Sunday, May 13, 2007

Videogame Classics - Steep Slope Sliders

Steep Slope Sliders - Cave for Sega Saturn - 1997

Ah, yes, I knew I'd forget one of 'em. Steep Slope Sliders. I picked up a couple Saturn games at this game shop in Edina's Southdale Mall (trivia note: America's very first indoor shopping mall), and, since there was a buy-two, get-one-free deal, I picked up Winter Heat. Then I was told that game was lost, so I went back to the shelf and took Steep Slope Sliders. Imagine my luck.

There probably aren't too many gamers who have heard of this game, even the dedicated Saturn fan, since it was released in the States at the very end of the console's lifespan, just when Sega's Bernie Stolar made the impressibly incompetent decision to kill Sega's 32-bit console in favor of the Dreamcast project (which wasn't anywhere near finished yet). And, of course, as these things turn out, this was just when the Sega Saturn was finally hitting its stride, churning out one masterful masterpiece, or near-masterpiece, after another. Great timing, guys.

Steep Slope Sliders is a snowboarding game meant to compete with UEP Systems' popular Cool Boarders series on the Playstation. Another example of one game that was good for its time, and another that seemed destined for the ages. What's the deal with that, anyway? The best Saturn games are practically the best games ever made for their respective genres - how many can you name? Guess the most and win a prize.

Okay, I'm kidding. There aren't any prizes.

Anyway, back to the snowboarding. Sliders was released in 1997, which was one year before Tony Hawk Pro Skater was dropped and completely revolutionized the whole realm of punk/slacker/raver/extreme sports games. At that point, Tony Hawk became the gold standard for how to pull off a sports game with lots of cool stunts.

Did Neversoft have a Saturn tucked away, with Sliders in tow? This is the thing that immediately grabbed me - this game controls just like Tony Hawk. One button for jump, one button for grabs, one button for flips, shoulder buttons for rotations. Combos are built up from mixing and matching tricks. You know the drill by now; it's been burned into your brains a hundred times over. Well, kids, turns out Steep Slope Sliders was actually the first to pull this off.

The really weird irony is that Neversoft eventually branched out into a snowboard title - trying to recapture the Tony Hawk magic in every stunt sport - and it didn't capture the freedom and speed of the skateboarding original. And most snowboarding titles, from Cool Boarders to SSX to 1080, seem obsessed with this idea of crouching down and building up strength to hop into a move. Who the hell was responsible for that stupid idea? Hold down A, then press in a certain direction, while still riding on the ground - then hop into the air and release for the stunt? What the hell is that?!

Here's another bit of wisdom the prozines will never be polite enough to divulge, kiddies - that's a crappy way to make a videogame. And all the aforementioned snowboarders suffer as a result.

So the only ones to get it right was Crave, that little team responsible for a couple thousand arcade shooters, and Neversoft one year later. And the Neversoft crew got all the credit. Another reason to hogtie and hurl tomatoes at the Sega execs. Great timing. Friggin' losers.

Enough wandering off the reservation. There's this snowboarding game on Saturn you've never seen called Steep Slope Sliders. It's only a one-player game. You only race on one course at a time. There's no tournament mode. But it's damned near the best snowboarding game ever made, and it played John the Baptist to the greatest extreme sports game ever made.

If you need more needling, there are a large number of extras, stuff like hidden courses and bonus boarders. I think there's a UFO or a dog in there somewhere, continuing the slightly warped tradition of the Daytona USA racehorse. Oh, and the music kicks, too, and the graphics are detailed and solid in that way that Saturn games never were in 1995, when it mattered most. Pity that it took everyone three years to finally crack it, but that black box could sing. Have I mentioned that the suits were dumber than a sack of hammers? Are we sure Stolar wasn't still on the Sony payroll? There's something oddly Dick Cheney-ish about him; can't put my finger on it.

Somebody oughta throw up some gameplay videos of Sliders in action, just so you see what the fuss is all about. Add it to the Lost Sega Saturn Classics pile over there, on top of all the others.

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