Note: This article in no way relates to the arcade version of Steep Slope Sliders for the Sega ST-V arcade system. If this in any way concerns you, consider yourself warned.
Commensurate with the mainstream acceptance of snowboarding as a legitimate sport, the “snowboarding game” really came into its own as a genre during the late ’90s. Sony’s Cool Boarders franchise saw the first of four annualized releases in the summer of 1996, and Nintendo released 1080° Snowboarding in early 1998. Numerous – other – publishers threw their hats down the slopes as well. For my money, though, the best of the bunch was the Sega-published Steep Slope Sliders.
As the Saturn was well-into its protracted death throes in the Western market when SSS was released in late 1997, unless you’re a long-time Sega devotee, you’ve probably never heard of – let alone played – Steep Slope Sliders (which we will hereinafter refer to as “SSS“). But PLEASE trust me when I say that it is the best playing snowboarding game of its vintage. What SSS lacks in visual panache, it more than makes up for in pure playability. Offering fantastic controls and supreme replay value in place of graphical splendor, SSS remains a joy to play to this day.
At the heart of SSS‘ charm is its ease of access; the slopes may be steep, but the learning curve isn’t. Your boarder can perform three basic actions in SSS: jumping, flipping, and grabbing. Through the use of the Saturn’s shoulder buttons, you can spin clockwise or counter clockwise while performing any of those three basic tasks.
That’s it, and that’s all – there’s nothing else to learn. Got a hankering to try for that front flip 1080° indy nosebone you saw on last nights’ X Games? All you have to do is jump – if you get enough air, just lean on the shoulder button of your choosing, push ‘grab,’ and throw in a press of the ‘flip’ button when you’re good and ready. You’re only limited by your imagination and the game’s very permissive laws of gravity. This may not seem particularly revolutionary, but compared to the controls employed by SSS’ closest contemporaries, which relied on much more complex button inputs, it’s remarkably simple and intuitive.
But let’s just get right out and say it: compared to its competition, SSS is not a pretty game. 3D graphics were never the Saturn’s strong suit, perhaps due to the fact that the system was designed to render quadrilaterals, as opposed to the triangular polygons rendered by the PlayStation and… well, every other system ever. While SSS runs very smoothly for a 3D game on the Saturn, it could be considered be some of the best empirical evidence for the age-old “Saturn couldn’t do 3D” argument. Just take a look at the beautiful cubed heads on display on the character select screen:
Screenshots do not do SSS justice, though – the game looks MUCH better in motion. SSS keeps its courses varied and interesting, and maintains a consistent frame rate when it counts. Things move so quickly, you barely notice that you’re sliding through an avalanche of chunky bitmaps. Take a look:
Additionally, to add an extra bit of visual flair, SSS makes use of the Saturn’s internal clock to simulate real world time zones. Playing SSS on the East Coast of the US at 8 PM? If you select the Japan course, you’ll be sliding down the slopes at 9 AM. For the most part, this is a fantastic feature, effectively giving you four different versions of each of SSS’ seven main courses.
Unfortunately, this cuts both ways. There’s a reason people don’t snowboard on unlit mountains at 4:00 AM – it’s dark. Really dark. I defy you to tell me what you’re looking at here:
Unless you answered “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” you’re wrong. If you did answer “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” put down your Saturn controller and go apologize to your parents. SSS’ time progression feature, while innovative and fun, renders roughly one third of the game’s courses unplayable at any given time. Fortunately, if you’ve got a burning desire to run any particular course, time progression can be disabled. The warm embrace of daylight is only a few button presses away.
Careful readers of the last paragraph may have noticed that SSS lets you play as a rocket buggy. It also let’s you play as a penguin…
… and a dog on a snowboard…
… and an alien, an anime girl, a UFO, and all sorts of other crazy characters, some of which are remarkably full-featured. The developers really piled it on in terms of unlockable extras, including four bonus courses, some of which are set in space.
And I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Steep Slope Shooters, the unlockable “snow shooter,” which features the greatest two-sentence plot ever conceived:
So, SSS plays like a dream, and has more than enough character to make up for its visual shortcomings – but how does it SOUND you ask? Well, if remarkably well-composed electronic music is your thing, you’re in luck. SSS has nine such tracks, which provide a wonderfully appropriate “late 90s’ extreme sports” vibe to the snowboarding action. You can even listen to them through a neat visualization feature in the option menu! Personally, though, I don’t know why you’d listen to those songs, particularly where the soundtrack features two perfectly good Engirsh j-pop ballads which have absolutely no place in a snowboarding game:
The music in SSS really is fantastic – but the only things you’ll ever remember about the soundtrack, no matter how hard you try, will be “Hold Me Close” and “Kiss.” I have friends who haven’t played this game in over a decade that still can’t forget these songs. To be honest, somewhere in the back of my mind, I think they’re why I come back to SSS every once in a while – and that kind of scares me.
SSS really doesn’t offer much in the way of “game modes” – you just pick a course and try to rack up the fastest time and largest score you can. Since all you’re really going for are skill and speed, SSS’ remarkably robust replay editing suite is a welcome inclusion. With the replay editor, you can save your best performances and play them back ad nauseum for any of your friends that happen to be stuck hanging out in your parents’ basement with you back in 1997. No, I never did that. Why do you ask?
In any event, the replay editor isn’t exactly final cut pro, but it lets you put together some pretty impressive music videos, at least by late ’90s game console standards:
Despite its rough appearance, SSS shreds by on the strength of its gameplay alone. Throw in a host of extras, solid music, and a dash of that late ’90s Saturn innovation/weirdness, and you’ve got yourself the rare extreme sports game that stands the test of time. If you’ve got any fondness for the Saturn, or snowboarding games in general, Steep Slope Sliders is definitely worth your time. Trust me: it never gets old.
If nothing else, I am confident that Steep Slope Sliders is far more enjoyable than Heavy Shreddin’. Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.