Title  : Polaris Snocross
Platforms  : Game Boy Color only
Publisher  : Vatical Entertainment
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 7.9
Review by  : Ken Gagne

With the video gaming industry booming at billions of dollars a year, it can be difficult for a company to successfully make its way into the market — especially with the large teams of programmers necessary for today's deep, involved games. 

Yet Vicarious Visions, when they won the Polaris snowmobile license, decided to release a game not for Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, or Nintendo Dolphin, but a small handheld that's still chugging after more than ten years. Published by Vatical Entertainment, Polaris SnoCross for Game Boy Color is a fun, brief diversion from today's darker games. 

Polaris SnoCross is a snowmobile racing game played from an overhead/isometric perspective, reminiscent of R.C. Pro-Am. The game features nine tracks, divided into three progressive leagues. Once a track layout is learned, it takes only a few tries to beat the two computer racers to the finish line and capture the first place trophy. Getting caught on sharp turns and the local flora are the most common causes for defeat. Experienced players will be able to overcome these obstacles and play through the entire game in about an hour. 

After each victory race, players are awarded a point to increase their machine's top speed, acceleration, or traction. These attributes can be fiddled to match any terrain, so it's easy to increase traction at the cost of top speed for a windy, tortuous course. 

The graphics are, naturally, NES-like, a throwback to the Nintendo games of the Eighties. But the speed is high, and the Game Boy Color's crisp display handles it well. 

Additional game features include two-player mode via link cable (easily the game's most fun mode), built-in rumble function for sensory feedback (battery included), and passwords for saving game data. 

I spoke with Darren Ranalli, lead programmer for Polaris SnoCross. When he was assigned to the project, the game was still in its conceptual stages; the isometric overhead perspective hadn't even been chosen yet. "I was really excited when they said, 'We're going to be doing a snowmobiling racing game; take some time to think what we can do with that,'" he recalls. Ranalli came up with the idea for the real-world physics system, which allows racers to realistically jump, slide, and hit slopes. 

Despite these features, the Game Boy is a limited system, especially in today's 128-bit, online market. Yet Ranalli sees this as a strength, not a weakness. "On such a limited console, you have to work around limitations, which gives the game a certain character," he feels. The personality of Game Boy games is closer to the games of ten years ago than today. "For people who remember having a lot of fun on the NES, and really like that old, relatively simple type of game — as opposed to the complicated, 3D games coming out now — a Game Boy game has more appeal." Besides, as Ranalli pointed out, the quality of the hardware does not necessarily reflect the quality of software: "A game can suck on any system." 

Though a less technologically-advanced system, it makes sense from a business standpoint to develop for Game Boy these days. Ranalli observed that the platform is a hot market right now, due in large part to the overwhelming success of Pokemon. Since many consumers have Game Boys, there is a large audience to which a game can appeal. It's a sound platform for large and small developers alike. 

After finishing Polaris SnoCross, Ranalli returned to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), where he will be graduating in May with a B.S. in computer science. 

Polaris SnoCross is too short to be a sound investment, which is a shame, since it's so much fun while it lasts. If you can get your hands on it, I definitely recommend taking it for a spin.


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 28-Feb-00