you wish to slow down, you can press 'left' on the controller, and you should also hold that button if you want your skater to jump into the air and hold the board beneath him. It's a good thing that jumping is so simple, because you really will need to master the two different types of jumps. Usually, holding 'left' while jumping is a good idea, as you want your board to be with you when you reach the other side of pits, or if you try and grind. However, there are construction signs that you can hop over while the board passes underneath, and you'll get more points if you handle things that way.
While some threats are great for increasing your score, others are there simply to trip you up. You'll have to avoid RC cars, frisbees, turtles, balls and crates as you skate along the seaside. Striking any of those will damage your life meter, which may consist of as many as eight blocks. Typically, you lose two blocks for smashing into something, or otherwise losing control of your board. If you lose all your blocks, the game is over.
There's another way the game can end, though. Just as often as not, you'll find the 'Game Over' screen shining in your face because you've run out of time. When you skate, a timer ticks down from one minute. The stages are rather lengthy, so this time limit isn't realistically going to get you to the end. However, it will stop counting down once you've skated a certain distance without any accidents, and you'll be able to finish with more than 30 seconds remaining if you skate a perfect round.
In case you hadn't guessed, 'rounds' are the closest this game comes to actual levels. There appears to be no set limit, either; you just keep skating as things grow increasingly difficult, until you've messed up too much and the game ends. The real fun is to challenge yourself for score. It's possible to average around 10,000 points a stage, for example, but as you get into the later zones this grows increasingly risky. Topping 100,000 points is actually quite difficult. Because you're scored based on time remaining, health icons gathered, and life remaining, there's a lot of challenge.
Not only that, but it can be fun to compete against a friend, if you have one talented enough to provide a challenge.
Of course, getting friends rounded up to play NES games with you can prove quite difficult these days, so I wish you luck with that. In its favor, T&C Surf Designs at least has visuals going right. Even the surfing mode looks good for this game's time, and the skating area is quite pleasing to the eye, with good color variety and a distant horizon that looks quite cheerful and appropriate to California (where I assume this game is 'located').
The sound department, meanwhile, takes a much more subdued approach. Any tunes are hardly noticeable, and take a back seat to the minimal sound effects that occur when you grab life increases or jump, or when you board butts up against an obstacle (when skating). There are different sound effects for the surfing, of course, most noticeably the sound of surf lapping against the shore, but nothing is more than minimal in this area of the game.
What this all combines to mean is that T&C Surf Designs is little more than an average game that happens to be a lot of fun to play on a lazy afternoon. It's been outclassed in almost every way by later games, but remains an endearing experience just the same. And considering you can find it lying around the bottom of most any bargain bin you care to name, I'll even go so far as to say a purchase is warranted. Just make sure you wear some pink shades and slick back your hair at the time so that no one recognizes you.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 10, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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