As the days get shorter, the nights get longer and the cold gets...well, bloody colder in fact; it can only mean that winter isn't coming, it's arrived! This means (like pretty much every other season) that it's time for some gaming (of the retro variety) that matches the mood (or weather), if you will. Thus this review, I feel; is obviously fitting for those wintry evenings.
Originally released in the arcades back in 1990 by Toaplan, the game up for review is the one and only Snow Bros./Brothers on the Nintendo Entertainment System (that came out the following year in '91). Known as one of the rarer games for the NES, that means it is a bit of a resellers wet dream, but that's why the gaming gods invented emulation. After all, Toaplan are dead and only scummy folk trying to cash in on your nostalgia for their selfish means on the second hand market will benefit from you paying over the odds. Just don't do it! Oh, off my high horse; this was distributed in Europe and North America by Capcom. F'ya!
Straight up? This was a game I was always intrigued to play as a kid. I only ever honestly knew it as a NES game, seeing it advertised somewhere likely I cannot truly recall but I was aware of it and wanted to play it as it looked along the lines of all those other cutesy goodies that I knew and loved at that point such as Bubble Bobble, etc. However, it never seemed to show up for £1 at Cash Converters. Thus until now it never got played…What I didn't know til my teens was that it was also released on Mega Drive (in Japan), was originally in the arcade (as previously mentioned) and was also getting an Amiga and Atari ST release once upon a time via the mighty Ocean.
Any how, let us jump into this review, already!
While there's no official timer per se, if you're not beating the stage at the speed the game wants you to, a certain pumpkin of death appears like a grim reaper looking to take your snowy soul. You can stun him, but he's ultimately unbeatable, so just get it done before he starts throwing hordes of ghosts into the mix. Aint nobody got time for that!
Graphically speaking, the game looks pretty good. It certainly matches up with many of the games of the period on the NES. Some may argue it even looks great, which on one hand it really does. The trouble for me is that because it is fixed screen, there isn't any added scrolling animation or anything; thus makes it more difficult to rank it higher. But there is certainly a great use of the palette on display, with the sprites being bold and identifiable. There's even some really snazzy animations I dig such as with Nick/Tom's jump being a whole sort of pole vault thing. The previously mentioned cartoony run when you gulp down some ol' red is awesome, too.
There is however a whole hell of a lot of flicker going on with the occasional slow down to boot. While this is a common complaint with a great many NES titles, it's no less irritating. Stick it out though and you're golden.
Some of the designs are just bizarre looking, though. The game is part cutesy, part out and out weirdness. I mean, who puts eyes on stages!? They freak me right out. That damn freaky deaky intro sequence is also something straight out of a horror game. Overall though I love the look. It has its own, unique charm that will stick with me long after powering down. Also, what's up with that brain like blob on the 20th floor with his bomb buddies!? I dunno. It's nuts I tells ya...
But the music? It's freakin' awesome. Typically NES chiptune goodness right here. From the light hearted and catchy opening title (that builds to a drop of tension) and the epic tuneage that gets played during the intro, to the fun as hell stage music throughout. The sound effects are pretty much what you'd expect, with the standard blips and bloops, so that's neither here nor there. I personally dig the super Asian sounding bonus stage theme for whatever reason. It's stuck in my head as I type, actually.
As with most gamey games (at least from this gen on), Snow Brothers kickstarts with some standard story time. It's presented in a nice little cut scene that doesn't actually appear as cute as you would first imagine with the super demonic looking baddie hovering over the lands of the protagonists Nick and Tom. Nick and Tom are two princes living the high life, keeping their kingdom all safe and whatnot, but said baddie mucks poop up by kidnapping the princesses and turning the titular brothers into snow men. What a jerk! Thus, your mission should you choose to accept it, is to go on the almighty quest of glory to get back the girls, smack around the villain and return N&T to their regular bodies.
I mentioned Bubble Bobble in the third paragraph which is pretty apt, as Snow Brothers does indeed play much like it. It's all fairly simple, really. A fixed platformer where you jump and snow ball your way to victory on each individual screen, broken up with boss battles and bonus stages (featuring a gosh darn one-armed bandit because gambling is win). Controls are responsive, which is all you could ask for in an arcade game such as this. Directional buttons do as they're told, B is jump and A is shoot. Your character shoots snow balls and multiple hits will cover an enemy in a large ball that you then can hit the button to send them flying down, which if said larger ball hits enemies on the way down it'll send them flying to their stone cold death.
There is multiple power ups, in the form of little different coloured potions. Red speeds up movement (and gives you a sweet cartoony animation), green blows up (as puffs out, not explodes) allowing your character to float about and knock enemies out, blue lets you get all rapid fire throwing (and increases power) and yellow lets you throw long distance (and increases power, too). You can also (typically when you beat down an enemy) nab some sweeties (lollipops, cakes, etc.) to increase your points.
Stages are called floors, so it's as if you're on a never ending quest up a stupidly tall building. Kinda like in Ghostbusters, except not at all like Ghostbuster. Stuff it, you know what I mean...
Snow Brothers is actually quite fair and/or lenient when it comes to lives and continues. You have two lives to start, as standard and indicated in the top of screen display. You get a few continues right off the bat and the one hit kills are barely that intrusive due to the good game design. Something where it being a fixed, single screen platformer certainly plays in its favour.
Besides Bubble Bobble, I would happily recommend this to those of you who want some 8-Bit action in the vein of the original Mario Bros. (the more famous brothers of the NES), Popeye and Donkey Kong. Despite being a later release, this would have felt just right being a “black box” game, for sure. Granted, that would have been impossible without time travel, but you get the idea.
At the end of the day, Snow Brothers (or Snow Bros. Nick & Tom as it was originally known) is more of a fun little distraction style of game that's fairly true to its arcade roots and intention. It's for the most part about getting the points to rub in the faces of your friends, to waggle your Nintendo pad in front of them and declare that a winner is you. Does it reinvent the wheel? It doesn't even try, nor does/did it really have to. It does its job, no matter how simple that may be. Luckily for me, it's that arcade style of gaming I favour. One where my brain can totally be taken away and focused on a nice, obvious objective.
I say give it a blast, just don't take out a second mortgage to do so…
Verdict:- In the opinion of this reviewer, Snow Brothers would be what could be called a "hidden gem" in at least the pre-internet era. Why pre? Well, the fleaBay scummers speaks for itself. This aint really hidden no mo'...
Overall though it's a solid game with a lot of charm. Toaplan often made underappreciated classics and this could happily slot into that pile of carts. It also doesn't do Capcom's often sexy output on the NES any harm, either.
Deffo recommend this one. Though you may want to boot it up on an N8 (NES Everdrive) or via emulation, at which point you may as well be looking for MD release or load up the arcade ROM in MAME or something.
Also, remade version of Snow Bros. Nick & Tom the arcade game is available on iOS and Android!
Second Opinion:- Transbot sees the Bubble Bobble comparisons and Transbot did let the reviewer finish...
But, let's be honest. It's just not as good, nor even a smidgen as iconic. Harsh? Maybe. True? Definetly. It also makes Transbot circuits fry when he peeps the prices on this supposed hidden gem.
It's not even on the Master System, for a starter!
Transbot Scores:- 6 out of 10