Retro Scope: 1080° Snowboarding

Who knew that a realistic snowboarding game could be so much fun?

By Kyle England. Posted 05/09/2013 10:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

15 years ago, when the 1990s were in their waning years, the world was a much different place– or at least it seems that way now when looking back. Pop culture had this ethereal and bubbly feel to it, as if nothing else mattered. You just had to be there, man.

In particular, many video games of the time had this in-your-face attitude about them, pumped full of licensed music and extreme sports. These games were mostly forgettable and unremarkable, but one extreme game stood above the rest. It flew in the face of expectations by emphasizing realism over showmanship, and it came to us from Nintendo EAD of all studios. This was 1080° Snowboarding for the Nintendo 64.

Producer Shigeru Miyamoto stepped away from the fantasy worlds he was familiar with and supervised this game about realistic and responsive snowboarding. Luckily, it turned out great. Nintendo’s reputation for polish in all aspects of a game is always dependable, and it definitely applies to snowboarding in 1080°. The game managed to perfectly translate the feel and control of boarding, sliding, turning, and jumping onto a controller.

Seriously, I haven’t ever played another sports game with more precise and complex controls. Your pitch and angle of turning in 1080° is guided by incremental twists of the joystick, not a one-to-one ratio of direction. Jumping has to be timed at the crux of momentum for the best results, and just because you get up in the air doesn’t mean you’ll safely land; you have to level up your board with the ground to complete the maneuver.

Oh, and the tricks are insane. 1080° is a snowboarding game for the trick perfectionist. Do you like effortlessly doing twirls and flips in the air with a perfect landing every time? Don’t play this. You actually have to rotate the stick 360 degrees while hitting the appropriate button to execute a full spin. This compounds for every trick with additional spins, so it’s no exaggeration to say that pulling off the revered 1080 will take hours, if not days, of practice. I can barely do the 540. These actions take some serious finesse, which you’re only going to have after mastering the game’s complex controls.

However, despite its depth, simple joy can be found in 1080° Snowboarding from the pure fun of racing and boarding. These modes require little technical knowledge of the game, and are easily playable by those who are still stuck on the bunny hill. You get a great sense of speed and momentum when your boarder goes careening down a snowy mountainside. Sliding back and forth is a ton of fun, as is shoving other racers into the snowdrifts with a firm nudge. It’s also interesting to try out the various playable characters to test out their respective boarding styles on all sorts of terrain.

However, if you don’t think snowboarding is inherently amusing, 1080° most likely won’t be a worthwhile investment of your time. There’s no special item attack, no loop-de-loops, and no cartoon effects. It’s a bit uncharacteristic for a first party Nintendo game, but so it goes. The developers were aiming for realism and precision here, a prolific example of a solid snowboarding video game, if you will. But there is a place for the wacky snowboarding, in the form of the excellent Atlus game Snowboard Kids, also for Nintendo 64.

But the serious and technical nature of 1080° is probably why it remains so playable today. Great care was put into the collision physics, polygon display, and accurate portrayals of inertia and momentum. Contemporaries of the time were blow away by the level of depth found in this simple snowboarding game, and I don’t think there has been such an advanced game in the genre since. The sequel, 1080° Avalanche, had the technical control scheme greatly scaled back in favor of faster speeds and flashier tricks. Avalanche fell back into the entrapment of the 1990s that the original N64 game tried so hard to escape, the typical in-your-face spectacle of extreme sports.

It’s interesting, then, that we have not seen a new entry into this series for a decade now. What happened? Is the world just not ready for a new snowboarding game from Nintendo? While we ponder these questions, 1080° Snowboarding for Nintendo 64 still soldiers on. It’s been on the Wii Virtual Console for a while now, a testament to its staying power. Something tells me that the game will also make an appearance on the Wii U Virtual Console at some point as well.

1080° Snowboarding tests player mettle, endurance, and tenacity. It’s a great showcase of the Nintendo 64’s technical power and still remains an enjoyable snowboarding romp to this day. Why not break out the old cartridge (or Wii download, as it were) and hit the slopes once again? It’s time to… “Work ya body! W-Work ya body!”

One Response to “Retro Scope: 1080° Snowboarding

  • 261 points
    JasonMaivia says...

    I spent so many hours playing this game. This and the Snowboard Kids were the only snowboarding games that I really gave a crap about back then (and I later became a big SSX fan). It’s too bad that Nintendo let the series die after the Gamecube version. I was expecting something great on the Wii. With SSX and Shaun White games on the Wii, I was hoping that Nintendo would have their own 1st party sports games return in some way.


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