I don't know what Nitrome has against penguins, but our little tuxedoed friends really get the raw end of the fish-burger this time. Not only do they get chucked off of icebergs by the hundreds, but some rambunctious foxes are using them as ammunition in a prototype penguin launcher. If you're having trouble visualizing that, it's like a missile launcher, but with penguins. Fiery heat-seeking penguins.
Such is the life of arctic waterfowl in Snow Drift, a refreshingly fast-paced and straightforward platforming adventure from Nitrome, creators of a recent avalanche of Flash games, including Thin Ice, Twang, and Pest Control. Your mission is to guide a smug yeti with gelled hair through 20 levels of icy slopes, lavender skies, and pointy obstacles. Control your yeti with the arrow keys (or WASD for southpaws): [left/right] to walk, [up] to jump, and [down] to slide. Hold the down arrow during a slide to accelerate. The sliding ability is the game's hook, and most levels are designed around it. Just tap the down arrow on an icy surface to begin the slide, and our yeti hero will careen down slopes and plow through threatening creatures unharmed. But be warned — there is no jumping on the heads of your enemies here. Sliding is your only weapon, and it only works on ice. If you encounter a homicidal (yeticidal?) fox standing on snow, you're out of luck. Jump over him and never look back.
The penguins serve as the omnipresent collectible in Snow Drift, like Mario's coins or Sonic's rings, but rather than collecting them, the yeti callously knocks them aside like peeping ten-pins. This simple dynamic says as much about his character as his self-satisfied expression or his adorable toddling walk animation. He's a casual bully out for a good time, barely noticing the victims of his freewheeling rampage. Bravo for anti-heroes.
Analysis: Snow Drift doesn't serve up many surprises. It's a simple platform game with an unusual attack method, and that's about it. The controls are good but not great. The only way to stop sliding is to jump, and that means if there's a penguin missile right above you, and you need to stop yourself from skidding into the drink, well, you're going to take a penguin between the eyes. I wish they had included some bonus collectibles for replay value, as they did in Frost Bite, Hot Air, and many of their other games. There's no particular reward for exploring the more open levels, so the experience can sometimes feel too much like a linear obstacle course. There are also some rare but frustrating collision-detection problems. Once I fell down through a solid platform, and several times I slid too fast into a wall and glitched right through the floor. Thorough play-testing is often Nitrome's weak point.
But their strong points are here in force — detailed and likable pixel artwork, snappy tunes (with the option to turn them off), and a reasonable amount of level variety. The way the main character moves smoothly and easily through his environment makes Snow Drift a pleasure to play. There is nothing wrong with a standard platform game if it is executed well, and Nitrome has executed this one like pros. Well worth a look.