I hope that seat is heated...
Winter sports are hitting the game scene harder than a crash test dummy into the dashboard of a 1977 Pinto. It seems that every console has their version of snowboarding, skiing or hockey. I guess it's only a matter of time until we see Brian Boitano's Championship Figure Skating on the PS...uh...3.
The latest frozen treat from Crave Entertainment is Sno-Cross Championship Racing. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, sno-cross is an all out snowmobile race. With courses resembling old-school BMX tracks, this sport offers tons of speed, jumps, and of course spills.
Ten minutes into the game I had already judged it. I thought that it was a feeble attempt at fitting a game to a genre by slapping snow on a course, putting snowmobile skins on the vehicles, giving it crummy handling to simulate driving through snow and shoving it down our throats for fifty bucks.
However, first impressions aren't always dependable in gaming. Look at the Worms games; those cute little annelids and the silly turn-based action seem as though they would add up to pure stupidity...but you just try to put it down once you pick it up. Snow-Cross Championship Racing, as it turns out, is a challenging racer with realistic physics and a tough learning curve.
The game follows standard race structure all the way. Progressing through championships earns you cash with which you can upgrade different aspects of your snowmobile. Extra cash can also be earned by pulling off tricks, though this is a racing title and the tricks feel tacked on. They are hard to perform, and more often than not seem to end up slowing you down rather than helping. They could have just as easily left this aspect out (but then of course we would have all complained about a lack of depth).
There are three classes of races: 500, 600 and 700cc competitions. As each series unfolds, more tracks open up. After completing a class, the next class becomes available, and the competition gets a little stiffer. If you have friends over, there's a two-player mode... split screen, of course.
I soon figured out that what I had mistaken for crummy handling was actually the caterpillar treads digging into the snow and me leaning too hard forward, causing the front skis to sink into the powder as well. After a few more laps, I figured out how to shift my weight around, stay on top of the snow and keep up with the pack, so it isn't bad handling after all.
As you complete events in the championships, the courses get a little more challenging and the terrain gets a little tougher, particularly due to the proliferation of big ice patches. It takes some time to understand how to steer a thousand-pound machine through a turn across a sheet of ice, raising the bar on the learning curve another notch.
At least the cash earned from previous races comes in handy for upgrading the skis on your machine and stiffening the suspension a bit until you earn enough for a new engine or full suspension.
Indeed, this game has a fairly steep learning curve and you probably won't win the first time around. But given time, the realistic physics is a refreshing change that sets this game apart from most other racers.
The courses are challenging and pretty well laid out. Like I said, the control takes some learning, so at first some of the turns seem cheap. Sadly, there are no shortcuts, variants or alternate routes - something that has become necessary in any racer to give it a little more than just round and round the mulberry bush..
Considering the graphical power of the Dreamcast, SCCR looks somewhat average. The snowmobiles look pretty good, the character animations are fairly smooth, and the backdrops are photo-realistic. However, the environment textures could have been dialed in another notch or two...or three.
The sounds are good. The music is easily drowned out by the whining of an engine, which puts more focus on the game, where it needs to be in such a challenging racer.
As an added bonus, Crave has thrown in a level editor, which lets you create your very own track from the ground up. It is very intuitive - anyone over the age of three will be designing courses in no time. You can even save courses to your VMU and share with your friends.
Sno-Cross Championship Racing is a solid racer. There is a slight adjustment period while grasping the concept of racing on snow, but that's the premise here and the physics are really done well. The courses are fun and challenging, although the lack of shortcuts is something of a letdown. A little more spice would have helped tremendously. As a snocross game it's a good buy, but considering the huge number of Dreamcast racing game out there, this falls somewhere in the middle.