Retro Rated: Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular

Factfile
Developed by: Kemco
Released: 1988
Format played: NES

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Ruminations

With the Peanuts movie recently hitting the big screen, what better excuse to visit the early gaming exploits of everyone’s favourite Beagle.

The game sees you controlling the titular pup through six bizarre sporting trials. Go for glory in feats of daring including the sack race, boot throwing and pogo amongst others.

This is of course just a variant on the old Track and Field formula but a bit more kid friendly.

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Second Impressions

I never owned a NES as a kid and so approach the machine as a newcomer.

Slipping on my Spectrum owners hat as a basis of comparison, this compares favourably. Snoopy is well represented and everything has a bright, cartoony feel. It is worlds apart from the more amateurish looking efforts I grew up with on the Speccy with its primary colours, blocky pixels and colour bleeding.

Look a little closer and cracks inevitably appear. Artwork is simplistic whilst animation is a little jittery with glitches and blurred pixels noticeable throughout, the opening event sack race and boat tussle repeat offenders.

Graphics are serviceable though and in a way their simplicity helps to take you back to those earlier cartoons.

Still it is worth remembering that this is a game aimed squarely at the children’s market, not curmudgeonly thirty se…er, something year olds and my test audience had no complaints. But more on them in a moment.

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Gameplay

The game can be played solo or you can rope a buddy in for some 2 player action. You can play the events individually to practice or run through all of them in a competition of sorts.

All of the events are simple to control with just a push of the direction arrow or a stab of a button taking care of the action. As with all of these types of games, the events are fairly simple but there is a certain degree of technique required to get the best results. Taking the opening sack race as an example, the temptation is to button bash but a more measured approach is the order of the day with timed inputs keeping your momentum going through to the victory line. The boot throw meanwhile is really just the hammer event redressed, a spin of the direction buttons and then a well timed stab of the A button sending your footwear flying. The Overboard game is a pretty basic scuffle and push whilst the pizza balancing is the simplest of the lot. There are no button presses required, you simply move from left to right until you reach the finish line, balancing the urge to sprint against the need for calm to maximise the number of pizzas successfully brought home.

A couple of the events are rather more fiddly. Both the pogo and the river jump require exact timing to get right and can be jolly infuriating, doubly so given the way the competition is structured. With the exception of the boot throw, you only get one opportunity at each event before it’s on to the next one so if you make a mistake, there are no second chances. Sure, you can play the events individually to practice before you start a competition but it is frustrating not to have a three round rule as is standard in most of these button bashers.

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But to really put this through its paces, we need to test it with its target audience and so I roped in my four and a half year old twins for a go.

They’ve never watched the cartoon nor seen the film but they recognise the character from their Happy Meal toy (yeah, I’m a bad parent). Growing up with a gamer for a dad, they are well used to playing Mario Kart on the Wii and simple touch screen games on the tablet and LeapPad, however they are not used to playing games using a controller. That said, the control method here is so basic that this is not a material issue.

The sack race was an instant winner, their natural button pressing cadence actually an advantage here as their rhythm and timing fits with the requirement of the challenge and they both managed to secure a win. And even if you really struggle, the strange little yellow guy (hey, I never really watched Snoopy that much) gives you a kick up the backside to shunt you forwards. Pizza balancing also went down well, although they seemed less interested in trying to ensure they reached the end with a full stack than they were in celebrating reaching the finishing line at all whilst guffawing at every dropped pizza.

With a bit of encouragement one of them managed a 30ft boot toss, which to my embarrassment far outstripped my measly 18ft effort. The ‘Overboard’ tussle similarly required some encouragement (they don’t quite grasp the concept of operating two controls at once) whereas the pogo and river jump were a little beyond their range.

Overall impressions were very positive. they enjoyed the character, the events were simple and fun and they seemed to have take as much enjoyment watching as playing. The short run time of the competition also meant that one didn’t have to sit and wait too long for the other to finish before they got another go. I think we can consider this a hit with the younger gamer and I suspect I’ll be pestered for another go in the not too distant future.

Their favourite event? ‘Everything.’

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Sound

As a NES novice I don’t know if this is unique to this game or to the console but I found the sound incredibly annoying. Music is of the incessant shrill beeping variety and plays throughout, the only brief moments of respite coming on the in-between event screens.

Other sounds are fairly basic splats and splashes but to be honest it is mostly drowned out by the ear splitting background music.

They type of game that mute buttons were invented for.

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Bottom Line

With just six events to play through, all fairly simple at that, there isn’t really much here but it’s a decent laugh while it lasts. Kids will look past the crude graphics and naff sound and have some fun with a cute and engaging central character, although a couple of the events are just too fiddly for the little ‘uns and far too basic for us grown up gamers.

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