Reach for the ground!
Shaun White, the man, is all over the place these days. You can hear him reminding you that "the computer is personal again" in one of those weird HP ads. You can buy a skateboard deck with his initials on it. Walk into the boys’ clothing section at any Target department store and his name will be more prevalent than the chain’s own bullseye logo. That kind of exposure doesn’t just happen, you have to earn it. Perhaps it is because he’s taken his snowboarding goal and translated it into a life aspiration: master gravity.
[image1]Taking a page from the Dewey Cox book of fame and fortune, Shaun White’s got it all. His amazing skill, prolific marketing talents, and obligatory childhood trauma (two open heart surgeries before the age of seven) have vaulted him about 12 seconds into the eighth of his proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
In the world of sports, it looks like minute eight is when they start slapping your name on video games. Tony Hawk and John Madden probably know all about this. Your first few releases might be great, but then you get too big too fast. Details get missed, control gets relegated to teams and departments. What was once your baby becomes the bastard child of a thousand focus groups. At least Tony and John’s franchises have the decency to wait a year or so between releases. Depending on the success of the current title, the year-long wait either lets the disappointment fade or the anticipation swell. But Shaun White went and released several video game titles in one season. What you end up with is a mixed bag.
I had the great fortune to have been able to review Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip for the Wii, and the only thing this game and that have in common is his name. It’s hard to tell where Shaun’s vision lies when comparing these games. Was he going for boundless fun or for technical accuracy? Where the Wii version is whimsical and fantastic, the Xbox 360 version is overly grounded and staid.
Most snowboarding games do not ‘reach’ for the ‘grounded’ goal, but that’s exactly what this one does. You can tell early on that realism was what the designers were going for, and they definitely achieved their goal. If you want to know what it really feels like to snowboard or if you want to know the best way to choose a board, this may be the game for you. You cannot do too much outside of what is physically possible in the real world here. Gravity, stamina, inertia – they are all very real things in Shaun White Snowboarding.
[image2]Luckily, snowboarding is a fun activity all on its own. It takes you to places you might not normally see, and it lets you briefly defy certain physical laws. Unfortunately, most of us would like to be able to do things that cannot be done in life when we pick up a video game controller, and you get none of that satisfaction with this title. It’s too real.
Built using the Assassin’s Creed engine, the game looks impressive, better than any other in this genre. The mountain vistas are highly realistic, and the scale of the world is to be applauded. This game may be even more fun to watch than to play. Only after I handed the controller over to a friend could I appreciate the amount of eye candy. Too bad you can’t take in all the scenery when you’re trying to pull off a stunt, but that’s the way it is in real life, so maybe it’s all part of the grand design.
This game is an excellent example of camera control done right – plenty of views to suit any player and each view is easy to switch from one to the other. With such wonderful panoramas, players will be happy they have so much control over the view. The soundtrack is to be envied, although in the end it only amounts to exceptional background music.
There is a decent amount of variety in the courses. You can visit mountains in the U.S., Japan, and Europe, and there is a bonus ‘Target mountain’ in the Target limited edition release. You can customize your board and gear and shop to your heart’s content, provided you have the funds. These are all the good things and there may have been more, but the game failed to hold my attention long enough for me to discover them.
[image3]Menus and on-screen instructions tend to get a little overwhelming. Fonts are too small and there is too much information thrown at you at once. If you don’t understand something, you don’t get much follow-up instruction, turning what should have been a valuable learning experience into a frustrating missed opportunity.
There are goals, but there is no pressure to do any of them. You can enter competitions, take on challenges, or just enjoy the ride. There are hidden Euro coins sprinkled in the mountains. If you find and collect them all, Shaun White himself will believe you are serious about your craft and take you under his wing. But I’ll bet you too will get bored with this game before you find them all.
Shaun White Snowboarding should have used other aspects of the Assassin’s Creed engine and gone beyond the boundaries of the real. It just feels like a miss. It’s not exciting or fun enough for me, reading more like an instruction manual than anything else. The game seems to have potential, but if it bores the player to tears within the first few hours, so none of that potential will be enjoyed. There is something to be said about realism, but this game is so real, it leaves you cold. If I had to choose a Shaun White title this year, I’d get the Wii version and leave this one on the shelf.