Tea for tubular.
Surfing falls under the gaming paradigm that states, "If it's a thing, it should be a game." I'm not a fan of this law, since it's given us such dreck as this, this, and even *shudder* this. But despite consistently poor sales figures and a tepid critical response, surfing games crop up as regularly as the tides.
Transworld Surf is the latest in this line of ne'er do-wells, but it has at least one thing going for it right off the bat as it's backed by a very popular surfing magazine. Surprisingly, it winds up having a few other things going for it, too, leading to what is surely the best surfing game currently on the market. It's not the best game around, though, and is still really only for the niche audience.
The game lets you play as one of 13 real-life pros, each with unique stats and boarding styles. Aficionados will recognize names like Shawn Baron and Christian Fletcher, though the rest of you won't have a clue. To compensate, there's an option to check out each surfer's bio, which is a video of them talking alongside actual surfing footage. If you thought words like radical and gnarly were left in the 80's, be prepared to witness the highest number of dude-isms since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It's hysterical. Awesome, totally awesome.
Transworld Surf follows the Tony Hawk approach when it comes to gameplay. You pick a pro and can attack the waves in a Single Session, Freesurf or Pro modes.
The pro Career emulates THPS in that you have several goals to accomplish at each of the 9 beaches in the game. These are broken up into a few different times of day as well, leading to a pretty nice variety. Though many of the goals are strictly scoring/trick based (score 25,000 points, do 5 floaters on one wave, etc.), several involve leaping over obstacles in the water or interacting with the wildlife.
Yep, wildlife. The ocean is dotted with everything from sea birds to walruses to - at last - sharks, which will occasionally eat you. This makes for a much livelier ocean than in other games like Sunny Garcia.
This also introduces the new age concept of the Karma meter, which goes up or down based on your behavior and respect for the sea. If you abuse sea life by plowing through critters, you lose karma. Snake waves from other surfers and you'll get dissed. It's a funky little addition, though it doesn't play heavily into the actual gameplay. Maybe it will help if you cleanse your chakrah first.
Most of the time, you try to carve up the waves scoring points in order to unlock competitions, which in turn unlock more levels and boards. It's standard for an extreme sport but more robust than just about any other surfing game out there.
The trick system also borrows from THPS by focusing in large part on combos. You'll do a cutback, gain speed, then ollie at the lip of the wave into a grab, landing on the crest of the wave in a floater (grind) and continue on your merry way linking things up until you score big. Sliding into a barrel (under the crest of the wave) is handled well by the camera and can score good points. Though not nearly as polished as it could be - building up big combos takes too much time and patience - the system here is not bad at all.
If you wipeout (and you will), you can paddle around the sea looking for another wave or can call the 'reef girl' to come pick you up, at which point you can choose from a map screen which wave to tackle. It's a really nice way to keep the surfing going without dumb breaks in the action.
We've all seen how well the Xbox handles water in other games, and it looks great here, too. Bump-mapping and terrific textures combine to create a really believable ocean. The surfer animations are fine and the tricks look cool. Couple this with spot-on physics and you've got a beauty.
The game features a whopping 8 different soundtracks. From pop-punk to groovy cool, there's gotta be some tunes in here that won't offend, which you can't say for most other surfing games. Of course, thanks to the Xbox hard drive you can do what I do and just bump your own burned mix instead.
Unfortunately, it's hard to get through the game. The learning curve is steep; some of the early goals are way too hard and you'll get frustrated when you can't 'ollie the 4 walls' on the second level. Despite long hours playing other surfing games as well as the whole THPS series, I can't seem to pass some of the basic goals in this one.
There's a multiplayer mode in here as well, but the three games aren't great due mainly to the difficulty. Unless your buddy has played this game as much as you have, it's no contest...and in turn, no fun.
I'm also bummed that there's no create-a-surfer. You can't customize much in the game at all; it's strictly you as one of the 13 pros. This is something of a letdown, though in truth even excellent games like SSX don't have that feature.
However, SSX is chock full of tricks and shortcuts, while Transworld is a little light when it comes to depth. There aren't many moves per surfer and things can get old quickly. Some of these problems are inherent to surfing games, since you're sort of confined by what's possible out on the ocean...which somehow brings me back to my original point about how some things don't need to be made into games.
Transworld Surf, though, proves that there's definitely room for a quality surfing game on your television. It manages to float where others have sunk and breaks the trend of garbage surfing games by offering decent if somewhat limited fun.