Snow Bros. Online
Release year: 1991 | Players: 1-2 players | Developed by Toaplan / Capcom
Snow Bros. (NES)
Snow Bros. (AKA Snow Brothers: Nick & Tom, スノーブラザーズ Sunō Burazāzu in Japan) is a 1990 arcade platform video game developed by Toaplan for some video game systems and released (port) for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) by Capcom in 1991.
Ah, Toaplan. Known mostly for making shoot ’em ups in the mid-80’s to early 90’s, they sank not long after releasing what may be the grandfather to the bullet hell subgenre: Batsugun, released in 1993. Earlier than that, they also released such shmup classics as Hellfire, Tiger Heli, and yes, the meme-tastic glory of broken English that is Zero Wing.
In between those, however, they had a stint as a bootlegger in all but name (and legality). Pretending otherwise is pointless – Snow Bros. is definitely Bubble Bobble with the serial numbers scratched out. But is that good or bad? Well, if you’re considering the NES port by SOL, that is a surprisingly good thing.
Let’s start from the title screen, shall we? Booting up the game introduces us to our good brothers Nick and Tom, blue and red respectively. The title music is bubbly and catchy with a tinge of determination, a good sign of things to come. It helps that the game is published by Capcom and it’s a late entry into the NES library; more on that later.
Pressing start gives you an option between 1 player and 2 player co-op modes. There really isn’t anything you can do with two players that you can’t do with just one, but the game mechanics of Snow Bros. are fun enough on their own that it’s well worth calling a friend over for some teamwork.
Then it’s off to a very lengthy prologue detailing the situation our snowmen have found themselves in. The text scrolling is slow, so you may be tempted to get on with it with another press of the Start button, but you’ll miss what little there is of a plot. Most notably, our brothers are princes, trapped in their snowy form by King Scorch (somehow, a flame-themed king wields ice powers) as part of a plot to abduct princesses Teri and Tina of Snowland and thus take over the world. Nothing to write home about, but we have one more reason to fight our way up aside from getting their princely forms back.
Not that they particularly need them back, mind, as we soon find out upon reaching floor 1. Their newfound forms, though somewhat slow-moving, are a cinch to control, responding well to every button press. About the only nitpick I have is the inability to go down without tossing myself off a ledge, which ranges from a bother to a real problem depending on the stage layout.
Furthermore, they also gain the ability to throw triangle-shaped snowballs that arc downward after a short flight – and if you have any idea of how to play Bubble Bobble, you know what to do with that. Your enemies won’t die from simple snowballs, so pile on the snow until an unfortunate enemy becomes a snowball unto itself, then give it a shove! The impromptu projectile will then become a bowling ball of sorts, flattening enemies and bouncing off walls until it slams into an outer wall and explodes.
It’s a fairly simple concept, but it’s loads of fun. Snow Bros. encourages you to find ways to score a strike – that is, wipe the screen of enemies with a single ball – and even rewards you with 10,000-point paper bills raining from the sky each time you succeed. You can even ride on a snowball as it crashes downhill; in fact, abusing that and the invincibility it gives you for a few moments is a valid tactic especially in the later levels.
Power-ups are numerous compared to Bubble Bobble, and tie in to rewarding players for pulling off combo kills. There are four potion types – red raises your movement speed to a more comfortable level, yellow increases the range of your snowballs, blue adds to your snowball-tossing count to make it easier to freeze foes, and green grants you flight and an ability to stun enemies for a few seconds. All of them can be gotten from killing more enemies with a rampaging snowball, dropping from their bodies as they dissipate. The red potion is pretty fun to play around with, letting you run around and compensate for the usual plodding pace your snowmen walk with.
The enemy and level design take cues from its parent game, with a few changes. For starters, the levels are more cramped and compact, forcing close encounters with the enemies. Said enemies have a few varieties, with more introduced every ten levels or so. Trickiest of these are the tornado-spinning warriors, as they are both invulnerable and snowman-seeking in this form. The yeti gaining the ability to spew fire vertically in later levels can also be a bit of a shock.
As befitting its arcade origins, it also introduces an invincible pumpkin-head enemy if you take too long to clear a given screen. Though it doesn’t particularly aim for you, the homing ghosts it spits out will. The time before its appearance seems to change from stage to stage, all fairly short to encourage haste in progressing.
Despite all this, Snow Bros. is not really all that hard. The layout of the stages tends to be on the forgiving side, and a patient player can often clear them in a breeze. It helps that the game is generous with lives; though you have maybe three lives at first, you get up to nine continues, raising the total number to 21 before a Game Over happens.
The bosses aren’t much different, either; while Snow Bros. has various area bosses every 10 levels going for it as opposed to Bubble Bobble’s singular and final boss, each one is a fairly simple affair of freezing the enemies they spawn and then tossing them right back in their faces. The bird duo in stage 30, however, is a shining example, because their movement patterns and high speed compared to your characters actually forces a bit of planning ahead to defeat them.
Not only that, the game itself is fairly short, with only half the stages to play with. Considering how short each stage can be, that gives it a playtime of about 45 minutes from start to end. With little in the way of secrets beyond a code-enabled time attack mode, high scores and general tomfoolery make the majority of its replay value.
The music beyond the title screen is a mixed bag. On the good side, the instruments used are better than those in the arcade original, giving the tracks a bit of charm and percussive kick. On the bad side, they are still somewhat repetitive, considering you have but two variations of the same music to listen to for the majority of the stages. Their individual length can serve to curb that, but a few more tracks would’ve been nice. If nothing else, the new music for the final ten stages may serve as an incentive to reach them.
The art is, again, fairly simple, but not bad. Every jump ends with your respective snow brother doing a little flip mid-air, and every enemy is adapted faithfully if limited in color palette. The stages in Snow Bros. have varied themes for a seemingly snow-based game, and the color design lets you tell player from enemy from platform apart at a glance. There is one exception, however – the fourth set of stages have this garish green going for them – but other than that it’s pretty easy on the eyes.
Both the prologue and the ending are rendered in a simple anime style, which simply adds to the kid-friendly vibe of the story. The princesses in particularly are rendered as fairly young kids, reminiscent of children’s fairy tales.
The sound effects may be its weakest point. That says little, however, considering how decent the rest of it is – at worst, the sound effects manage to get the job done. It is when it comes to indicating boss damage that it falters; making the ‘tink’ also represent damage can throw one’s expectations off and contribute to the imagined invincibility of the bosses. The first two suffer most for this, as they don’t have any other way to indicate damage until they eventually keel over and they can take quite a few kicked snowballs before doing so.
Overall, Snow Bros. could have just used the Bubble Bobble formula to propel itself to a profitable level. Instead, it takes that formula and improves on it, sometimes stumbling but overall making itself a sort of refinement of the classic game. It’s almost a shame that it was released as a 1991 NES title, ensuring it gets only a limited print run and making it one of the harder cartridges to acquire. For those lucky enough to get one, treasure it – it’s one of the gems of its time; nothing special, but who needs more than solid snow-bowling gameplay?
Snow Bros. game has been ported to Arcade, NES (this version), Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Amiga, iOS, and Android.