Review: Snow Bros. Nick & Tom Special – A Tired Bubble Bobble-Alike That’s Finally Affordable
Don’t you think a gaming hero should have a sort of heroic name? Rastan! Sparkster! Astyanax! Right? Yet here we are with the Snow Bros, Nick and Tom. Nicholas Snow and Thomas Snow. Not bad names – we can foresee a gritty murder mystery series starring one Thomas Snow coming to ITV in the near future – but not names that inspire enormous confidence in their capability. Nor should they, because the Snow Bros are a bit rubbish. The friendly local Twin Princesses get abducted, while Nick and Tom get turned into snowmen. And not even the flying kind who take you to see Santa then melt away while leaving behind a scarf in a skillfully produced allegory for grief. But we digress.
Toaplan’s Snow Bros. is basically a take on Bubble Bobble, really, but the difference is that Bub and Bob’s inaugural appearance is a masterpiece, and Snow Bros. is a weak imitation. The game surely has a cult following and prices on the secondhand market are sky-high, but it’s just not that fun to play. Movement and jumping feel floaty and weird. Everything is sort of grotesque-looking, but not in that Binding of Isaac gross-cute kind of way. You walk around freezing enemies. You collect various items for points. There’s very little to it and its appeal seems to extend only to its fans. A Snow Bros. fan, can you imagine?
Maybe that’s a little unfair. After all, the game runs smoothly at 60fps even when the screen is busy. There’s some appeal in the unusual character designs. The new intro sequence is well-drawn and quite cute. See how we’re scraping the barrel here? There’s just so little to get excited about. We’re thinking about other single-screen games. Remember Tumblepop? It wasn’t even that good. Six out of ten at best. We prefer it to Snow Bros., though.
But what do you do in it? Not much. The Snow Bros. (sigh) have the power to throw snow at their enemies, turning them into a giant snowball which can then be pushed to send it off on its way, destroying any enemies it happens to hit. This could be fitfully fun, you know, but once you’ve chained one group of enemies with a flying snowball, you’ve sort of chained them all. They’re not really interesting enemies either, they just potter about waiting to die. The game seems to make up for their deficiencies by loading every single platform with them. Occasionally, the Snow Bros. can fly, when they pick up a green potion which lets them zip all over the screen and basically automatically win the level. The potions are a whole thing; they’ll appear all over the field and grant increased speed and power. Taking a hit means you lose all this, but it doesn’t really meaningful affect the difficulty because everything feels identical.
The level layouts are pretty uninteresting, too. You clear every level in exactly the same way. It’s monotonous stuff, and playing with a friend doesn’t remedy that because there’s really nothing to get your teeth into. There’s no reason to go head-to-head, and co-operating isn’t interesting in the slightest. It’s the sort of thing you’d put kids in front of to keep them quiet.
Interestingly, there’s a bonus mode in the game called “Monster Challenge”, which allows you to play as one of the game’s enemies and try to stop the Snow Bros. You unlock each monster by “satisfying certain conditions”, apparently. We say “apparently” because this mode — the most intriguing part of the game — is actually paid DLC if you don’t buy the physical version. Yep, if you want to take on what signs point to as being the best part of Snow Bros. Nick & Tom Special, digital purchasers will need to shell out their hard-earned cash on top of what they already spent getting the base game. Outrageous, frankly, and astonishingly hubristic considering there’s basically nothing else to add variety.
Sure, there’s the Survival (one-life) and Time Trial modes (the latter of which at least lets you save your progress), but they don’t offer anything new on top of the 80 stages already here. Admittedly that is 30 more than the original game had, but with Snow Bros. we’re looking at the kind of game where we’d personally prefer fewer levels. Maybe it could have… two levels. Or maybe just one? No levels might be a decent idea.
Snow Bros is so simple that there’s almost nothing to say about it, and it’s not simple in the fun, easy-to-pick-up sense; it’s the kind of simple that quickly begins to show up just how little there is of consequence to do. It’s not broken, and we didn’t expect Snow Bros. Special to turn into a driving simulator or anything, but 80 straight levels of this is enough to drive anyone crazy.
Look, there’s no way to sugarcoat it — Snow Bros. wasn’t worth bringing back. It’s pretty much a D-grade arcade game with no interesting hook, and no amount of gussying it up can disguise that. The Monster Challenge mode sounds interesting, but it’s DLC. All that was really needed was ‘Arcade Archives: Snow Bros,’ so that fans could get what they want at a decent price, the game was preserved on a modern console, and we could all just move on with our lives. It’s gonna be a snow from us.