I’ve been playing and collecting video games since the early 1980’s, and while there’s something to be said for enjoying the greats of the gaming world, there’s no better feeling for me than picking out something I’d never heard of, throwing it into my system, and being unable to tear myself away from it because it was just too damn fun. With that in mind, I thought I’d start up a series about my own personal favorite hidden gems of the gaming world to let people know about the unsung, the overlooked, the ignored, and the downright weird niche titles that had no chance of achieving the heights of a Mario, Sonic, or Zelda.
Chances are, if you were flipping through the clearance bins at any North American video game retailer fifteen years ago, you found a small mountain of brand new, shrink-wrapped, nobody-with-two-brain-cells-would-buy-this, copies of Dark Summit. Well, three small mountains actually, unless your store was nice enough to separate out the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox titles from one another. The Best Buy nearest to my house did not do this, which made it kind of a pain in the ass to shop, but damn it, I had ten dollars and I was not going home until I found something new to throw into my PlayStation.
I hate sports games. I’d played both SSX and its sequel SSX Tricky at a friend’s house. Granted, we were playing them on the GameCube which he had purchased solely because Link was the special character on that system’s version of Soul Calibur 2, and I view the GameCube controller only slightly less-favorably than someone using my scrotum for a speed bag, but still, they were…OK? I guess?
I don’t know. I hate sports games.
So what in the name of Cthulhu possessed me to pick up a snowboarding game out of the clearance bin and think, “I could probably get ten bucks’ worth of fun out of this…”?
I’ve no frigging idea. Look, I was young(-ish), I only had ten bucks, and the cover artwork was a red-head with a long pony tail and ample cleavage dodging bullets as she’s patently ignoring both the skiing blob behind her and the “NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED” sign. Why the hell wouldn’t I have bought that game? You had me at “red-head” and “cleavage”.
Halfway home I was seized by panic–I had actually paid money for a snowboarding game, and it was likely I’d never see that ten bucks again unless I turned the car around right then and there, marched back into the store with my receipt, and told the cashier I would get more entertainment out of setting that money on fire than I was likely to get playing something called “Dark Summit”. Fortunately my innate laziness kicked in and it became too much trouble to turn around, drive all the way back down those two blocks, pull into the lot, find a parking space, walk inside, show my receipt, etc…, and so by the time I was in my driveway I had all but convinced myself to just leave it in the plastic so I could take it back the next time I was ten minutes down the road in that direction.
But no, the child inside me cannot abide a shrink-wrapped game in my house. I bought it, I at least owed it to myself, if not to the game, to give it twenty minutes of my time and see how badly it sucked. Besides, it’s not like it was just a snowboarding game. Dark Summit was a snowboarding game with missions. That…did nothing to assuage my anxiety. Nevertheless, I popped it into my system, and…well, actually, this guy’s video explains just what I saw:
Now, I certainly don’t expect you to watch all 17 minutes of that, but it pretty much explains what the game is all about. You play as Naya, the generously-chested girl on the cover art. You’re recruited by a mysterious man who calls your Nokia cell phone (man, remember Nokia…?) and asks for your help in uncovering the conspiracy around Mt. Garrick. Your job is to sneak into places they don’t want you sneaking, pull off some sick tricks, flaunt the rules, show off how superior snowboarders are to those lame-asses on skis, disarm bombs, avoid falling into pits of toxic waste…you know, the normal things you ask of top-heavy young ladies when you call their cell phones without permission.
Dark Summit is a complete joke of a game…and that’s why I love it to death. I’ve put more hours into this ten buck, on-a-whim purchase than I have some AAA titles I’ve paid full price for, because Radical Entertainment knew they had neither the time nor the budget to compete with Electronic Arts when it came to snowboarding or Rockstar Games when it came to open-world gameplay, so they improvised the hell out of what they had with a bare-bones, nonsensical story, a bargain basement physics engine, and a complete commitment to taking nothing seriously.
Dark Summit is the only game where, in a single run and without a loading screen, you can drop off the ski lift, zip on to a side trail, disarm a bomb, back-flip over a snowblower, complete a quest to destroy ten Port-A-Potties, outrun an avalanche, weave through a mine field, jump a massive ravine, grind across a picnic table to destroy someone’s dinner, race a rival ‘boarder to the next checkpoint, then arrive at the base of the mountain to spend your accumulated points on nifty new boards and outfits in the shop before you go try a different trail. That, my friends, is the reason people started making video games in the first place, and I’ll be damned if I don’t go back to Dark Summit every couple years and drop another 20+ hours into it because it’s that much stupid fun.
Nobody talks about Dark Summit. Nobody loves Dark Summit. You can buy a copy used on Amazon for fifty cents, and even a brand new copy is only eight bucks as of the time of this writing. Nevertheless, in my mind, Radical Entertainment redeemed themselves for the cluster-fuck that was Bebe’s Kids on the Super Nintendo with this game that’s half Tony Hawk rip-off, half Grand Theft Auto wannabe, and all heart. You want a hidden gem? Buddy, I got your hidden gem right here.