IGN Review of Shaun White Snowboarding
Amped 2 and 1080 Snowboarding hold special places in the hearts of many gamers. These two titles were precursors to Skate's realistic approach to action sports and proved that you didn't need excessive flash or in-yo-face personas to create an awesome experience. Personally, I've been eagerly awaiting the day when someone would do Amped 2 and 1080 justice with a snowboarding game dedicated to a more realistic experience. Ubisoft's Shaun White Snowboarding fulfills some of that promise, but doesn't quite reach the peak.
Shaun White is looking for the next great snowboarding talent and he thinks you may have what it takes. To prove yourself, you'll need to collect a series of coins spread across four mountains and compete in a variety of challenges. Succeed and you'll get to take on the ginger giant of snowboarding. Fail and, well, failure is not an option. That's about as deep as the storyline for SWS gets, which is just fine as Shaun White is a better athlete than actor and "story" really isn't what brings folks to an action sports game.
Taking a page from EA's Skate, SWS puts its control focus on the thumbsticks and triggers. The Right Thumbstick is used to perform a variety of grabs with the Right Trigger working for jumps and tweaks. The aerial moves are simple and a bit too easy to pull off, though. Rather than using something similar to Skate's Flickit system, SWS just asks you to push in one of eight directions to perform a grab. A second set of grabs is accessed by clicking in on the Right Thumbstick. Any complexity in moves comes from adding flips and spins, which at least make it harder to nail your landing. Still, it's just way too easy to master Shaun White within the first hour.
Not to overdo the comparisons to Skate, but SWS takes on much of the same philosophy. You're given a set of mountains (Alaska, Park City, Europe and Japan) but the focus on a storyline or goals is minimal. It's really just about chilling the hell out and riding down the mountain. And that is SWS's strength, because the mountains are fantastic playgrounds.
Though you only ride down one face of the mountain, you can go from the peak to base, a ride that takes up to ten minutes. At the peak are a few other riders, lots of places for big air, and deadly crevices. Move down the mountain and you hit the forest, where there are trees to dodge and natural structures to jib (AKA grid). Towards the bottom is the park section, where man-made half pipes and rails await (along with loads of AI riders).
The concept for big, full, open mountains is great and Ubisoft Montreal pulled this off almost to perfection. Sure, there's a little too much structure in some areas, where you almost feel guided by the "natural" placement of conveniently located jumps and rails, but overall the four mountains are well designed and enjoyable to explore. Were there more depth to the gameplay -- such as any sort of learning curve at all -- then just riding down the mountains could eat up hours of your time. But since things are just way too easy and landing far, far too forgiving, the mountains get boring too quickly. Soon enough, you'll want to tackle the "game" aspects of SWS.
Sprinkled across each mountain are a series of challenges. These challenges can be tackled either alone or with friends online. In fact, you can play all of SWS offline or online. Though, of course, it's a lot more fun to play with friends. Either way, you must make your way to a challenge marker and give it a go. In multiplayer, you'll be able to choose whom to invite to a challenge and then they can either accept or reject. It's a smart system that works well.
But here's where things get a bit confused. Whether in single-player or online, there are two separate "challenges" in each competition. For your character's progression, you have four medal ranks to earn, determined by your score. Separate from this, you have the competition with other AI or online friends. You can actually "lose" a competition -- say, come in last in Death Race -- but earn a four medal ranking because of your race time. So even though you lost, you win. Make sense? Of course not. It's a backwards system and emblematic of the major issue with SWS.
Like Christian Slater in that TV show nobody watched, Shaun White Snowboarding has an identity crisis. The first half of gameplay feels very much as advertised -- a realistic snowboarding experience. But as you progress through the challenges and unlock better boards and Focus powers (super speed, super jump) SWS more and more resembles SSX. And yet, throughout it tries to play the act of "realism," making for an inconsistent experience. This goes hand-in-hand with SWS having two individual goals in competitions. It's as if two different games were made and then merged into one. Either the realistic or the arcade game could have been a winner, but the two battle against one another cancelling any hope for true greatness. What you ultimately get is a good experience lacking a solid direction.
What will likely turn many off is the coin collecting. To progress the story to its climactic conclusion you must find a considerable number of coins placed on the four mountains. Some of this involves a bit of platforming, which boils down to perfect jumps or well-executed jibs. This can be frustrating, sometimes even just to figure out how to get to the coin, and some won't like it. I, however, actually found it enjoyable. Since SWS allows you to place a checkpoint marker at any time, even the longer runs required to get to coins can be managed. It's risky to add even minor platforming elements to an action sports game, but it works. It's just unfortunate that the ultimate result of collecting the coins is that you gain super abilities that throw the realism angle out the window.
Again, you can do all of this online or offline. But even when it comes to hunting down coins, the experience is best with friends. Frankly, if you plan to play Shaun White Snowboarding offline only, I'd say to pass. This is meant as an online experience, something to be enjoyed with friends. Do that and you'll probably have a good time. Go solo and you may find that there's just not enough to do to hold your interest for more than a few hours.
As with just about any action sports game, there are plenty of licensed products. You'll be able to strap yourself with gear from Burton and others. There's also a hefty and eclectic soundtrack. Everything from Gil Scott-Heron's classic "The Revolution will Not be Televised" to Goldfinger's "Counting the Days" is included. There are a few too many Jimmy Eat World clones in the mix for my liking, but if that's your thing, you're in for a treat. Otherwise, you can skip ahead at any time an listen to "Play that Funky Music" or "Ring of Fire."
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