Shaun White Snowboarding
As a general rule, gaming adverts aren’t the best place to look for a balanced perspective of whatever they’re promoting. After all, Sega’s infamous promise of 6 billion gamers worldwide still smarts after its reality of several silent Frenchmen playing ChuChu Rocket!. That’s just not bon. It’s a wonder we didn’t top ourselves, it really is. Getting back to the point for a moment, Ubisoft’s flyer for this carrottopped adventure depicts a dozen or so characters who might reasonably be described as ‘dudes’, riding their way to the summit by a method best described as precarious. The cable car’s about ten yards wide, man. Anyway, we’re invited as gamers to join them on the slopes, ‘them’ being the operative word. For you see, the title this bears the closest relationship to isn’t Amped 3 or SSX Tricky, but Sony’s LittleBigPlanet.
How is this so? Well, like the platform curio, Shaun White Snowboarding hands over developmental responsibility to its users (at least partly), becoming a proverbial Lego set for winter extreme sports. Sure, its environments are packed with the multitude of ramps, rails and insane drops you’d expect, but they are no longer tied to prefabricated runs – much like real life, in fact. Instead, you’re simply let loose on a series of mountains, free to meander around, taking up challenges dotted here and there and falling down massive crevices in the rock occasionally for cheap comedy value. Furthermore, various CPU-controlled fake friends carve down the piste as you go, just so you don’t feel lonely. Oh, and the chance to earn respect among an establishment-defying sub-culture is provided by the collection of coins in difficult-to-reach spots. Oh, the irony.
All of this no doubt sounds like the kind of fresh air injection blown through Burnout by Paradise. After all, with 12 of your buddies carving paths down the mountainside, proceedings are surely all of the fun with none of the frostbite. Sad news indeed, then, that alone it’s a shadow of what Xbox Live can provide, sometimes to the point of feeling unfinished. Apart from the necessarily barren landscape, there’s a bizarre design decision or two. Why, for instance, with the benefit of a trained helicopter pilot as your new best friend, can you only be dropped in a couple of predefined areas, forcing a fair degree of ground to be retrodden in pursuit of mission start points and the aforementioned coins? This is meant to be a go-anywhere, doanything collection of edited highlights of perhaps the most exciting pastime, after all. It seems to be worth wearing a silly hat on TV to sample such delights, anyhow. More generally, instructing lone players to simply collect artefacts in a game of this nature, rather than sample the smorgasbord of event types on offer, seems like a willful act on the part of Ubisoft to render its own game dull. This is quite difficult to understand.
As for the infinite beauty of frosted valleys laid before you, well, Ubisoft wouldn’t exactly have had Wordsworth reaching for his quill. As we all know, Shaun White Snowboarding was developed using the same Scimitar engine that did a fine job of bringing the Holy Land into being during Assassin’s Creed. Learned gamers will recall Altair not having to deal with massive snowdrifts while concealing himself among carts filled with straw, however, leading many to suspect the tech may not hold up to closer scrutiny. Sure enough, boarders’ equipment appears to glide a few inches under the snow’s surface pretty much at all times, making the occasions you’ll inevitably stop and trudge across to alternative slopes really quite puzzling, not to mention time consuming. On a less intricate level, the visuals have a Sound Of Music feel to them, resembling painted backgrounds in the distance surrounding admittedly quite expansive slopes. With a mixture of white and white to work with, we suppose it’s quite a challenge.
As far as controls go, this leans towards the Skate end of the spectrum rather than Tony Hawk’s (taking another gnarly occupation as our template). Grabs are accessed via swift analogue stick flicks, while flips and the like are covered by actually rotating your boarder through the air. Added microgames play a part in adding some tension to your style, including a skittish balance bar that dictates whether you’ll land a huge drop, and the aforementioned avalanches which you’ll have to find the swiftest route to escape from.
Overall, though, some really quite physically fit young athletes seem to have developed rigid, flagpole-like frames less capable of movement than they should perhaps be. Like the game as a whole, minor faults such as this do not destroy the overall package, but they do drive you towards alternatives. Amped 3, anyone?