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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

When the Deadspin Sports Quarantine Nintendo Club launched, we thought it would be a brief distraction, a chance to revisit a few different games before real sports got back to action.

That is turning out not to be the case, because as much as some politicians might want sports to resume quickly, the best we’re doing for a while is going to be sports from other countries.

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So, in addition to revisiting old Nintendo games like Ice Hockey, RBI Baseball, and Double Dribble, this has been a chance to experience some games for the first time, like 10-Yard Fight and Golf. This time, it’s another for the latter category, as I’d previously been familiar with Skate or Die, but never heard of, let alone played, Ski or Die.

Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?
Illustration: Eric Barrow
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The game begins with a somewhat uncomfortable visit to a ski shop, where you’re welcomed by Rodney, who is wearing a ski vest over a tank top and whose eyes suggest that he came to the mountains after spending some serious time working for Joe Exotic… although having both of his arms would run counter to that hypothesis.

Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

My attitude toward practice, since I have no idea what I’m doing and it doesn’t matter, is pretty much on the Allen Iverson track. How the hell am I supposed to make my Nintendo skiing better by practice?

It turns out, this game isn’t just skiing, and it isn’t just one game. There are several choices here!

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Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

The first game I play is Snowball Blast, which isn’t skiing at all, but hiding in a snow fort and throwing snowballs by moving a set of crosshairs around the screen and hitting the B button to launch projectiles at skiers and kids who pop up to try to pelt you with snowballs, including one who appears right in front of the fort.

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Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

Never having been much of a first-person shooter type, outside of Goldeneye on N64 (but who wasn’t into Goldeneye on N64?), this isn’t really my jam, video game-wise, but it gets easier when I realize that I can just hold down the B button to be constantly firing snowballs, and just nail everyone as the crosshairs pass over them.

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I wind up with a score of 2,491. Is that good? I don’t know. I also don’t care. It was pretty fun.

Next up, it’s Downhill Blitz! This is some skiing, as you’re dropped into the snow at the top of a mountain, and have to ski… downhill.

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Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

There are different tracks to choose on the way down the mountain, and I consistently choose the wrong one. Is it possible to do some cool jumps to get out from a dead end? Maybe, but I sure don’t figure it out. The one jump that I do is by accident, but what happens far more often is somehow getting confused by which way to point the skier. Hitting left does turn the skier to the left on the screen, but for some reason when I want to go left, I hit right – repeatedly.

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The game is incredibly unforgiving of steering mistakes, and I spend almost the entire four minutes it takes getting down the mountain tumbling into snowbanks off the course. I end up with a score of 775, which is much worse than 2,491. I do not want to invest the time that it will take me to actually get good at this.

So, I move on to Acro Aerials.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, and in the course of hitting buttons to try to figure out what does anything, I hit Select and quit out of the jump. So, I try again, this time knowing not to hit Select.

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I manage to do a quarter of a flip and brutally injure my skier on the landing. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to it in real life is the Jake Brown skateboard crash at the X Games, but this being a video game, my guy is able to get right back up.

Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?
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On the second jump, I learn that the key is to hold down directional buttons to make the skier do a full flip, and I land it! The scores still don’t crack 3 from any of the judges, but at least I have it down now.

Oh, wait, there’s a third jump. I do not have it down now, and prove it by this time slamming my skier onto his back on the landing. My final score for this game is 13.

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At this point, I realize that within the framework of the name of the game, I have done not very much “ski” and a whole lot of “die.” And the next game is not going to have any skiing at all, because its’ Innertube Thrash.

Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?
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This is a race between me and a character named Lester, which certainly is a choice. It’s very close the whole way down, and there are items to pick up along the way to pick up points.

Do these points mean anything? Do the items help in any way? Is there a way to control speed or acceleration at all? I have none of these answers, as it appears that the whole deal with Innertube Thrash is steering. And I seem to do it pretty well, right up until the end, when Lester passes me the instant the finish line appears on the screen, and beats me there.

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My score for Innertube Thrash is 230. That’s less than Lester, who gets a big bump to his score for the victory and ends with 2,145. I get it. I lost. One more game.

That game? Snowboard Halfpipe. Not only do I have no idea what I’m doing, there’s a guy on the screen here to taunt me.

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Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

I do start to get the hang of doing some tricks, mostly hitting buttons while cruising down the pipe, and getting air by going side to side. Still, the coach, analyst, heckler, or whatever he is… is not impressed.

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Illustration for article titled Retro NES Hits The Slopes With Ski Or Die! Who Needs Practice Or A Manual?

Well, nuts to that guy, because I wind up with 4,397 points, my highest score for any of these games. That’s still, I’m guessing, not a good score.

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But this game was fun, and in classic Nintendo style, only after having played it did I even bother to look at the manual. Okay, only after having played it did I even bother to Google the manual. Now that I have a better idea of what’s going on here, I’ll definitely come back to ski more… or, more likely, die more.

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