Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars
Although developer Rare had released video games on home computer systems such as the ZX Spectrum, and would later produce some legendary masterpieces on the Nintendo 64 such as Goldeneye, Jet Force Gemini, Killer Instinct, and Perfect Dark, until the release of Slalom on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), they had never published a console game. How would their initial effort measure up in the annals of gaming history?
Slalom is, if the title was not revealing enough, based on downhill skiing. Or, perhaps to be more literally accurate, downmountain skiing. It is most comparable to the genre of classic driving games, such as Rad Racer and Mach Rider, that use a from-behind view and incorporate multi-layered parallax scrolling to provide the sensation of speed and horizon-centric depth.
Though, in Slalom’s case, gameplay breaks a tad from the usual trope, in that there is no acceleration button, and the skier certainly cannot run out of gas. In fact, acceleration is somewhat automatic, as the player courses down the slopes; only to be slowed down by turning left and right using the respective directional pad inputs, or modestly jumping by pressing A, or taking one of the snow-mogul ramps to jump, then holding Down on the d-paid to perform tricks for bonus points.
This is a one- or two-player game, and there are three difficulty levels, given as a choice of three different circuits: Snow Hill, which is the Beginner set; Steep Peak, the Intermediate option; and Mt. Nasty, the Expert selection. Each of the 24 total hills, 8 per challenge rating, differ in their turn placement and amount; hazard placements such as the moguls, trees, or even snowmen; the extent of the presence of other racers, such as drone skiers and even kid sledders; and each has a “time to beat,” like a qualifying round of two minutes, then each successive run decreasing the alloted time allowed by ten seconds.
In order to beat the times, the player must not only steer efficiently to avoid hazards while maintaining a high speed, but also take advantage of a couple true top-velocity tricks; namely, pressing Up on the control pad to make the skier lean forward and accelerate, and ensuring that the skier passes between all the flag gates. Failure to move through the inside of a pair of the flagpoles causes the skier to briefly “dig in” and slow down for a moment.
Overall, Slalom is a racing-type game, with an arcade-style high-score element, that rewards the player both for efficient speed and sneaking in trick maneuvers. The track names, like “Cotton Candy,” may sound harmless, even friendly, but completing an eight-track circuit can be a challenge, and attaining a respectable score even more so.
For such an early NES title, the cartridge manages an impressive visual array, as on-screen components are visible “down the track” even in a small 2×2 square of black pixels, before thrusting into view on the track. Between the evergreen trees, snowmen, and sledders, the elements repeat endlessly, lending what could threaten to become a “stale” sensation to the events. Also, the game is awfully red – there are tinges of pink and orange throughout plenty of components, from the mountaintops to snow effects, that may make someone wonder why more shades of, say, blue hues were not used. At least the gray snow sparkles after a race, which is a pleasant touch. One other notable aspect: The game places an unusual amount of detail on the buttocks of the controlled racer, bringing to mind the scene in the popular cartoon television series The Simpsons, when character Ned Flanders shows off his expensive skin-tight ski suit, and utters the immortal line, “It’s like I’m wearing nothin’ at all!”
For some reason, Rare has always been a powerhouse in the sound department, and the category even shows off in their first console release, Slalom on NES. From the cartoony multi-note trill of the “roll” effect (when the skier hits something like a tree, and flips several times through the air, though lands on his skis) to the excellent background tracks, the sound quality here is very solid. The title screen makes excellent use of a subtle, deep bass, overlaid with the boop-boop melody of sweet-hitting tones. This reviewer will even be so bold as to that that the opening rock-adrenaline riffing going on at the start of even the first track approaches Rare’s flair heard on such titles as their beat-‘em-up classic, Battletoads.
Slalom is a twist on the ol’ racer formula, though does not seem as refined as Rad Racer, as dynamic as Mach Rider, or as deep as Taito’s Chase HQ. It does hold distinction as the sole skiing simulator on the console, and does offer a not-unpleasant diversion. Its repetitive nature prevents it from being a truly great game, but the sense of speed is intact, and those who dig the double challenge of tunnel racing and high-score keeping may just find something worthwhile here. Nonetheless, the verdict: Two stars out of five.