100% Sick! (?)
Well, that's what the back of the box says. And although I'm not exactly sure what "100% SICK!" really means, this game is a keeper. I have to admit that snowboarding video games never really managed to float my boat. "Glorified, cheesy racing games," I thought. The first Cool Boarders was a perfect example. Okay graphics, a few tricks here and there, but mostly just a mildly entertaining racing game. Whoopee. Then came Cool Boarders 2.
I wasn't expecting much. Probably the same as the first with a few new tracks. To be perfectly honest, though, Cool Boarders 2 knocked my socks off. Sure, it had loads of new tracks, but it also had a half-pipe, big air, and (dear god) a board park. All that with some darn snappy graphics, and a fairly good presentation to boot. I was even willing to overlook the annoying-as-hell announcer dude and the fact that you could pull off a 2160 nose-grab, no problem. By my lofty standards, Cool Boarders 2 was the first game that even scraped the surface of snowboarding culture. That's right, culture. I'm looking for a snowboarding game that not only gives me loads of options, cool tricks, and great graphics, but one that captures the overall feel of the snowboarding world. And--listen up game developers--it's more than just punk rock and baggy pants.
Cool Boarders 3, while not the quintessential boarding game I'd hoped it would be, is a solid game, with more nifty features than I thought you could cram into a game. It is just the kind of sequel I dig. It brings in some striking innovations, and dumps all the lame stuff from its predecessor. Remember that lame announcer I was talking about? He's gone, and all I have to say is good riddance.
Now let's talk about the new stuff. First off, Cool Boarders 3 is set up entirely differently from Cool Boarders 2. The way this one works is that you first pick which mountain you want to go try: 6 mountains in all, though only 3 are selectable at the beginning. Once you're at the mountain, you have 6 different options: Down Hill (the traditional, Cool Boarders style track), Boarder X (four boarders on one course), Slalom (two-man, gated racing), Half Pipe, Big Air, and Slope Style (a board park course). What all this means is that not only are there new events (Boarder X and Slalom), but there are also six different courses for each event. We're talkin' 6 unique half pipes, 6 different down hills, and yes, 6 different board parks. Throw in 22 real boards (Burton, as usual, as well as my favorite snowboard company, Ride), and loads of new characters (although, sadly, you don't get a description of their strengths and weaknesses) and you've got a pretty packed package here. Not only that, but the tournament mode lets you compete in every single event for the ultimate title. It's variety like this that really butters my muffin.
Cool Boarders 3 has the best graphics of any PlayStation snowboarding game, although it's not as nice as 1080 for the N64, it's probably as close as the PlayStation can get, graphically. I really didn't think they could do some of this stuff with the PSX. Changing weather? Hello? No, I'm not kidding you when I say that the weather actually changes. One minute you'll run the Slope Style course on Mt. Koji and it's as sunny as a Los Angeles weekend. The next time you play, it could be snowing cats and dogs. Not only are there flakes in the air; the terrain changes too. What was once a well-groomed shiny paradise is now a dark, snow-covered powder puff. Wow is right.
Let's talk about the tricks for a second. Although the controller set-up in Cool Boarders 3 takes a little getting used to, the trick system is way better than last year's. You're definitely not going to see any of the super-human feats that last year's game produced, and although some tricks in this game are a bit exaggerated, it's not too over-the-top. Another trick this game has that failed miserably in last year's game is rail slides, rail slides, and more rail slides. With a tap of the Triangle button, you'll find yourself easily sliding across that tree branch or water pipe that you've had you're eye on - and man, are there tons of tree branches, water pipes, and other rail-slide goodies.
And while we're talking about new goodies, do yourself a favor and get a dual-shock controller for this puppy. Not only is the analog controller designed for games like this, the vibration function is actually pretty fitting. Hit a patch of ice on the right side of a run, for example, and you'll feel it on the right side of the controller.
But even with all this praise, I still have two put in my two-cents worth of criticism. What this game doesn't have, and what I've never seen in any snowboarding game to date, is accurate crashes. I myself have bailed on a snowboard enough to know that crashing is as much a part of the sport as carving through powder. And damn, are snowboarding crashes fun to watch! Now, the folks at 989 seem to think that when a guy going 53 miles per hour runs head on into a dead tree, he can still stay on his feet. Even when you crash you're back on you're feet in milliseconds. With all it's realism, you'd think 989 would have found a way to make these boarders eat it. What I'm pleading for here are neck-twisting, gut-wrenching, bone-crushing crashes. Watch any snowboard video, and you'll see what I mean.
And music, oh yes, music. It's a given with any snowboarding game these days that you're going to get a bunch of generic punk rock/crappy speed metal songs that do very little in terms of adding atmosphere. How about some moody, ambient drum and bass? Or some fast-classical number? Maybe some operatic ditty for the more wide-spread courses? I don't know if this stuff sounds like a good idea to you, but I'm sick and tired of "oh, this is an extreme sport, so we'll play some extremely bad rock music."
In the end, I like Cool Boarders 3. I like it a lot. It's closer to the snowboarding game in my head than I thought any game would ever come, and until 989 offers me the big bucks to help them out, it probably won't get much better.