Let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane. Let’s go to a strange and mysterious place called the past, where PCs were just starting infiltrate homes around the world. For the first time, the average person could afford to have their own private computer, complete with basic Internet connection and a word processor. Ah, those were some interesting times indeed. But for the kids growing up during this revolutionary era, there was nothing very interesting about computers. How could a computer compete with Saturday morning cartoons, or even playing catch out in the front yard? However, the PC had an ace up its sleeve: the selection of free games that came default with the computer program. There were addictive classics like Solitaire and Minesweeper. But for those of us that needed a quick fix, SkiFree provided a brief form of entertainment.
It looks like I have zero style.
SkiFree gives us the ultimate portrayal of a tragic hero: a young, athletic skier who is trying to win as many style points as possible on the ski slope of life, only to be eaten by a poorly drawn yeti in the end. Okay, so maybe it’s not the stuff of legends. It’s a shame that Microsoft opted to only give us absolutely no background story, forcing us to make our own interpretations of the ill-fated hero. Your goal is put on the best skiing performance of life and hopefully gain enough of a high score to beat your previous record. But you’ve got rocks, trees, dogs, signs, inept bunny hill skiers and snowboarders that are unintentionally hindering your ski for greatness. If you can manage to make use of your superior skiing skills, you can make it down the slope unscathed, allowing you to max out your score and live happily ever after. That is, until the yeti eats you.
While the fate of the skier cannot be changed, gamers can take solace in the fact that the only real objective is to make it down the slope without colliding with a foreign object. Thankfully, this game does require you to learn anything more than the basic use of the mouse and the keyboard. All you have to do is move the mouse in a certain place, and the skier will follow in the general direction. If you really feel like showing off your moves, you can use the numerical pad on the keyboard to fine tune the skier’s moves. Unfortunately, this “fine tuned” control is unresponsive, causing you to run into just about anything that you try skiing around. If Microsoft paid at least some semblance of attention to the keyboard controls, then maybe the trip down slope wouldn’t be quite as aggravating. The same goes with performing tricks. If you ski over a rainbow-colored ramp, you’ll be launched high in the air, allowing you to do some midair somersaults. As cool as this aspect may sound, it usually ends up with the skier doing a faceplant into the snow or bashing his brains on a nearby rock.
Most of the game looks a bit like this.
As if to make the controls seem even more irritating, the game comes with three game modes for you to master. As in typical skiing tournaments, the slope includes a basic slalom, which involves skiing back and forth around strategically placed signs in the shortest amount of time. If you pass a sign on the wrong side, you’re penalized with extra time. Since the controls are hardly on the drop of a dime, chances are that you’ll miss quite a few of these cleverly-placed signs. If that wasn’t bad enough, there is also the tree slalom on the slope. Instead of simply skiing around signs, you get to watch out for trees as well. Not only do you get to miss countless signs, but you get to make an ass out of yourself by running into every tree on the course! Fun times, indeed. Thankfully for those of us with a limited amount of patience, this game also comes with the Free Style Mode, which allows you to ski down the mountain with nothing but obstacles in your path. While this mode has nowhere near the same amount of difficulty, the sheer number of trees, dogs, and skiers will bog down even the toughest skiers. All you can do is start down the slope and pray that you can gain enough control to make it down with minimal pain. And as that yeti bears down on you with superhuman speed, you can at least die with the satisfaction of a ski experience done well.
Since this game was released on the fledgling PC, we can’t expect very much in terms of presentation. Unfortunately, this game looks as if some kid went wild in Microsoft Paint. While there is some variation in color, the game is utterly void of any decent detail. The background of the game is white, to simulate the snowy slope of whatever godforsaken hill this game is supposed to be based on. All of the objects, be it the skiers, the dogs, and the trees look like tiny blotches of color. Am I the only one that finds it sad that the most detailed thing in this game is a yeti that looks like two meatballs and an evil smiley face? Also, this epic quest down the slope is played in silence. There is no wind blowing, dog barking, or music playing. Even the sounds of the yeti devouring the hapless skier would have been an improvement.
I’m glad that PC games have made some progress during the past ten years that SkiFree was released onto the unsuspecting public. Sure, we have our fancy Final Fantasy games and our Ragnarok Online, but we tend to forget the games that are sitting dormant in our computer’s programs menu. But judging from this game, sometimes the older PC games are better left alone. SkiFree is the basic computer game, something for you to kill five minutes in between commercial breaks. Although it has some challenging game modes, that challenge is derived directly from the game’s utter lack of controls. While the concept is easy to understand, today’s gamers would only shake their heads in wonder at how bad of a game could ever grace their PC. But in the meantime, SkiFree does teach us a valuable lesson about life: You can try to be the greatest skier who ever lived, but the yeti eats everyone in the end.