I’ll admit to not being a huge extreme sports fan, but of all the ones going I like snowboarding the best (I should note I am talking about videogames, I can’t even dry-slope ski properly let alone snowboard). The last time I was really a fan of snowboarding games was back around the days of the Cool Boarders series. I had played the first Amped before going into this one, but only extensively enough to know that it was difficult. The playing style of the series has traditionally been to really simulate the sport rather than arcade-it-up. With the launch of the Xbox 360, 2K Games has resurrected the franchise yet again to show off how cool snow and lens flares look with their fancy new technology.
Stay on target…
Surprisingly Amped 3 is easy to the point of not even seeming like a part of the same series. EA’s SSX games have obviously been an influence here, with minimal practice enabling you to pull off all sorts of fancy moves in a row. If you’d locked someone in a room from Xbox launch until now and told them to practice at the original game, they’d still be hard-pressed to pull off such board acrobatics with such ease as a novice could here (perhaps because they would be dead by now, but still). That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, but it feels like a step backwards for what seemed to be a highly regarded simulation. I know from playing the first game that pulling off a sequence of tricks or even successfully boarding on a rail was a huge satisfaction thanks to the intense challenge, but here the appeal fades much more quickly.
In a duel influence of SSX and GTA, Amped 3 allows you to create your own character in a versatile feature that gives tonnes of options for creating something that looks really stupid, even brand names! As with wrestling games, creating a character with this system is almost half the fun, and it’s the one really detailed, satisfying element of the game’s ‘ker-azy’ makeover (although the game’s ‘ker-azy’ box art is quite nice). The presentation and front-end in general is consistently exceptional, which makes the ease of the game a little easier to swallow.
They love to fly backwards these snowboarders.
Generally style is this game’s biggest friend. The game has a very wacky story mode populated with whatever you’ve created and a bunch of pre-determined characters as your team (including a Zen guru). The story is that your team’s savings for a holiday have gone missing, and your character has been framed for the crime. The rest of your team receives mysterious funding from a mysterious benefactor and heads off snowboarding, you and your new friend (called Dandelion!) must head off and track down the stolen money. This may not sound that wacky, but the story gets so strange after this point that’s really impossible to see what’s coming next. Anime? Gameshows? Boy bands? Yetis? And that’s just scratching the surface. Comedic subject matter like this, in a snowboarding game of all places, could really fall flat on its face quite easily, but luckily it is mostly funny and the outlandish nature of it is certainly attention grabbing. For me it made getting through the game’s story mode a lot of fun, and I’ll just say it really finishes on a high note.
In normal back-of-the-box gameplay terms, the game features six mountains, seamlessly designed and full of impossibly dangerous jumps and rails. Developers Indie Built have made the most of the series’ drop in difficulty by making everything on the slopes a thousand times more dramatic than anything a real person could accomplish (Even if you locked them on a mountain with a snowboard for five years etc). Handling is hit and miss, and is perhaps the least consistent part of the game. With this game’s eagerness to make everything easy for new players, the controls have actually become a little unwieldy and things like attaching to rails now feel a little unnatural, with the game often forcing you onto them. Another thing that feels unnatural are all the ghost boarders that litter the mountains, not literally ghosts (though it wouldn’t surprise me in this game) but regular people-traffic that for some reason you can ride right through. What’s the point?
And fly handgliders, of course.
The game’s graphics are more naturalistic than you might expect for such a bizarrely styled game, and are also mostly very good. Most impressive is the draw distance, which is perhaps the best I’ve seen on a console game, and although there is quite a bit of pop-up to make this possible, none of this is too distracting and the environments look great, with heavily detailed snow that I’m sure looks much prettier than real life snow. Animations are less refined though, and have a choppy too-quick way to them. Luckily character models are nicely detailed with all the bump mapping and wavy hair you’d want. Atmosphere is also enhanced by the soundtrack, which has a really massive variety of songs of different genres that can be cycled through as you play. The voice acting is also as funny as the script, which is where a problem would usually arise in videogames.
Even with all the craziness Amped 3 is still primarily about the tricks. You must try and get air on your jumps, perform aerial spins, all while trying to add style to it all (done with subtle movements of the analogue stick). For accomplishing these tricks you get awesomeness points, which is one of the game’s cooler gimmicks. It’s actually just an aesthetic detail, pull off different styles of tricks and impress others on the mountain and you’ll find a flurry of psychedelic 2D art emanating from you, flying in all directions. It sounds insignificant I know, but it fits in with the game’s personality well and is a very satisfying dynamic. As mentioned earlier, the game is far more forgiving than you’d expect and this can make things monotonous and less rewarding, but there are also points where the difficulty spikes, so there’s a little frustration there for those who crave it.
See, he’s flying backwards too!
For those who do tire of the snowboarding there’s a fair amount of extra challenges to take part in as well. Sledding, snowmobiles, simply causing as much damage to yourself, it’s all here and it’s a welcome break from the easy boarding but it still all adds up to minor distractions. An online mode would have been nice to compare scores with other players (and, although this isn’t a racing game, some multiplayer racing would have been nice!). Still, even if it’s mostly distractions, and easy ones at that, it’s a big game with a lot of them. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like the most enthusiastic endorsement, but Amped 3 is one of those games that has so many peripheral pleasures that it must be looked at in terms of the whole package rather than the score gameplay (which is polished even if it’s easy). If you are really hankering for more of the rock-hard, super authentic experience the first game offered (I can’t speak for the second, though it is apparently very similar to the first) then perhaps this isn’t the way to go. But these are some cool boarders here, and those looking for arcade enjoyment different to that of the SSX series should come away satisfied.