Pixel Boarder and winter sports gaming

Pixel Boarder Cover

I've played hundreds of games in my lifetime, but most of them are long forgotten memories. But sometimes those memories can be dislodged from the deep to remind you of something. Maybe it was just about how simple games used to be, or how they invoked the imagination so much while doing so little, or that games actually used to be difficult.

Pixel Boarder is one of those games. I'll be completely honest: I'm not very good at this game at all. I always forget which to push the joysticks to rotate in a particular direction, and I never seem to have enough speed to do anything cool. But that is really not that big of deal to me right now, mostly because of how much nostalgia this game was able to produce in such amount short time.

I'll spend a few paragraphs talking about Pixel Boarder and then explore my past history in winter video games.

Pixel Boarder

The game deserves a bit of introduction though, so let's get to that. Pixel Boarder is an indie game developed by PixelFriends and released on Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year. The one man team was inspired by the game Ski Stunt Extreme, which is a simple Java-based game that let you twirl the mouse around to get a guy do some some tricks. Pixel Boarder uses the two thumbsticks of the Xbox 360 controller to control one leg each, and that's all that needed to flip, fly, and crash land.

The game is designed around a series of mountainous stages with the goal to score as many points as possible. The levels are split up between easy, medium, hard, and then some wacky, unique stages to round out the bunch. I appreciate breaking up the difficulty like that, but some of the easy stages are still pretty tough, in my opinion. Before you can even notch in a score for the stage, you have to finish it. This requires two main ingredients: keeping your balance and keeping your momentum. Keeping your balance is obvious, but if you don't have enough speed to make it up a jump, you'll have to restart. Thankfully, restarting a stage requires just one button (I should be more than familiar enough with that).

Pixel Boarder's controls really are simple, it's just mastering the slight touches to them that is difficult. The game features a decent tutorial to show you the slopes, and then it's off to trial and error. I didn't have a lot of trouble pulling off flips, and even landing wasn't all that difficult (though most of the time it took a bunch of flailing around on the sticks to figure out my orientation, plus landing is pretty lenient), but you really need to keep your speed up if you want to finish and make those points count. Sometimes you just lose that momentum and your little snowboarder just sort of... stops moving. After that, there's pretty much nothing you can do but restart.

The game's graphics are definitely noteworthy, not only do the 2.5D graphics look great, but you can actually control how old-school you want the graphics to look. Pixel Boardes lets you dial the graphics up and down between 4-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit. While 32-bit obviously looks "the best," the developer put a ton of work into the graphic scaling and it shows. 4-bit looks suitably bad and helps me appreciate what we have now so much more! I also love the game's dynamic camera. When you start a level, it is always pulled in close, but then pulls back as you begin boarding. Then as you approach a jump, it begins to angle behind you a bit so you can get a good luck at what you're about to hit. The little touches like this made my smile even bigger.

Most entertaining is Pixel Boarder's selection of music. It uses a series of "chiptunes" from 8-bit Collective that fix the style of game perfectly. Check out the site for an example of what's in store.

Pixel Boarder 4 8 16 32 Bit Graphical Comparison

8-bit Nostalgia

Pixel Boarder inspired a heckuva lot of nostalgia within me. Not only are the adjustable graphics an amazing inclusion that let you imagine what the game would look like on an Atari 2600, NES, and Super Nintendo, but the whole game feels like a throwback to the past. Yeah, the dual-thumbstick controls are more than anything the classic systems could handle, but the music, the graphics, and the concept just scream old school.

The game that immediately springs to mind was Ski or Die. This was a collection of winter-based mini-games available on the NES, Amiga, DOS, and Commodore 64. I used to rent it for the NES way back in the day and like many classic games, it was enjoyable, yet difficult. Ski or Die had half-pipe snowboarding and even a snowball fight, but the most memorable was easily the downhill skiing game. This mini-game was so obnoxiously difficulty I still have nightmares to this day. I believe you not only had to stay on the course, but you also had to pick the correct path down the mountain. The isometric camera angle didn't help either.

Next up is SkiFree, I'm pretty sure everyone growing up in the early 90's played it as it came standard with every Windows 3.1 installation I ever saw. The game was so simple but so addicting. Head straight downhill, nail some jumps, and have fun doing it. Run into novice skiers to take them out, chase snowboarders down the hill, run over dogs to make them pee, and even jump over dry trees to set them on fire! That was the charm of SkiFree, gotta love it. And how could anyone forget the abdominal snowman that would eat your skier after the game decided you had gone too far? Trying to out run that bastard was half the fun.

And while not much of a nostalgic moment, Wii Fit Plus has a snowball fight mini-game that is really fun. You stand on the Wii Fit board and shift your weight to move your Mii while aiming the Wiimote to toss snowballs at other Miis. It's great fun to watch my family and friends get knocked out by a ball of ice being thrown at their head. It's hard to say the mini-game actually gives you a work out, but who cares, games are supposed to be fun.

Finally, Pixel Boarder reminded me of my own pathetic attempt at trying to snowboard back in the day. Growing up in Wisconsin near a decent sledding hill, I had plenty of opportunity to have fun in the great (and frigid) outdoors. I can barely walk straight without falling over, but for some reason I decided to attempt to stand up on a piece of plastic while it slid down an icy hill at a high speed. Disaster waiting to happen.

All in all

Play Pixel Boarder if you own an Xbox 360, the game is cheap, and there's a free demo. Support the indie developer!

Pixel Boarder Santa Snowboarding