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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Ski or Die (Electronic Arts, 1990)


Developed for the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga and IBM-PC compatibles by Electronic Arts. Designed by Michael Abbott, Nana Chambers and Michael Kosaka. Programmed by Michael Abbott and Nana Chambers. Graphics and animation by Michael Kosaka, Michael A. Lubuguin, Cynthia Hamilton, Connie Braat and Peggy Brennan. Music and sound effects for the Commodore Amiga and DOS versions by Rob Hubbard. Music and sound effects for the Commodore 64 version by Dave Warhol. Produced by Don Traeger, Jim Rushing, Happy Keller and Jon Horsley. Technical Assistant: Jesse Taylor.
Production Manager: Zina J. Yee. Graphics Director: Nancy L. Fong. Package Illustrator: Steve Lyons.

Released for the Commodore 64 and IBM-PC compatibles in 1990, and for the Commodore Amiga in June 1991.

Converted for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Konami, and released by Ultra in the US in February 1991, and in Europe in October 1991.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


Instead of finishing off this year's Christmas season with a traditional Epyx sports title, I decided to go for something slightly lighter. Ski or Die from Electronic Arts still keeps the tradition within the winter sports theme, but it has less events than any of the Epyx multi-event sports games, and this one was only ever released for four platforms, in contrast to, for example, Winter Games' twelve. But strangely enough, Ski or Die does have some old Epyx blood in it: Michael Kosaka was involved in the making of Summer Games II and World Games before co-designing Ski or Die.

For some reason, Ski or Die was never as highly praised as Skate or Die, and this showed in many magazine reviews of the time, averaging well below 70%. At the time of beginning to write this entry, the DOS gamers at Abandonia have rated their version with an average 3.2 out of 5.0 with 3995 votes, while the site's editor has rated it with a 4.0. 35 Lemon64 voters have rated the C64 version with a reasonable 7.7, and 52 LemonAmiga voters have given their version a 7.44.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Ski Or Die is, as already mentioned, another multi-event sports game, but this one focuses more on the extreme winter sports than the traditional ones. It is the spiritual sequel of Electronic Arts' earlier multi-event sporting title, Skate Or Die, which featured summer events of similar style. Ski Or Die, as its predecessor, has five events, which are: Acro Aerials (ski jump with acrobatic stunts), Innertube Thrash (descend a mountain in innertubes), Snowboard Half-Pipe (slide down a half-pipe on a snowboard and perform tricks), Downhill Blitz (downhill skiing with jumps and stunts), and Snowball Blast (first person snowball fight). As with all the other proper sports games, you can either practice any of the events, compete in a single event or go for a tournament. Naturally, the tournament mode has a hot-seat multiplayer support.

It won't be much of a selling point for today's kids, but both games featured a brilliantly rocking soundtrack, funny graphics, and Rodney Dangerfield as the shopkeeper. Yes, that's right, Rodney Dangerfield. A once famous comedian known for his surreal and black comedy, whose most famous film credits are Caddyshack, Back To School, Natural Born Killers and Easy Money. Luckily, the game is pretty good on its own, so there's no need to load up either of the games just to see the ugly mug of Rodney.

I'm a big fan of snow, because I was born and raised in an area where a properly snowy winter could be taken for granted. So, a certain degree of love for wintery outdoor activities is in my blood, which is probably the reason why I like this game more than I do Skate Or Die. Therefore, comparing the two games against each other will be a bit useless, even though I might do so at some point. By itself, though, Ski Or Die goes well together with Epyx's Winter Games in offering something a bit different, yet in a similar spirit. That's why it's a very recommendable addition to anyone's game library.

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PLAYABILITY


Although some of the required information to learn how to play the game - at least the DOS version of it - can be found at Ski-Or-Die.com, there are quite a few bits and pieces missing from the website. And since the whole game is relatively easy to go through, I might as well do it here. For maps of entire levels and full controls for the DOS version, the website is a good source, but that's pretty much it. So let's get on with it.

Much like Winter Games, most of the game is joystick-operated. Only the players' names have to be written on the keyboard, in case of your chosen platform has one. Naturally, the NES version only has the gamepad to use, so there's an exclusive name-typing screen on the NES. Whoop-dee-doo. Of course, using the keyboard is always an option, where available, but not exactly recommended.

The game starts at Rodney's Ski Shop, where you can move the oversized cursor around to see Rodney comment on various things, in addition to find the four actual items you can click on: High Scores table, Sign-in, Go Compete and Go Practice. Depending on the version, the Sign-in screen might include other options as well, such as toggling music. Once you have chosen to go either for a bit of practice or competing, you find yourself on skis in the middle of the townsquare, which offers you passages to all five of the events, the Tournament mode, and of course one back to Rodney's Ski Shop. Keep the fire button down to keep your skier on the move, and move the controller left and right to turn clockwise and counter-clockwise. Once the event or other passage has been chosen, the game starts to load the chosen event.

In the case of the Tournament mode, it appears as if the game chooses the order of events by random, so I will choose to go from the event placed at the left bottom corner of the townsquare screen, and proceed anti-clockwise from there.

Snowball Blast

Having a proper snowball fight was always a blast as a kid, and at least in my experience, often would have been had in different modes, depending on the location. Never in my youth did I get to have a similar experience to the Snowball Blast even in Ski Or Die, mostly because the locations wouldn't have allowed it, but also because building yourself a fortress in which you would defend yourself from hordes of other snowfighting kids would have required more kids to involve in the snowfights we had, which our little village usually wasn't capable of, and so building the fortress wasn't a valid option. So this sort of a snowball fight always seemed like a fantasy game of sorts. Nevertheless, here it is, and it is surprisingly good, considering the subject matter - there has never been a more engaging snowball fight event in a game before or since, nor a snowball fighting game for that matter.

So, the Snowball Blast event is played like this: by using your controller of choice, you move a cursor around the playing field, where other kids run around and occasionally throw snowballs at you. Pushing the fire button throws a snowball in the place where your cursor is located. It is not possible to dodge snowballs thrown at you, so eventually, you will be covered in snow and the event is over. However, the game randomly places a bonus item on the field for you to pick up, which might be a set of extra snowballs, a star item of infinite snowballs for a short period of time, and a shovel to dig yourself a bit out of the mound of snow you have been covered in. You get points for blasting pretty much anything, and the further away your target is, the more points you will get. Only if you throw a snowball at a ski instructor, 25 snowballs will be taken away from you.

In most versions, the event will feature a compass, which shows you the amount of kids in each direction, and you are allowed to change your facing in some method to view all four directions. The C64 version doesn't feature this element. Changing the direction is done by either pushing the second fire button within an area on the screen, which would correspond with a direction on the compass (NES and DOS), or using the cursor arrow keys for each direction (Amiga). For some reason, using a mouse is not an option, even though the event would definitely be more suited for mouse control, so if you have to use a joystick, you will be effectively reliant on another player to use the cursor keys to change the direction.

Due to the uncomfortable way the cursor accelerates when starting to move, and then moves around on the screen with no sense of inertia or other sort of naturality, focusing on changing the direction becomes impossible when playing on a joystick, while having the need to use the keyboard simultaneously. For this reason, the AMIGA version, which was my favourite earlier, has now become my least favourite version while doing this comparison. The NES version is the best choice, because it has the most fitting controller for this sort of thing (provided it's in a very good condition). The DOS version isn't bad with only keyboard, but if you want to have diagonals in use, the game still requires a joystick, which in turn makes it just as bad as the AMIGA version. Because the C64 version lacks the need for changing directions all the time, it is easier to play than the other three versions, but then again, it's missing an arguably important gameplay element.

1. NES
2. C64
3. DOS
4. AMIGA

Downhill Blitz

This is probably my least favourite event on the list, and it is so for various reasons. Downhill events have never been particularly inviting in any winter sport games, even when they're fairly playable, because it's the easiest one of all the usual events that you can involve yourself with in real life, and the only attractions it holds in real life are such that can never be simulated in a video game. This one isn't even very playable, because of the way your skier moves.

It starts off nicely enough, but once you have the need for steering in a steeper angle, you will find that the angle you choose to ski in (and the skier actually has) doesn't correspond exactly with the angle you actually slide downwards. Of course, one might argue that this only adds to the realism in the game, because you wouldn't necessarily go straight to that direction without sliding a bit more downwards at the same time, if you were skiing in real life. But this isn't real life, is it? It wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem, if you didn't have to ski down incredibly narrow slopes and try to jump across chasms in uncomfortable angles, particularly when you realize that you simply can not steer yourself into such an angle as to make it even possible to jump across certain bits. The game design just isn't analogue enough.

To make the event slightly more interesting, there are a few stunts you can perform when jumping off cliffs and other things. Pressing down the fire button and holding any of the four main directions while in air will perform a trick, which will be scored with something between 50 and 100 points. If you manage to stay on your skis for the entire duration of the event, you will be given 1000 bonus points, and the quicker you get to the goal, the better your bonus score will be.

On the C64, the event is split in two halves, with a small bit taken away from the middle, probably to spare some memory. It feels unfinished and simultaneously, makes the game feel unfitting for this hardware. As for the steering, you get basically two angles for each steering direction, neither of which really feel even close to what they look like in action. This will be a bit confusing at first, since there are three angles that you can align yourself into; it's just that the first two angles have the same actual angle in effect. It's just really awkward.

The NES version at least gives all three angles their own specific use, even though the angles still aren't very close to what they look like they should be. Also, there is no half-way pause point here, so the entire event is fully intact. In this event, the second action button is completely useless.

Both the AMIGA and DOS versions also have everything intact, and basically work the same way the NES version does. Only the AMIGA version has ridiculously sensitive steering, and requires much quicker reflexes and actions on your part. This doesn't fit the event well at all, since the level design doesn't necessitate such quick actions, and so the DOS and NES versions offer the best options here.

1. DOS / NES
2. AMIGA
3. C64

Acro Aerials

Including an event with a likeness to ski jump in any way to a winter sports game has always been a no-brainer. Even Epyx's Winter Games featured not only a traditional ski jump event, but also a stunt-based variation on the same idea. For us Finns, any sort of ski jump event has been a matter of national pride, or at least high on the scale of importance, ever since our first Olympic medals from 1956, so I suppose enjoyment out of any rendition of the event for us is deeply ingrained into our DNA.

Acro Aerials fits this tradition perfectly, even though it's an even more extreme rendition of Hot Dog Aerials from Winter Games, which I'm sure we all loved. This time, however, you get to build up speed in a long ramp before taking off and performing as many different tricks as you can within the amount of time you spend in the air. The big difference to Hot Dog Aerials is, that if you fail to finish a maneouvre perfectly before going in for the next one, your contestant might freeze up mid-flight, and you will have a hard time getting him back on continuing the performance. When you are doing your first few dozen practice rounds, you will find yourself too often buried under the snow or nearly speared by your own skis. However, once you get the hang of the controls, Acro Aerials will become one of the most enjoyable events in the game.

Waggle the joystick to build up the speed in the ramp, then press the fire button to jump, and go straight for the action. You can perform eight different tricks with the fire button down, and two tricks without the button (holding the joystick up and down will do flips). Points are given for difficulty, variety and fluidity. In the competition mode, you will have three jumps to build up your score. This is true for all the versions.

The only thing that really makes any difference here is the speed of movement and animation, so the quality and fluidity of graphics are of the utmost importance in this event. In this case, the AMIGA and DOS versions are easily the best ones of the lot, although the C64 version doesn't fall that much behind. The NES version, however, gives you almost double the amount of time on the ramp, which can be painful even if you tap on the A and B buttons instead of the D-pad, and the amount of frames on the trick animations is nothing short of appalling. On the plus side, you do get more time in the air, but then again, the scoring system works differently because of this, so you get a very different deal there.

1. DOS / AMIGA
2. C64
3. NES

Innertube Thrash

As you might recall from my comparison of Toobin', doing any racing on an innertube has always been a completely alien thing for me, so this event always felt very peculiar for me. But I can see the potential of it, when you add some traps, sharp weapons and natural hazards to the event. In a sense, this event is not much more than a pocket-sized Toobin' on snow, with cans replaced with forks and darts, and playability replaced with randomness.

Apparently, you are supposed to somehow push your player to go forward, which I suspect means downwards. But trying to control the innertube anywhere is more a matter of luck and perseverance, and less of skill. The important thing is to keep your innertube pumped with as much air as possible so that it will move around better. For this, you will need to pick up pumps and patches. You will also find different weapons and traps around, so learn which ones to avoid and which to collect. Poking your opponent with a weapon will give you points and damage his innertube. The scores are given from picking up helpful objects, damaging your opponent's innertube, moving far enough ahead on the screen so that the other guy needs to catch-up, and being the first across the finish line.

The best you can do is to focus on moving horizontally, although you SHOULD be able to move vertically to some extent as well. I have never got the hang of how to actually move the innertube around the screen without any problems. Unfortunately, the main focus of the event is on causing as much harm to your opponent as possible, so aiming your attacks happens by pushing down the primary action key or button and moving the controller either left or right to turn clockwise or counter-clockwise. The attacking itself happens by hitting the secondary action key or button. When you bump into anything, your facing will be realigned to something completely different, so try to stay away from anything resembling something solid, unless it's a collectable.

Of course, on the C64 and AMIGA, you only have one fire button, so the problem of having no secondary action button has been fixed with a different control for the attacks: push the fire button and pull the joystick up or down - although the AMIGA version only accepts down.

However unplayable the event is by default, it's made even less playable with higher speed and more unresponsive controls on the DOS and AMIGA versions. The relative slowness on the C64 helps you to get at least some grasp of the bad controls, although the hit detection seems to be worse than it is on the 16-bits. Once you get used to the event's quirkiness in a slower mode, though, the quicker ones seem to become more playable with some practice, even though the unresponsiveness is still very much there. The NES version is the least complex of all four, and offers slightly better controllability, and it even scrolls faster than the C64 version, so all in all, I would say it's a good compromise, and the best one to go with for a beginner.

1. NES
2. C64
3. AMIGA / DOS

Snowboard Half-Pipe

My favourite event in the game isn't the most accessible of the lot. There are quite a few factors you need to focus on when snowboarding down the neverending half-pipe, which is precisely what makes it more replay value than for any other event.

For starters, you have a three-point speed-o-meter, which will indicate your speed, as well ability to do certain kinds of tricks. You need to move in and out of the rev zones to increase your speed, and try not to hit any logs or bunnies with power-tools while at it. You can, however, collect those punked-out penguins for easy extra points, but naturally, the big score comes from successfully performed tricks. And therein lies the biggest point of focus in the event - following the animation frames.

Depending on your PC setup, the DOS version will very likely be the quickest one of the lot, so while it has easily the best scrolling fluidity, the trick animations are more difficult to follow than on the AMIGA due to the speed. Other than the issue with speed, though, the AMIGA and DOS versions offer animations of the same calibre, so both are equal in that sense. The choice is yours, then, depending on how quick you want the game to be.

The two 8-bit versions both offer some different playability issues. On the C64, the gameplay is really slow and feels sluggish at best, but at least you can follow everything going on. Contrarily, on the NES, the gameplay is as fast as in the DOS version, but the amount of frames on the trick animations has been reduced to a bare minimum, making it nearly impossible to follow the movements for the more difficult tricks past speed level 1.

1. AMIGA / DOS
2. C64
3. NES

Overall

As you might have noticed, it's a mixed bag, overall. Some events are clearly more fitted for the NES, while others are more comfortable on the platforms they were originally developed on. The C64 falls somewhere between, and never feels quite at home at any point. If you add up the scores as they appear above, you would get a rather peculiar looking scoreboard:


DOS: 2+3+3+1+3 = TOTAL 12
NES: 4+3+1+3+1 = TOTAL 12
C64: 3+1+2+2+2 = TOTAL 10
AMIGA: 1+2+3+1+3 = TOTAL 10

Unfortunately, it's not that far from the truth. The DOS and NES versions share the amount of top spots in the best number of versions of events list, but the AMIGA comes as a clear second, with no winning spots for the C64. Still, the C64 version is the most balanced one of the lot, being the most constantly mediocre. Think of it what you will, but I shall keep the scores as they are.

1. DOS / NES
2. C64 / AMIGA

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GRAPHICS


Because the game was originally designed to be played from a floppy disk, there is no specific loading screen, unless you count the basic Electronic Arts loading screen on the C64. In that sense, you could also count the copyrights screen displayed in the NES version before the title screen comes in with a blasting rock tune as one of the so-called loading screens. So, for the sake of completeness, I have included them in the first screenshot compilation.

Loading, title and copyright screens. Left: Commodore 64. Right: NES.
Top middle: DOS. Bottom middle: Commodore Amiga.


Thankfully, the title screen graphicians have taken a more interesting route this time, and have not tried to copy the cover art, although the basic theme is still the same - there's a snowboarder doing a stunt of some sort, and snow is flying around him. The title screen has a more radical pose than the cover art, which makes it more worth the title. Also, it's somehow more fitting that the title looks more like someone had written it in spray paint, instead of the strange floating snow sculptures on the cover. The NES version has a more pastel disco look to the title screen, and even the title text flashes in two colours, but unfortunately, it is also a bit unpolished, so it's the least attractive of the lot.

Rodney's Ski Shop, left to right: Commodore 64, NES, DOS, Commodore Amiga.


As we move further into the game, the differences between PAL and NTSC systems become clearer, and you can see the evidence of it throughout the game. Rodney himself is a good point of focus in the comparison, as you can clearly see he's a bit wider and stumper on the PAL systems (C64 and Amiga), while on the DOS version, Rodney looks more like Rodney is supposed to. On the NES, Rodney is badly squashed and his face is a bit ghostly compared to the other three versions. That said, the NES version is severely lacking in colour, even compared to the C64 version - only 8 colours on the NES against the C64's thirteen. From the two 16-bits, the AMIGA colouring is slightly more discreet, which is better for all the little details.

Townsquare, left to right: Commodore 64, NES, DOS, Commodore Amiga.
Outside Rodney's Ski Shop is the townsquare, which offers you a more graphical event selection method than what you might have gotten accustomed to in Epyx's sports games, but for Skate Or Die veterans, this will come as no surprise. In the middle of the six separated paths to different events and the Tournament mode, Rodney's Ski Shop stands proud and show-offishly.

If the previous screenshot comparison made the differences in screen formats clearer, now is the turn for detail and content. The C64 tries so hard to imitate everything shown on the DOS version, but the screen resolution and even colour restrictions just will not allow for everything to be included: the missing elements are the "SKI SHOP" sign placed under "Rodney's" animated neon sign, the EASN sign on the left, and some of the traffic signs are missing a fair bit of colour.

As I said earlier, the colour differences on the AMIGA compared to the DOS version makes it look a bit less messy, and on a messy screen like this, the difference is only more obvious. Also, as a minor point, the AMIGA and C64 versions share a curious punctuation difference with the word "half-pipe", which isn't shown with a hyphen on the NES and DOS versions.

And as it has been noted many times before, the NES graphics tend to be made from tiles, and because of this, often get a very cheap look compared to games on other machines. This game doesn't make a deviation from the NES norm. It's easier to look at than the messy look on the C64, but then again, it shows little effort and attention to detail, so I am unable to appreciate it in the context.

Signing in, left to right: Commodore 64, NES (two screens), DOS, Commodore Amiga.


If you want to compete, you have to sign in at Rodney's, and this is what the Sign In screen looks like on each version. Apart from the NES version, you can even change the control methods here. Also, because the NES has no keyboard, you have to enter a second screen to type in your name. Although it adds to the amount of graphic data, it takes away from the fluidity of the game. Otherwise, what has been said earlier regarding colours and details, still holds true.

As with most games of this enormity, there are bound to be some quite huge screenshots collages, so you might not see them as they are meant to while reading this text. Click on the pictures to view them on a better scale.

Screenshots from the Snowball Blast event. Top left, 5 pictures: NES. Top middle, 2 pictures, Commodore 64.
Top right, 5 pictures, DOS. Bottom row: Commodore Amiga.


It has to be said in defence of the NES version's cheap tile-based graphics, that it requires less screen memory than the more carefully pixelated graphics on the other versions, and so the NES can afford to have all the game elements in tact. In the case of Snowball Blast, for instance, you have access to all four directions, while on the C64, you only have one screen where all the action takes place, and for whatever reason, they have chosen the one screen to be the one pointing to west on all the other versions. But unfortunately, that's not all that is missing from the C64 version - the nearest kids that climb up your tower are completely missing as well, as are some of the extra bonus characters. Sure, the C64 version is the most easily accessible one of the lot due to the relative simplicity, but when it comes to the graphics, it loses by a country mile.

Happily, the NES version starts to shine once you get past the title screens and menus. When the majority of the action screen's content is taken by snow, all the pastel colours in the surroundings and the passers-by will be quite welcome, particularly when it's all in great quality. Compared to this, the C64 version looks rather bland and colourless, although it's not too bad in action.

Of course, the DOS and AMIGA versions have a much more natural colouring and styling, and the amount of detail is just staggeringly high compared to the 8-bits. The earlier mentioned colouring differences and the effects of PAL and NTSC modes should be quite clear on the screenshots.

Screenshots from the Downhill Blitz event, left to right: Commodore 64 (8 pictures), NES (7 pictures),
DOS (7 pictures) and Commodore Amiga (7 pictures).


Another case of quantity over quality here. The C64 version again tries to follow the 16-bits in the colouring and basic style, but loses a whole bunch of details and important graphical elements on the go. The mid-way house is gone, the broken diagonal bridge has been reduced to another bland gap, the finish line doesn't have "FINISH" on it, and due to memory restrictions, the stage still had to be cut into two parts from the whereabouts where the house should have been. Too bad the attempt at copying the style isn't a very good one, since the forest and all the other surroundings are quite low in quality, and the only thing you can be completely sure of is the area in which you should be skiing within. Happily, though, the stage scrolls without problems.

Contrary to the C64 version, the NES gives you another round of cheap tile-based graphics in a fully converted environment. It does work well enough for the purpose, and it's certainly much better than the muddled mess on the C64. Still, it would be pure insanity to claim that I prefered the NES graphics over either of the 16-bits, which have all the style and colour that the C64 has, with a huge amount of added elements, details and overall quality.

Screenshots from the Acro Aerials event. Top left: DOS. Bottom left: Commodore Amiga.
Top right: Commodore 64. Bottom right: NES.


This is one occasion where the limitations and even design decisions on the NES version become against it. Both of the 16-bit versions play rather quickly and smoothly, and the focus is on the animation. Even the C64 version is able to produce a rather good rendition of the event, even if the stunt bit is a bit slow in comparison. The NES version, however, is incredibly slow throughout the event, and the animations are horrible. As if that weren't enough, the event has been made even slower by showing all the five judges' faces in the same little screen, one at a time, so they take a bit more time to show all of them. Only the outer space bit has more detail than the C64 version, but since you're not all that likely to get to see it here, it's not much of a consolation.

For once, I'm glad that the C64 version has taken the smart way out, and not included the five judges' faces here. Also, having too much focus on the less important graphic elements might have taken some much needed priority away from the player sprite's animations, which is why the event works as well as it does on the C64.

I don't like to repeat the obvious, and what I would say about the 16-bits differences is so obviously repetition of my previous comments. There is a curious difference between the AMIGA and DOS versions, however: one of the three banners in the landing zone screen has been switched for the Amiga. Interesting, if not particularly important.

Screenshots from the Innertube Thrash event, left to right: Commodore 64 (4 pictures), NES (6 pictures),
DOS (6 pictures) and Commodore Amiga (6 pictures).
In the tradition of other multi-event sports games, there is always at least one event in the game that looks almost exactly the same as another event in the game. This time, it's the Innertube Thrash event, which looks highly similar to the earlier Downhill Blitz event. The similarities and differences here are very much similar to those in Downhill Blitz, and so I don't really think I need to point out more than what you cannot necessarily see in the screenshots.

On the C64 version, some of the sections are missing again. At least they managed to fit it all in one load, but still, all you get is the beginning, the finish line, and some bumpy wide spaces and bumpy divided sections between the two extremes. What I have always wondered about on the C64 version of this event is, how did they come up with the dark grey colour on Lester's innertube, when it's so clearly pink on the 16-bits? Even the NES version has an orange one, which isn't quite right, but it's certainly closer than grey.

Screenshots from the Snowboard Half-Pipe event, top to bottom: Commodore 64, NES, Commodore Amiga, DOS.


My favourite event became even more favourite while doing this bit, since I only had to take three screenshots for each version here. The screenshots in the middle are all from the event's starting point, while the other two are taken during a random trick on each side of the half-pipe. I tried to get as much variables on the screenshots as possible, but it's a difficult event to focus on while doing screenshots, so this is the best I could do.

First of all, the scoreboard. In all the other versions except for the NES, you get all the information shown at the top of the screen: the player's name, the score indicator, the speed indicator (the three geometric items), the time indicator and Lester's face. Next to Lester's face, you will occasionally get some commentary from Lester, and in most versions, he even has some funny facial expressions to go with your failures and successes - as you might have expected, the C64 version doesn't have any variations on Lester's face. On the NES, Lester and his comments have been placed at the bottom of the screen, and the geometric items have been replaced with much more traditional and uninteresting indicators.

As has been common practice so far, the C64 version once again has less detail in more than just Lester's face. There is less variation on roadside (or pipeside?) objects than in the other versions, the START gate is completely missing, the powertool bunnies are gone, and the punk penguins have been changed into red stars. At least it has good animations and scrolling, if a bit on the slow side.

The NES version takes the other way again - quicker gameplay, but bad animation with small amount of frames, and the 3D effect within the half-pipe looks incredibly cheap with only three slow frames, while outside the half-pipe, everything runs smoothly and quickly. Then again, all the other items have been kept in, so it's a 50-50 situation.

Like I mentioned before, the AMIGA version of this event runs less hastily, which makes it slightly more playable than the DOS version, but otherwise, they're both very similarly executed.

High Scores tables, left to right: Commodore 64, NES, DOS, Commodore Amiga.


If you ever decide to take part in a competition mode, you might find yourself on the High Scores table before too long. The styling of it is very similar to the Sign In screen, and so the colourings and detailings are similar to what they were earlier. Curiously, the order of the events here isn't very logical compared to how the events are placed around the townsquare, but at least they're all similar in all four versions here.

And now, I would have to come to some sort of conclusion about all this. It's easy enough with the 16-bits, as they are both just as good, really, and easily better than the 8-bits. So how about the 8-bits, then? Well, it's a tough choice, since both NES and C64 have their strengths and weaknesses, all of which are so clearly on display in this particular game. Overall, though, the NES takes a bigger slice of the cake here, with 3 out of 5 events being more suited for it.

1. DOS / AMIGA
2. NES
3. C64

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SOUNDS


My first experience of Ski Or Die was on the AMIGA, so it's only natural that my primary association with it is the sampled rocking Amiga soundtrack. Although I didn't acknowledge the fact until much later, it was obvious that the soundtrack was written by one of the biggest names in the business - this time the name being Rob Hubbard. Such an impression the Amiga soundtrack with its sampled thumping rock band backings and extravagant lead guitar licks left on some of us as kids, that many years afterwards, it has remained as one of the most revisited game soundtracks. On further thought, however, the tunes are pretty repetitive and similar to each other, only going for just enough stylistic variations to tell them apart from each other. Happily, not all events have music in them, which I have always considered to be a deliberate act of balance in sound design. And in the case you want to get completely rid of the music, you can choose to turn it off from the game options, which can be found from the Sign In screen, accessible through Rodney's Ski Shop. All the sound effects in the game are very fitting for the snowy environment, and hardly ever overdone - apart from the Innertube Thrash event, perhaps, which has a lot of loud bouncy noises. Usually, the music is there for a reason - either the sound effects for the event are too plain by themselves, or they are too silly compared to the even more extravagant rock music. You choose what you will - it's all good in my book.

It always struck me as very curious, that the legendary SID musician Rob Hubbard was involved in making the sounds for even the DOS version, because I always thought the DOS version came only with beeper sounds. And you can easily imagine (or remember) what the beeper soundtrack sounds like, so no need to write more about that. But no - it appears that the game supported AdLib and Roland MT-32 sound cards, only it has to be launched with the required parameter included in the command ("s.exe mt32" or "s.exe adlib"). Because DOSbox doesn't support MT-32 by default, I had to download Munt, the MT-32 emulator to hear the DOS version as close to how it was supposed to be heard. Once I heard the DOS soundtrack in pretty much all its intended glory, it was a revelation to me on so many levels. Most particularly, because it became very clear, that the game music was originally made using a MIDI system, and only the musical data was made to be played using different sorts of sound samples through the AdLib and Roland MT-32 card, and of course the samples used later on the Amiga. The two properly capable DOS sound modes still don't quite reach the quality on the AMIGA, but I do have to say that they're much closer than either of the 8-bits.

If you live in a country that uses a PAL format, you might have likely been as shocked as me, if the first time you played the C64 version was after any of the other three, because the music felt so slow, almost heavy in comparison to any of the other versions. The reason for this is quite simply, that the game was made for the North American audience primarily, who had the NTSC format, which played a bit faster, so consequently, the game would play too slowly on a PAL C64. At least the game is playable on our systems with PAL-fixed cracks. So what I am trying to get to is, unless you live in the U.S., your best choice is emulation in NTSC mode. Even then, Dave Warhol's SID renditions of master Hubbard's hard rocking tunes aren't able to reach the feel and humour that the sampled synth versions convey so well. At least the sound effects are perfectly light-hearted and snowy even in their SID state, and the in-game tunes' SIDness don't really bother as much as the title tune's, because you are concentrating on the game much more than on the sounds.

Last, but not least, we have the NES version. In true NES fashion, you get more music for your money than you would even think of asking. There are at least two new tunes in the soundtrack that I noticed: one for all the menu screens and one for the high score table, and both are decidedly Nintendoesque, and which really don't feel like they came from the pen of Rob Hubbard. That's not to say the new tunes are bad - on the contrary, they're rather splendid, but not of the same style as the other tunes in the game. And what's more, is that the more percussive touch in the NES instrumentation compared to the C64 fits the game better, and gives it a slightly more rocking overall feel. The sound effects aren't necessarily all that good, but there are plenty enough of them, and at least they aren't in any way overdone. But for a game with a high priority on music in the sound department, the NES version beats the C64 version by a long inch.

1. AMIGA
2. DOS (AdLib and MT-32)
3. NES
4. C64

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OVERALL


The reason why I don't do all that many comparisons of games that were released after 1989 is that the focus of development got switched to graphics and sounds on the new hardware at the time, and gameplay was now secondary. While Ski Or Die isn't the worst of the bunch, it still holds much of the spirit of the time. Happily, it also gives one of the earliest examples that a PC could also be a proper gaming device. Sure, with enough money to buy enough peripherals back then, why not. It just wasn't a very valid option back then.

Even after 24 years, Ski Or Die still manages to offer a similar gaming experience to me as it did back then, but I suspect it's mostly because I never truly bothered to learn how to play most of the events. Now, though, I can honestly say that the game does get better with practice, just as much as any of the Epyx titles do. But which of them would I recommend the most for a beginner...? Well, you could try to check them out by these results:

1. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8 (AdLib/MT-32)
1. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 8
2. NINTENDO NES: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

Harsh, but that's how it is. While the Amiga version doesn't offer a better playability, the graphics and sounds add up to the overall experience, which really made the game what it is, and how it should be experienced still. But I would suggest you go for the DOS version, and preferably with a Roland MT-32 on the side, even if emulated.

I'm sure the big question in everyone's collective mind is, will I be writing a comparison of Skate or Die before the summer break? Well, we shall see about that - after all, it's a bigger undertaking than this. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this one - comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome as always!

With that, I'll leave you to enjoy the few hours left of this year in peace and wish you a very happy new year! See you in 2015!

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