The original review of
Sno-Cross Championship Racing was written on Christmas day and I had written a scathing
report on it. I had denounced everything on the game from its graphics to its menu system;
in all, I gave the game a single star. But, then I decided to read other reviews of
Sno-Cross (more for confirmation of my opinion than to check facts) and was surprised to
find so many positive reviews. Rethinking my opinion, I decided not to submit the review
just yet and to road test Sno-Cross for a few more days.
The final analysis? Sno-Cross Championship is not for the arcade racers out
there; it is a serious snowmobile racing simulation with a realistic physics engine,
actual damage models, and real-to-life race tracks with equally life-like AI.
Unfortunately, it also sports graphics that should never be seen on the Dreamcast and
visual effects that take away from the realism.
Published by Crave Entertainment, Sno-Cross features 12 snowmobiles, all of the
Yamaha brand and supposedly modeled from "secret CAD drawings." Still, I
cant tell any of the snowmobiles apart, other than their colorings. Each snowmobile
has its own strengths and weaknesses but you have to test out each one to find these. The
game doesnt provide a simple way to distinguish, performance-wise, between mobiles.
Instead, it shows useless statistics like the number of cylinders or the type of cooling
system used. Maybe a real snowmobile buff can look at these statistics and know exactly
what it all means, but the casual gamer wants a more visual way to help them pick out a
Anyway, like I stated before, this is a simulation, so every snowmobile slips
and slides all over the racetrack until you get used to how it handles. Remember, folks,
were talking small vehicles going 100 km/h over snow and ice, so this aint no
Sunday walk. The learning curve is steep, but after awhile you learn the ropes: lean
forward to go faster, lean back for more control, decelerate at the curves and NEVER hit
an ice patch at an angle. This is not a "pick-up and play" game. Youll
have to spend some time on each track to learn the nooks and crannies.
Speaking of tracks, you have your choice of seven different locations to race
from Nagano, Japan to Aspen, Colorado. I have no idea how accurate the tracks might be to
their actual real-life counterparts, but they are well designed none the less. There are
plenty of hills and bumpy straights to keep you flying off your snowmobile at every turn.
The overall effect is lessened by the blurriness of the track and the statuesque
spectators supposedly watching. The surface of the track is lined with tread marks but
these were actually drawn on before the race even begins. In other words, you wont
be able to see the skid marks you made when you made that 180-degree turn. There are no
shortcuts or special paths to take. You stay on one path throughout the entire race.
Weather is a big factor in Sno-Cross; too bad it looks so horrible. You have to
deal with three types of weather effects: rain, snow, and clear conditions. Each effect
affects how your snowmobile responds (for instance, your acceleration is reduced in the
rain). However, visually, the weather is nothing but white spots floating on the screen.
This effect is particularly cheesy when you go through a long tunnel and its snowing
inside the tunnel!
The racers controlled by the computer arent the perfect AI that you often
see in racing games. They crash or make serious errors just like human players and are
just as competitive, too. Despite the simulation feel, you can play nasty and wreck the AI
by pushing them into barriers or simply getting in their way. And, if you run into a
crashed snowmobile, youll go out of control and crash, too. Its annoying if
youre used to plowing through opponents in your armored, turbo-charged ice cream
truck but, hey, thats why Ive said this isnt for arcade racers.
There are two ways to race: Championship mode and Single Race mode. In Championship,
there are three divisions with each division having its own set of snowmobiles. You start
in the lowest division (and, therefore, with the slowest snowmobiles) and race in four
pre-selected tracks. You have to place 3rd or better to progress through the
races, but you must place 1st overall to go to a higher division. In Single
Race, you pick any track (including weather effects) and any bike and just have a basic
race against 3 AI opponents. You start the game with the lowest level of snowmobiles until
you start winning divisions in Championship mode.
Of course, the real fun of any racer is going head-to-head with your buddy, so
I carted my DC over to my friends big screen TV to give it a whirl (not mention a
round or two of Soul Calibur). Unfortunately, the racing is not nearly as smooth as in
single-player. The feeling of speed was completely lost as you seemingly chugged along
and, to add insult to injury, the various sound effects kept cutting out. You cant
add computer controlled players to the two-player showdown, so theres no
satisfaction of beating multiple opponents.
The sound effects, overall, are clear, crisp, and used sparingly. The only sound
youll ever hear for most of the race is the sound of your motor. Ive heard
actual snowmobiles a couple of time in my life and their unforgettable roar is replicated
in the game. Occasionally, you might even hear the sound of hard snow crunching against
your snowmobile as you slide around the corner. The music, however, is sub-par and perhaps
the worst element in the game. Repetitive techno plays over and over again as you streak
down the track; fortunately, the music volume is adjustable so you can drive in relative
Sno-Cross throws in some extras to go along with the mainstream racing.
Theres an extra mode called the "Track Editor" which allows you to design
your own racetracks. It uses a simple grid interface that allows you to piecemeal various
road hazards (ice patches, hairpin curves) into a completed racetrack, then you get to
pick the scenery and youre off to race. This definitely ups the replay value, as you
can save as many custom tracks as your VMU can hold.
Sno-Cross Championship Racing is not a user-friendly title to play. Youll be
frustrated the first few times you play, but, if you have the patience, youll learn
to enjoy the game. This is certainly a try-before-you-buy, and make sure to give it a good
run through before you decide.