I can see Miami from up here.
Past attempts to recreate the sport of snowboarding on our game consoles have delivered two divergent game paradigms. On one hand, there is the SSX model, with hundred-foot jumps, arcade mechanics, and forgiving gameplay. In stark contrast stands the Amped series, with its strict adherence to real-world physics and recreation of real-world tricks. Few snowboarding titles have attempted to straddle the realms of both arcade-action and simulation.
Shaun White Snowboarding for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 spends its first few hours of gameplay adhering to the rigid rules of simulation; the player is incapable of performing stunts unrealistic for a professional snowboarder. Within a few hours, power-ups are collected and the title radically changes its focus to become a high-flying, exaggerated game, which throws reality out the window. While some players may appreciate the novelty of Shaun White’s transitional gameplay, others might be perplexed at the shift in design. Fortunately, the controls remain consistent, if eccentrically conceived.
To initiate a jump, the player holds down and then releases the right trigger, at the apex of a hill or ramp. At first, this felt unintuitive, after many years of Tony-Hawk style jumps instigated with a face button. To perform a twist, the player moves the left thumbstick to preload the turn, continuing to hold the stick to rotate the player’s body. The right thumbstick is used for grabs, and once airborne, the right trigger can be utilized to ‘tweak’ a move. As the player progresses, they are awarded ‘focus’ powers which act as slow-motion triggers within the game.
A scene from the director’s cut of The Sweet Hereafter.
Our first few hours with SWS were incredibly laid-back; we merely practiced the controls as we sped down the mountains. Gradually, the game introduced more traditional gameplay mechanics, including coin collection, races, and stunt challenges. Challenges have hierarchical levels of difficulty from painless to moderately difficult. In keeping with the tranquil vibe of the game, trials can easily be won, but maximizing money and medal achievement take a bit of practice. The game’s four mountains were each spacious and unique with plenty of opportunities for both jibbing and air. Gamers who purchase the game at Target receive an exclusive fifth mountain, although the MSRP is five dollars more at that retailer.
Graphically, the game looks amazing, with beautifully textured snow, detailed pine trees, and elaborate lift systems. At times, the title displays beautiful vistas, with nary a sign of pop-in. However, the game’s camera and shadowing system can be spastic at times, detracting from the virtual beauty of the game. This is particularly noticeable when in half-pipes, or in the enclosed sections of the game’s bobsled run. Other than an occasion sputter, the framerate is usually smooth with short loading times when players warp to a point on the mountain.
With a quick transition from solo challenges to multiplayer events, Shaun White feels like Burnout Paradise set on powdery slopes. Players can race, and initiate a stunt challenge using a minimum of effort. While in a time trial with fifteen other racers, the framerate was solid, although player’s avatars occasional warped around the screen. Still, SWS’s multiplayer diversions made the game come alive, as we spent hours trying to perform tricks more outlandish than our rivals. Additionally, players also have the ability to record their trick runs and upload them to the Shaun White website for all to see.
Sure, it’s called snowboarding. Strangely, it’s the most fun when you’re not touching the snow.
Although past console generations had an ample amount of choices in the snowboarding genre, the virtual ski resorts have seen a sharp drop-off in patronage. Players longing for a winter excursion on the electronic slopes should be content with Shaun White Snowboarding. Its relaxed, open gameplay was invigorating, and became exponentially more fun with a group of friends. With a bit more graphical polish and a move toward a single play style, Shaun White could return as the king of the mountain next year.