Nov 12, 2014

Snow Brothers Review (Nintendo, 1991)

A Deep Freeze Bubble Bobble

Pros: Fun co-operative gameplay, great boss encounters
Cons: Single screen gameplay

One of my favorite games growing up was Bubble Bobble. This simple single screened title was a hit in the arcades, but my first exposure was on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Despite its popularity there weren't that many clones. Today I would like to talk about one of the rare clones; Snow Brothers. This was another of those titles that I rented on a whim and instantly fell in love with. Little did I know that this would go on to become one of the big rare domestic releases, and when I got big into collecting the high price tag was a little daunting for a game that's over twenty years old. I finally was able to add it to my collection, and fresh off of having completed the main game I felt compelled to write about it. So here we go.

In the magical world of Whiteland lives two princes; Nick and Tom. One day an evil king named Scorch takes over this place, kidnaps two princesses, and turns the brothers into snowmen. It's up to the two brothers, with their newly acquired snowman powers, to defeat the evil king and his army of henchmen. It's a pretty basic story, but it works well here, and the game even features a well done introductory sequence. Snow Brothers is a basic side view single screen action game. Both players start each stage at the bottom of the screen, and you move on to the next only after having defeated all of the enemies in play. Your abilities are pretty basic; you can only jump and throw snow.  Enemies hit with enough of this become large snowballs and when rolled defeat all enemies in their path and are destroyed upon hitting a wall. Though it sounds simple there's a little more finesse and skill involved here.

Enemies that you've encased in snow will slowly thaw out before properly having been dispatched. You can use a little strategy here and stop enemies in their tracks with a single snowball, but you're only given a short window of time to finish the job. If you take too long in any single stage an invincible enemy will appear and endlessly chase you; yet another feature stolen straight out of Bubble Bobble but it's a little more forgiving here because this pumpkin enemy can be slowed by your projectiles. Also like Bubble Bobble the game features several power-ups that increase the size of the snow your character throws while others increase the length of your toss and another makes you run much faster. Nick and Tom can only take a single hit before dying, and when they do you lose all accrued extra abilities.

Snow Brothers may be a Bubble Bobble knockoff at heart, but there are a few things it does much better than its source material. For starters the game may be only fifty levels long (which is half that of Bubble Bobble) but the stages offer more variety with interesting layouts and more diverse enemy types. What really pushes it above and beyond however are the boss encounters. Every tenth level pits you against giant more powerful enemies, and some of the mechanics during these fights are really interesting. You can damage boss characters with your standard snowballs, but this is largely ineffective and you must instead rely on rolling snowball encased enemies into the foe. The attack patterns are what make these encounters a lot of fun, and these are challenging even with another player joining in the fight. The final boss in particular is really well done with its exclusive mechanics. Snow Brothers is a fairly difficult game with no continues and a limited number of lives, but it's never completely unfair.

This game is pretty good looking even for a late term NES title. The backgrounds are bright and detailed with a fantastic abstract pastel style, and the enemy designs are very charming. The framerate holds up pretty well even with several enemies on screen, but Snow Brothers does suffer from some pretty big flickering problems. The gameplay isn't twitch based so it isn't a big issue, but it can make the cluttered screens a little confusing. The music is okay with some memorable themes, but it quickly becomes repetitive because it only changes every ten stages. What's there is pretty well done, and the composers were able to translate the the arcade version's music very faithfully.

Snow Brothers is an excellent game with fun co-op and great gameplay thanks to its level designs and mechanics. With that said it's not quite worth the high asking price, and this isn't even the best version of the title. With that said I actually prefer this one to Bubble Bobble because it's more diverse, but Bubble Bobble is a much greater value due to its low asking price. If you've got the urge to play Snow Brothers just go with that instead because it won't break the bank.

Overall Grade: B

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