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We've seen Nintendo's idea of baseball. Now, find out if the boys can ski!
Matt - 4/25/01

I'm in the process of moving, something which I seem to have been in the midst of for the past six years, but its always fun to pack away all that shit you totally forgot you had to begin with. I could certainly do a post on the sheer crap I've found in this endeavor, but for a general feeling of the madness, you can check out the similar woes of Lady Lowtax from SA. Suffice to say, I've managed to accumulate more garbage than a Mexican pawn shop, and attempting to pack it all is driving me up the wall. There's a fluidity about all this in regard to tonight's article, believe it or not. Yesterday's article on the old Baseball game for the NES stemmed from the Nintendo nailing me in the forehead as I grabbed shit from the top of my closet. And I guess that closet is gonna double as Pandora's Box this week, because that one little annoying incident has really put me in the mood to talk about video games.

As I said in the Baseball article, when I received my first Nintendo, it came with three games. Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to receive the unbelievably cool Gyromite version that came with that silly robot, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When Nintendo hit the market, my friends and I were probably 7 or 8 years old. In other words, much too young to deal with an electronic robot that went out of its way to be incredibly difficult to work. I vividly remember the kid across the street calling me over so he could shill and brag about his robot gift, but the poor guy didn't have the foresight to test things out first. So I'm standing there trying to look disinterested, but of course drooling on the inside like Pavlov's dog with its mouth taped shut, and my friend's sitting there getting frustrated as hell because he can't get the stupid robot to work. Remember, this was his ultimate opportunity to show me up - the ball was in his court, he had the toy everyone wanted. In the end, he got so frustrated trying to get the thing in-sync with his Gyromite game that he threw it on the floor and started crying to his mother.

I didn't get the Nintendo robot, but I'm pretty sure I got more entertainment out of his than he ever would.

Anyway, as stated in the last NES article, the games I got initially were a mixed bag to say the least - Baseball sucked, but Super Mario Bros. was an instant-classic that to this day ranks as one of my all-time faves. So at that point, quality wise, my games collection was batting .500. Unfortunately, the tie-breaking game would pull that average down the shitter faster than the copy of Star Trek VI in my video collection. And what was that final game? Skiers unite, here's your chance to tune your craft without wearing 50 pound spaceboots. Its Slalom!

Curse my childlike impatience, because this game absolutely screamed for me to return it for something remotely interesting. I mean, I was 8. Even if Slalom was a good game, how many eight-year-olds want to spend their video game time doing ski simulations? I was brought into the wonderful world of Nintendo with promises of warp zone pipes and glowing Tri-Force pieces...Slalom was about as far away from 'up my alley' as it could possibly get. I got these games pretty much by circumstance, nobody would've been offended if I returned 'em. But I'm sitting there. I'm looking at three new games, for my new Nintendo. With the level of excitement coursing through my prepubescent soul at that moment, it'd take a lot more than a severe disinterest in skiing to keep me from opening all of 'em in rapid fire.

Was it a mistake? Well of course it was. The game probably sucks worse than Baseball did. But let's think positive, who would've thought I could've got literary mileage out of a crappy video game some fifteen years later? Remember, everything happens for a reason. And since people are lovin' the retro, I stand firm in my belief that I didn't return Slalom over a subconscious belief that, later in life, I'd hone my skills and have a primo opportunity to slam the shit out of it in a brave new Internet world. With that, let's run through the tiny gamut of the game and find out why it makes me wish Nintendo would've banned skiing instead of blood and guts.

First things first, why would Nintendo even bother making a very light game about skiing anyway? That'd be unheard of in today's market. Aside from the limited 8-bit technology that was in its very preliminary stages at the time, you've got to remember that the home gaming experience of this type was still a relatively new deal. We had Atari for years, but let's face it, few Atari games, even on the later systems, really had the power to pull you into the game. That's the side effect of shitty graphics and bad music - it just loses the 'escapist' quality. But when Nintendo first kicked off, their plans didn't need to be that grandiose for every game that came out. We'd be more than satisfied to just comprehend what was on the screen without squinting, asking our older brother, or consulting a handbook. But, as I get off my pedestal, I should remind everyone that despite all this, Slalom had no right ever making it past the drawing board. Its just not a good game, and given what was available even way back then, the carts it was in competition with just blew it away.

I remember desperately searching for anything in this game worth bragging about to my friends. I chose the graphics. I'd call up a buddy, something which to a kid is an event in itself, and immediately start talking about my great new Nintendo setup. I'd of course shill the fuck out of Mario and friends, but since everyone and their mother had that game, I needed at least one point of merit about Slalom to talk about. Given that the game sucks, I started lying about how great the graphics were. I even went as far to say that you really felt like you were skiing! To be honest, this wasn't really stretching the truth because back then, even this kind of shitty graphical engineering was a big deal. And besides, S-S-S-Shaolin isn't exactly noteworthy for its terribly immense amount of ski routes...its not like any of us had any real skiing to compare it to anyway. And that turned out to be a good thing, because any skiing enthusiast who bought this one because of their snow hobbies was gearing up for some major disappointment: if this is what skiing's all about, its no wonder they only televise the events when absolutely no one's watching tv.

But, for what its worth, the graphics weren't terrible for the timeframe. It had a way more 'cartoonish' feel than most of the games available at the time. Remember, it was much easier to be blown away by this when the technology was so limited. I remember being absolutely floored by the 'Big Boo' from SNES' Super Mario World, but by today's standards, that ghost ain't worth shit. Its all about the alternatives, my friends. The music wasn't shabby, but I'm a little bias towards anything that doesn't sound like complete and total shit after the Baseball review. Just a few little tunes looped, no harm done there. And somewhat amazingly, the controls aren't impossible. For a relatively fast-paced 1986 ski game, that's pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the coups make a dead halt, and its all downhill from here.

Your three choices for ski courses are as creatively named as the game itself: Snowy Hill, Steep Peak, and the devilish Mt. Nasty. They do get progressively harder, but remain generally the same except that as you get into the harder levels, its all the more clear that the character you're controlling is definitely not on a ski slope. I'm sorry, but whatever lodge plays host to these tracks must be doing horrible business, because these are some of the worst slopes imaginable. If I went skiing, it probably wouldn't be down a slope covered in trees and children riding sleds. Then again, if I went skiing, I'd probably make a concerted effort to avoid tracks titled 'Nasty' that contain 5,000 identical twins who all have no idea how to ski correctly.

But that's the challenge, right?

I guess I shouldn't complain that they didn't make the game too easy, but I can certainly complain that they made the thing downright impossible. The first few levels are manageable, but once you get past that, there's no way to survive. This is an 8-bit almost-prehistoric work, your mobility is really limited and totally hindered by the 500,000 obstacles all placed ironically enough in the middle of a ski race slope.

That's you. I don't remember Nintendo giving the guy a name, so let's just call him Jay. You know what really amazes me? The fact that I went through 4 years of being a mock punker without ever once making a necklace entirely out of Honeycomb cereal. But besides that, it amazes me that the most graphic-intense part of this game is the skier's ass. Its unreal. You can vaguely make out half the stuff, and barely make out others, but that ass, its in your face...its unavoidable. Its always center screen, its always prominently displayed, and its always annoying the fuck out of you. The worst part is, when you accelerate the skier's speed, his ass literally spreads out like he's trying to pass a brass porcupine statue. So you're faced with a problem - play the game as best you can, or just do it slow so you won't have to stare straight up the guy's anus for the whole race. Choice is yours.

He also has the distinction of being the only skier actually in the race. He celebrates like a mofo when he wins, but you know, its a pretty hollow victory since nobody else on the track seems all that interested in even skiing in a somewhat-straight line. Its like sitting quietly in your friend's closet for a week when they're on vacation and then proclaiming yourself the King of Hide-And-Go-Seek. Here, take a looksie.

I've long tried to figure out exactly what the guy's doing when he wins. I understand the part about flailing the skis around in triumph, but I can't for the life of me decipher whether he's wearing some sort of space helmet or if he's looking straight up with his jaw agape. Either way he looks stupid, and its a shitty payoff for completing the run.

On the right pic above you'll see the only other thing of note he can do - freestyle jumping. You get extra points at the end of each race depending on how many seconds you're able to maintain the Solid Gold stance in midair without crashing. Of course, the 'all time high scores' set for this game were nominally low, so there's really no point in wasting time with that. Though it does completely prove that the people responsible for creating this monster had never skied in their life - correct me if I'm wrong, but when a skier makes a jump, he doesn't usually throw his skis over his head with reckless abandon like that. Nor would he continue racing if he crashed into a bobsledding five-year-old, which gives us a nice segue into the next part of this review: the villains.

Course, this is a skiing affair, so there aren't any real villains. Just obstacles. But since they hamper your chance to do well, consider them the enemy. And my, what glorious enemies they are!

Evil Skiers: Like I said, you're not the only snowplow on the track. You're just the only one who cares about crossing the finish line. These guys have an important job: ski so poorly and haphazardly that you'll have an extremely difficult time making it through the track. Watch with complete admiration as they go against the grain and make sharp left turns for absolutely no reason. Kick back with delight as they tempt fate by risking certain death by going through swallows of trees just so they can ski right on top of you. In general, they're pretty avoidable. On a one-to-one basis, of course. When there's six hundred of them on the track at the same time, they tend to be more of a problem. Luckily, the game's nowhere near as endearing as it'd have to be for you to play long enough to deal with 'em for long.

Impossible Snowmen: You know, if I was browsing through various ski brochures, the definite chart-topping place for me would be the slopes that had six thousand snowmen impeding my path. There's strings of these guys everywhere, and don't think you can just breeze right through 'em unharmed - with the slightest touch, your ass'll be on the ground and you'll have to hear Slalom's idea of the 'unsatisfactory theme,' an annoying little track that loops for a few seconds whenever you fuck up. Its a great way to get you to do your best, because the noise is just that damn annoying. Even more odd: all the snowmen appear to be wearing parachute vests, and all have the exact same haircut as I do. They're chilling in more ways than one.

Trees of Woe: God damn, what kind of ski track is this?! Seriously, there's no way people are supposed to ski on this thing. I've never seen a ski track in my life that had forty-thousand Christmas trees from start to finish. Now these are the things you've really gotta keep an eye out for. Most of the other obstacles will only knock you down 80% of the time - but these trees know of no such leniency. If you touch 'em, you fall. No questions asked. My personal favorite levels are the ones where the trees are lined up in such a way that its absolutely impossible not to hit three or four of them in a span of five seconds. No really, that's my favorite part of the game. Slalom's that bad.

Sleddin' Kiddies: Hey parents, smooth move. Let your kids go sledding in the middle of a ski slope. Real safe for all parties involved. These guys are by far the worst obstacle, because they swiftly glide from side to side in an undying effort to break your legs. The beauty part is, when you nail one of 'em, they just completely disappear from the screen. When I was a kid, I made up this whole little theorem that I was knocking them into parallel dimensions. I guess I just wanted to come up with some kind of consolation prize for performing so badly in the game. In any case, they're big-nosed little bastards that you should watch out for, because they're killers. Killers dressed like Flava Flav with a severe headcold, but killers nonetheless.

See? Check it out, there's enemies everywhere. The inset picture shows you the end result of fucking up - your character breaks pretty much every bone in his body and gets buried under four feet of snow. Its a bad scene, but don't worry, he picks up the pieces pretty quickly and continues on his trek. The object of the race is to avoid these obstacles while skiing in between the thousand pairs of flags throughout each board. Its pretty tough, and really grates on your nerves since whenever you don't go in between the flags, your skier decides its the perfect time to come to a complete stop, thus rendering your chances of beating the race on time completely null and void.

In the end though, this game did serve a great purpose for me. When I was a kid, I used to draw all these little islands and worlds where different characters ruled over, and I'd always get stumped on what to name 'em. Well, one of the Slalom courses was called 'Crystal Cruise,' and for some reason I became so enamored with that name that I spent the next year drawing posh ice cavern resorts and giving 'em the same name. Sometimes I'd update the scenario to 'Crystal Castle,' but it was still derived from Slalom. That's why we're all still so into Nintendo today, it meant a Hell of a lot more to us than just playing the games. I'd always get way too into 'em. In public school, we had a Zelda club where all the members had to carry around manilla folders full of penciled Digdogger drawings and lists of how many rupees items cost. By the time I was in the third grade, our after-school ritual would be to emulate Mike Tyson's Punch Out...I opted to take on the character of Super Macho Man, a process which entailed spinning at top speed while holding my heavy schoolbag in my arms until someone threw something at me, knocking me unconscious. Viva la memories, and by gosh Nintendo, you gave me a lot of them.

And for that, I can forgive 'em for making this shitty skiing game. Slalom was by no means a classic, but if I had gone with my instincts and traded it in, all those assorted castles I drew in my spare time may have ended up with way more mundane names. Everything's good for something, and if you can believe that train of thought for even a few seconds, download the rom here.

- Matt
AIM: xecharchar
Voice Mail! : 1-877-767-8600 - ext. 878

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