Extreme sports games were originally made popular by the infamous Tony Hawk and his Pro Skater series. Many different game studios have tried to follow suit and satisfy everyone’s hunger for grinding pipes or carving slopes. Some have found success and other have not, but one thing that remains consistent is that people love extreme sports games. Aside from Tony Hawk, there seem to be few household names when it comes to these sports, but one person is trying to change that perception. Shaun White has become a phenom in the extreme sports world in both skateboarding and snowboarding, with most of the recognition coming from the latter.
As Tony Hawk approaches what feels like his one billionth game, Shaun White has just managed to scrape together his first with the release of Shaun White Snowboarding. Many people have been anticipating the title since he joined Nintendo on stage at E3 to demonstrate the Wii version with the Wii Balance Board. Does the game live up to all the anticipation and hype, or does it tumble down the mountain like so many other extreme sports games? Let’s find out…..
Shaun White Snowboarding is a lot like many action sports games, yet different at the same time. When you first start up Shaun White you will create a character. While the character models are preselected, the customization of the gear is pretty robust. The game starts you out with $4000, allowing you to make some minor upgrades to your gear and/or change out the board you have for a different design with no actual skill upgrades. The game does offer a decent amount of content on this front, and like most of the other games of the same genre it does it on a cash-reward system. It is a solid formula, but if you were looking for something revolutionary on the customization end you won’t find it here.
Once you have selected your character, you are ready to hit the slopes, and you are in for a bumpy ride. When the game starts it gives you the option of heading to your left or right. If you go right you will enter a tutorial that will teach you about all the different things that SWS has to offer, if you go to the left you will be thrown into the main portion of the game. When you get to the story part of the game, you will cruise down the mountainside and then crash on an attempted trick. After your fall you will meet Shaun White and his friends. This is one of the first points when you notice the game is going to be bad. Shaun White and crew’s voice acting is horrendous. When playing a game such as this, you probably didn’t buy it for the story, but the most disappointing aspect is that they put such a small emphasis on that portion of the game. Because of the games’ similarities, comparisons to Tony Hawk are inevitable, and in terms of voice acting, Shaun White doesn’t measure up.
After Shaun instructs you on how to enter contests to win prize money, it’s time to start the snowboarding. If you are expecting the game to get better at this point, you’re going to be disappointed because it does not. The game plays rough, and to even stand a remote chance of being successful, you need to have gone through the tutorial. After cruising down the slope a time or two and heading back up on the lifts, you will start to understand the game a little better, but the frustrations will keep up as you continue. The real fun begins when you decide to get on the chopper to head to some bigger mountains. Online multiplayer allows you to progress through the story just as you would during the single player experience. In some cases you might find it more enjoyable competing to unlock things against friends online than playing against computer AI offline, but if you have already played through the story by yourself, there is no incentive to play through with someone else.
One of the most frustrating things about the game is the control setup, because Ubisoft seem to be trying to combine a Tony Hawk style control scheme with Skate. The jump button on the game is your right trigger, while this might seem like a good idea, it is not. The button is not as responsive as you would like it to be so you will find yourself crashing into polls, trees, or not getting the height off a jump that you would like. The tricks are done with the right analog stick and work decently, but the game feels like the buttons would have been better designated for completing tricks. You will find yourself getting tired of trying to complete combos that just are downright hard to pull off because of the choices the development team made in the control scheme.
There are a lot of glitches that you may notice in the game. At one point in my play-through, I noticed that after unsuccessfully trying to jump a cliff, I fell down into an area that should have triggered the game to bring me back to the top, but was instead stuck in this sort of retro music video atmosphere and had to select the map to get out. The frame rate throughout the game is also choppy, making for that bumpy ride I referred to earlier.
The game’s graphics can look very nice at times, but can be a bit of a mess at others. One of the bright spots is the game looks expansive. The team at Ubisoft did a great job at capturing the essence of being up on a mountain and seeing more snow covered mountains across the valley that seem to go on forever. The character models look okay in action but ugly up close, with poor texture mapping. Shaun White just looks goofy in the game. The rest of the game looks pretty decent as you descend down the hill, but there’s nothing that will make you jump out of your seat to marvel at the team’s visual accomplishments.
The game is fun for a short while if all you are doing is going up and down the mountains. If you spend the time to perfect your jumps, then the game might have a decent amount of content to keep you busy. The story takes about 4-6 hours to play through, although the game is an open world and does give you the chance to explore a bit. If you really enjoy your experience you might cruise through again to collect more cash to upgrade gear, but I’m betting that if you make it through once, you will pat yourself on the back and call it a day.
Shaun White Snowboarding has some good qualities, but all of the bugs and the poor choice in control scheme make this an average outing for the masterful Shaun White. If you are looking for a great snowboarding game, this isn’t the one–at least not until it gets a price drop.