Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, on its 25th birthday, Gavin recalls an atypical Nintendo first-party game where the only goofy thing is your stance choice in the lodge at the start…
Tuesday 28th February 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of 1080° Snowboarding’s Japanese launch. Developed in-house at Nintendo EAD with Giles Goddard (of Star Fox and squishy Mario 64 face fame) and Colin Reed (Stunt Race FX) on programming duties, it’s a fantastic game — and a curiously straight-laced one by Nintendo standards.
That’s not to say it’s boring. Far from it, 1080 is as thrilling as you would hope a video game version of hurtling down a mountain atop a plank of wood at potentially fatal speeds would be. It’s just soberly ‘realistic’ compared to practically any other Nintendo game, racer or otherwise. It’s arguably the most serious of Nintendo’s first-party output. By which I mean there are no double jumps or buck-toothed volcanoes or rocket boards or banana skins or any sort of power-ups.
Okay, 1080 does have some goofy elements — the penguin board and the unlockable characters (the ice man, gold guy, panda dude) are hardly hardcore ‘simulation’ material — but otherwise it’s a super slick and serious affair that’s pretty out of character for the company.
Wave Race 64 had a similar approach, with sim-like, precision controls given arcade-style approachability, but there was a glorious, rainbow-coloured, blue-sky feeling to that game that made it hyper-real. Conversely, 1080 spent much of its time shrouded in a grey mist over the piste, with sunlight cracking through the clouds as you slid stylishly down the mountainside courses — runs which for the most part felt like they could actually exist in the real world. It’s incredibly chilled in its presentation and how it propositions the player. In fact, I’d argue that 1080 Snowboarding is the coolest of any of Nintendo’s games.
From its pre-ski opening (what’s the opposite of apres ski? Avant le ski?) where the nonchalant ‘boarders lounge about the ski lodge, apparently indifferent whether you choose them or not, to the real-world brands adorning their clothes and boards without fanfare, there’s a laissez-faire (yep, buckle up, we’re going full franglais today) attitude to the game that’s uncommon, at least for Nintendo.
That doesn’t mean it’s slapdash in any way. The mechanics and physics underlying this racer are second to none on the console — and most others for that matter. But nothing about 1080 is shouty or showy. It just turns up, knows it’s the best, and lets you see for yourself. Or not. Whatever, it’s all good.
It doesn’t hold your hand on the slopes, either. If you try landing a jump without dabbing the ‘Z’ trigger at just the right time to bend your knees, you will eat snow. I still remember the first time I pulled one of those eponymous spins, many weeks (months? The memory is solid, but the exact date slips around) after I started the game.
You could completely ignore the trick system in the main game if you chose and you’d still feel incredibly cool sweeping across the piste leaving graceful arcs of snow spray in your wake. But if you engaged with the trick and spin mechanics, gradually you could acquire the skills to work your way up to the 720, then the 900, and finally… well, you get the picture. Your goal was there in the very title, but I imagine the vast majority of people who started the game never managed to pull off a 1080. And that’s fine. The game certainly didn’t care.
I’ve written before about how it’s a shame Nintendo hasn’t returned this generation to its stable of what I call ‘precision arcade racers’ — the Wave Races, the Excitebikes/Trucks, and F-Zeros of the world. All of those games are ‘cool’ in their own way, although they’re not quite as insouciant as 1080. F-Zero X is perhaps the most ‘metal’ video game ever made, but it’s also madcap and not a little goofy. There’s no ploughing into other racers with a boost spin in an effort to send them hurtling into oblivion on this mountainside.