Here comes the sun, but it ain't alright.
When I was a wee lad, surfing was as cool as it got. Every kid on the block had a copious stash of Maui & Sons and Town & Country T-shirts, but only like 1 in 500 actually knew how to surf. Maybe it was the residual coolness factor from 60's beach party cheeseball movies or the fact that rich dudes with feathery blond hair named Lance or Devin always seemed to get the chicks.
Repressed Sun-In anger notwithstanding, I eventually gave up on learning how to ride waves when I realized that you have to do it in the ocean, which is where big sharks live, and big sharks eat people. Nowadays, the only surfing I do is of the channel variety.
And now, I should add, the game variety. I guess someone forgot to scratch surfing off the list of Potentially Cool Games, because here I am grumbling about the latest entry into this whirlpool of a genre, Ubi Soft's Sunny Garcia Surfing. While it manages to float a few meters above the bottom of the ocean, it sure as hell isn't the sunny beach it claims to be.
Sunny Garcia takes the Tony Hawk route, featuring a group of real-world surfers with real-world stats surfing totally fake, badly named coastlines. I suppose there are a few of you out there who actually know who these surfers are, but until surfing hits the national scene with the kind of X-Games hype befitting skating and biking, I imagine most of you don't know your Sunny Garcias from your Jeff Spicolis.
There aren't many ways to play this game. Championship mode pits you against other surfers in a series of elimination matches, each of which lets you try to rack up points on a set number of waves in a set time. Arcade mode makes you score as many points as you can with only a few falls. Time Attack makes you nail tricks in a certain amount of time, and Freesurf is a practice mode. Not a whole lot of inspiration here.
The basic gameplay tries to emulate real surfing. You start out in the middle of the ocean lying on a board. Then a swell starts up behind you, at which point you have to paddle around and decide whether or not to catch the wave. Once you stand up and get moving, it's all about tricks and maneuvers until the wave is mysteriously 'completed', which seems to take about thirty seconds or so, provided you don't bail before then.
And I absolutely guarantee you WILL bail before then, as Sunny Garcia's control learning curve is steep and nasty. The wave physics are pretty unforgiving - get caught in the wrong part of the wave and you're toast. It takes a while before you're actually finishing waves, though it certainly feels right once you're up and moving. Sunny Garcia does a much better job than past surfing games when it comes to actually putting you in the middle of the experience.
During your brief stint on the waves, you get points for pulling off face tricks and air tricks. The face tricks are very easy, mainly just requiring you to cut back and forth across the face of the wave while occasionally risking a quick 180 at the crest. You can also try to duck inside the wave for big barrel points, but it ain't easy. For that matter, the air tricks are no walk in the park. You have to press Circle to jump, then hold L2 and/or R2 and another button to pull a trick, then let go of everything before landing...and this all must be done in about 2 seconds. I don't know why the developers require these button combinations for standard moves. Seems a little too complex just to pull off a simple grab.
You better get used to grabbing and tweaking, because there isn't a whole lot more to do when you're out on the waves. Unlike snowboarding and skating, surfing sort of has a strike against it as a game because you don't really interact with anything aside from the wave. It's fine if you're a beach bum, but most gamers will tire of carving back and forth with the occasional jump long before getting any leg cramps.
Maybe someone took notice of this, because in Arcade mode you have to contend with buoys, floating photographers and other random items while you surf. Unfortunately, the crummy camera angles and sheer speed of the game make it seem totally arbitrary whether or not you plow into objects and ruin your great run. It's maddening and stupid.
Like other surfing games, Sunny Garcia's graphics are a mixed bag. The waves look pretty good, curling at the right speed and cresting white at the right places. Too bad there's little else to look at - the backgrounds are bland and it seems that you're the only one ever out catching waves. The motions of the surfer look fine while surfing, but absolutely terrible in every other place in the game, particularly the 'victory' sequence when you beat a Championship or Arcade series. The characters suddenly look like animatronic Disneyland robots.
I don't know who decided that generic pop/punk was the official sponsor of surfing, but he should be drowned. Note to 'extreme' game developers: Tony Hawk doesn't just rule because it's a great engine - it also has an eclectic, thoughtful soundtrack. The music in THPS games is varied and classic. The music in Sunny Garcia is as cookie cutter as it gets. If I wanted punk, I'd pop on a Misfits album.
There are a few multiplayer modes here as well, but none are very fun. The only one that stands out is Rumble mode, which is an odd sort of surfing mini-fighting game where you carve back and forth on a giant wave picking up power ups to hurl at your enemy. Sounds intriguing, but is no fun since you just, well, carve back and forth picking up power-ups and hurling them at your enemy. Next time, try some strategy. Plus, one of you is guaranteed to suck while the other is used to the frisky controls. Sort of takes the competitive edge out of it.
For that matter, there's very little edge to Sunny Garcia Surfing in general. While it looks and plays better than Surfing H30, that's not saying much. Only guys named Lance need apply.