Snowmobiles are woefully underrepresented in video game racing, while four-wheeled fare is incredibly commonplace. Though some people may disagree, the fundamental differences between asphalt and snow or tires and treads are not that great. Sno-Cross Championship Racing, a quality game based entirely on snowmobile racing, proves that there's no good reason for the unvaried focus of today's racing games.
Admittedly, playing Sno-Cross isn't entirely like playing a car racing game. The difference manifests itself mostly in control, which is far looser than it is in the average Ridge Racer or Gran Turismo game. Whipping around corners and catching air on a snowmobile is a wild and somewhat liberating experience. Sno-Cross uses a nicely realistic physics model, and that means you'll frequently be correcting for slight bumps in the track or oversteering as you slip on an icy turn. The game's simply a lot of fun to play.
Structurally, Sno-Cross Championship Racing is basically what you'd expect in a racer. It's set up in the traditional format, and championship, single-race, time-trial, and two-player versus modes are all available. One new addition is the hill-climb mode, in which you drive entirely uphill around obstacles and rocky terrain. The game also lets you construct and race on your own tracks through the use of a fairly intuitive track editor.
Of course, championship mode is where you'll spend the bulk of your playing time. It comes in 500, 600, and 700cc difficulties and consists of a series of races against three computer-controlled opponents. Between races, you'll have the opportunity to repair the damaged parts of your snowmobile or even upgrade them with superior parts. The money with which to do this is obtained both as prize money and as bonuses for performing a variety of tricks (such as the soon-to-be classic "seat spank") throughout the races.
At the outset, only the 500cc difficulty is available. Come in first place at the end of the 500cc series, and you'll unlock both the 600cc mode and several other options (such as the hill-climb mode and the ability to control weather and daylight effects in the single-race mode). Likewise, finishing the 600cc series in first provides access to the 700cc mode and even more new features. This creates a lot of replay value for one reason: The game is very hard. It will probably take the average player quite a few tries just to get used to the controls and finish the 500cc mode at all, much less in first place. Failure to qualify in a single race ends your entire championship bid, and that makes replaying at the same time discouraging and repetitive. After you master the game's nuances, however, you'll find satisfaction in finally besting your computer opponents. In short, it takes a while to get into Sno-Cross, but once you've done so, there's a lot to enjoy.
Developers have been squeezing some impressive things out of the PlayStation's hardware in recent months, and Sno-Cross further proves that the machine has a lot of life left in it. The graphics, including both racers and tracks, are nicely detailed, and the frame rate is high. Effects like lighting, weather, and reflection are also prominently showcased. Visually, Sno-Cross contends admirably in an age where next-generation systems are gaining dominance.
Though "Yamaha" doesn't actually appear in Sno-Cross's full title, it's a Yamaha-based game in everything but name. All the snowmobiles that appear in the game are actual Yamaha designs, so if you happen to be a fan of Yamaha snowmobiles, Sno-Cross Championship Racing has extra incentive for you.
It might be easy to write Sno-Cross Championship Racing off as another bland racing title from a big-name publisher, but that's far from the truth. It's got a lot more depth and replay value than it might seem to have at first, and it's definitely worth taking a look at.