Cloning is a relatively new technology that's made headlines in recent years, but some things just shouldn't be cloned. Humans? A bad idea. Dinosaurs? Well, you saw the movie Jurassic Park, didn't you? Add video games to that list, especially if they're anything like Polaris SnoCross. Vatical Entertainment opted to clone the average-at-best PlayStation version of that 3D snowmobile racer for the Nintendo 64 in virtually every detail. According to its publisher, this makes Polaris SnoCross the first snowmobiling game for the Nintendo 64. It's also the worst, thanks to buggy gameplay, confounding collision detection, and a lack of noteworthy features.
You get 10 winding, shortcut-filled tracks to test your prowess on, and a total of 16 total snowmobiles can be unlocked by beating certain circuits. By winning races and performing airborne tricks while racing, you earn wrenches used to improve your vehicles' stats. The game follows this gameplay formula in the single race and tournament modes, as well as in an instant action mode that picks a random track and snowmobile. Finally, this game boasts simultaneous split-screen racing for up to four players (unfortunately, only three tracks can be raced with three or four players).
The word "clone" is no misnomer--this game looks like a high-resolution version of the PlayStation game (minus the video introduction). Despite the crisp background textures and special effects such as snow and nighttime racing, the game's graphics still fall short--it exhibits instances of pop-up and flicker that other Nintendo 64 titles manage to disguise better. Although the game moves at a crisp pace, slowdown occurs seemingly at random; a telltale sign of slowdown is when the music skips while playing, which is downright odd for a cartridge-based title. In terms of sound, the title barely passes muster with lackluster background music and sparse sound effects.
Like the PlayStation version, the game's track designs prove to be this title's bright spot. Not only do most tracks have a wealth of ramps to perform tricks off of, but they also have many hidden timesaving shortcuts and alternate paths--all of which prove vital to finishing first. Unfortunately, during the cloning process some of the shortcuts got glitchy. On one track, for instance, a shortcut through a house sometimes sends snowmobilers through the roof (via glitch "magic") and over the top of the house instead.
Sadly, the cloning process also duplicated--and in some cases made worse--problems found in the original. The computer-controlled racers are slightly tougher than before, but it's still very possible to beat this game completely in one sitting. Since you can repeat race circuits indefinitely, you can race until you earn enough wrenches to build "super snowmobiles" that can't be beat--which dampens the game's replay value once the top vehicles are unlocked. In addition, the Nintendo 64 version boasts god-awful collision detection, especially between snowmobiles. For instance, a snowmobile can survive climbing up a cliff and hitting a tree at 50mph, but it will inexplicably wipe out when clipping the edge of a wall at 30mph. Go figure. These problems are diminished slightly by improving vehicle statistics (notably stability), but the collision detection in this game has neither rhyme nor reason--and gamers will surely get frustrated. Finally, the analog control seems rather sluggish and unfit for tricks, and the game offers no option to tweak analog sensitivity.
For those comparing versions, here's why this game fares worse than the PlayStation version. Although the two are virtually identical titles, the Nintendo 64 version retails for $50--a far cry from the $20 price tag that was a selling point for the PlayStation version. Second, the Nintendo 64 game has proven to be incredibly more buggy--the production version locked up twice in the first 30 minutes of gameplay, and the various glitches mentioned earlier will leave a bad taste in gamers' mouths. Finally, other than a marginally increased difficulty level, the game's developers didn't bother to fix any shortcomings present in the PlayStation version.
To paraphrase a memorable quote from Jurassic Park, the publisher was so caught up into seeing if it could clone the game that it never stopped to ask if it should. Like the raptors in that flick, Polaris SnoCross totally bites. Unless you're desperate for anything snowmobile-ish, keep a safe distance away from this dud.