Big air, big deal.
You'd think that it would be a good idea to release a snowboarding game when it's about to be snowboarding season here in the States, kind of like how EA and Sony release their sports games right before the start of the season. Accolade, however, is out to prove everyone wrong. That's right, they've released Big Air just in time to give all those snowboarders a little something to do in the off-season.
Consumers are definitely reaping the benefits of competition in the Playstation snowboarding arena. The Cool Boarder series has been going on for a while, X-Games Pro Boarder came and went, and Capcom recently released Freestyle Boardin '99. And those are just the ones I remember.
Big Air offers a World tour mode, One or Two player action, and a Training mode. The World tour is the main event in which you compete all over the world to gain the title of grandmaster cool-guy snowboarder (I think that's what it's called...). Along with winning races, you must achieve certain point quotas on trick events between races in order to advance. The trick events are either a half-pipe or big-air jump. As you progress through the World tour, the difficulty is incremented and new levels are unlocked (there are seven tracks total).
There are two types of races in the World tour: Freerides and Boardercrosses. Freerides are one-on-one, lengthy races, and the Boardercrosses are shorter, multi-racer events. In one player mode you can practice on the tracks you've unlocked or play with the trick events. The training is just a straight track with a bunch of jumps.
Because snowboarding is such a youth oriented sport, image is everything. Accolade took this into consideration and had real snowboard and clothing companies put their designs into the game. They include Arbor, Arnette, Burton, Joyride, K2, Maui and Sons, Morrow, Palmer, Ride, Salomon, Sessions, Wave Rave, and Westbeach Apparel. Not only that, but they captured the music scene well with songs from bands like Blink 182, Limp, Diesel Boy, Gangster Fun, and Snuff. To top things off, real pro-boarders are in the game, including Shaun Palmer, Nicola Thost, Fabien Rohrer, Ian Spiro, Michael Beallo and Ross Powers. Authenticity at its best.
But remember kids - just because Blink 182 and Burton Snowboards are in the game doesn't mean you should go out and buy it. Read on!
The best part about snowboarding games is pulling off those wicked tricks that most of us could never do in real life. Big Air has a good variety of moves and a great way of linking them together. You can do all of the grabs, flips, stalefishes, mutes, indies, rodeos and spins you'd expect. Then you can do them fakie. As long as you're in the air, you can keep pulling off different moves in order to rack up the points. The way you can link moves is intuitive and allows for some sick stuff. The physics model of the game also feels realistic.
Big Air is rather disappointing in the graphics department. It's comparable to Cool Boarders 2, which was released a couple of years back. There is way too much polygonal break-up and everything looks grainy. Some parts of the tracks are good looking and the views are pretty nice, but it's very inconsistent.
The in-game music is all ska and punk, so hopefully you like that kind of music. What's really dumb is that none of the songs have vocals while you're playing. You only hear the vocals at the menu screen. Without the vocals, a lot of the ska songs are lame and the punk songs have no spunk. Thank goodness there's no annoying "extreme" announcer, dude.
There are numerous other problems with the game. The two-player mode and Boardercross races suffer from some extreme slowdown and are a chore to play. Also, you can't continue in the World tour. If you lose a race you have to start over (there are save points, but not at every stage). The motion of the spins isn't fluid - there is a short pause after every 180 degrees. The loading times are excessive. Finally, sometimes you get 'stuck' on the terrain after falling.
Kevin Dick brought up a good point in the Cool Boarders 3 review - the cool falls are sorely missing in snowboarding games, Big Air included. Every time you eat it your boarder falls over anti-climactically. Anyone who's been snowboarding knows that you're likely to slide halfway down the mountain after falling. And when you don't quite land some of those really nasty tricks, some equally nasty falls should occur.
Big Air has its share of problems, but it also has some nice touches - namely the ease of combining moves and the variety/lengthiness of the tracks. In the big picture, Cool Boarders 3 is still king of the Playstation snowboarding scene. Big Air is a worthy first attempt, but I can't say it's in your best interest to buy it. It's almost summer anyway, so go outside and play.