Shaun White Snowboarding
When Shaun White came out onto the stage at E3 to a round of applause, with his trademark orange mop and kid-living-his-dream grin, I really wanted to play his game. Call me a sucker for celebrity, but I thought Shaun White Snowboarding was going to be awesome. The world’s best snowboarder was working in “close collaboration” with the development team, attempting to make a serious snowboarding game that moved the sport away from the typical arcade-style games like SSX and Cool Boarders. Who better to create a snowboarding game then the man who helped popularize the sport and give it credibility? Sitting there in June, I could see myself in 2013 happily playing Shaun White Snowboarding 5. And who knows, I might be playing that in 2013. I hope I am. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with Shaun White Snowboarding and I’m not sure I want to play it all that much anymore.
“Call me a sucker for celebrity, but I thought Shaun White Snowboarding was going to be awesome.”The premise is simple: you’re an amateur snowboarder and while you were at the mountain pulling some tricks, you managed to impress Shaun White with a truly gnarly wipeout. Impressed with your cojones, Mr. White gives you a snowboarder’s wet dream: an opportunity to ride with the man himself all across the globe. You can fly yourself to the best resorts in North America, Europe and Japan on his dime in order to become one of the best around. Along the way, you can complete some challenges to buy better gear and gain access to new skills or you can just roam the mountain lackadaisically if you aren’t up for competition.
As you start, it’s easy to be impressed by the stellar graphics. The view distance is unrivaled by almost any other game. You can very clearly see your way down the mountain, changes in the terrain and smaller touches like grooves in the snow and the spray from snow guns. Light from the sun shines brightly off icy surfaces and your custom-created character is very fluidly animated as he or she flips and spins their way off jumps and rails across the mountain. And to top it off, a great soundtrack with songs from bands like Incubus, Jefferson Airplane, Heart and Modest Mouse enhances the aesthetics of the experience.
But once you get beyond how the game looks and sounds and start to seriously play it, things start to break down. For starters, the controls just aren’t comfortable. Steering and spinning is handled with the left analog stick, but instead of using the face sticks on the controller for tricking, you use a combination of buttons that make things far too complicated. You need to pull the right trigger and release to jump. You’ll also need to stop pushing up on the left analog stick (which increases your speed) or else you’ll land on your face. Once you’re in the air, you then have to spin the board with your left stick, push the right stick in any direction to grab, and pull the right trigger to tweak the trick for more points. Why couldn’t tricks be handled with the face buttons, instead of making me move my fingers all around the controller?
The problems with the controls don’t end there. Stopping is far too difficult, especially on ice, which you apparently can’t stop on. I guess that sharp edge on the side of the board isn’t for that very purpose. Even when you fall on the ice, you get back up and continue going down the hill, even if you don’t want to. It’s also extremely hard to jump from rail-to-rail, which makes scoring combos on rail competitions almost impossible. Bottom line: the whole game feels remarkably uncomfortable despite looking so smooth and natural.
And while the open-mountain premise is awesome for just fooling around, it doesn’t really work as well for gamers just looking to beat the game. While you can place markers to warp to any location you’d like and you can select lifts to jump to instantly on the map, you can’t do the same for challenges. To get to your challenge, you need to ride all the way to it from the nearest lift or helicopter drop location. At first I was fine with this, but when I just wanted to do some challenges to get cash for a new board, I grew tired of having to traverse the entire mountain to get there. Why not just let me select the challenge I want to take on from a menu? You can’t even establish waypoints to lead your towards your destination, so when you’re trying to get some place for the first time, you’ll have to ride for a little bit, check your map, ride some more, check your map … over and over and over again.
And speaking of challenges, I also didn’t like the multiplayer-only challenges throughout the game. I don’t play multiplayer games very often and it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for Xbox Live when I’ll only play games on it a few times a month, if that. I’m just not into it. So why limit the amount of challenges that I can take on just because I don’t want to go online or don’t have friends around to play the game with? I’m completely comfortable competing against AI-controlled characters. Why not have that as an option for people that like to play games by themselves instead of limiting the content that they receive?
There also isn’t a whole lot of life to the challenges, either. There aren’t any unique missions and very limited story-telling. I’m not looking for a full-fledged narrative, but why not have a couple of scripted events, like avalanches opening up new sections of the mountain or something like that? Instead, you’re given your typical challenges: collect X number of items, race to the finish line in X amount of time, score X amount of points only using aerial tricks, etc. There’s very little variety and it makes the whole experience seem duller than it should.
“Bottom line: the whole game feels remarkably uncomfortable despite looking so smooth and natural.”What’s most frustrating about this game is how good it could have been. IF the controls were a little tighter; a little more responsive. IF navigating the mountain to your challenges was just a little more straightforward. IF there were more variety to the missions. What we’re given is an impressive looking and sounding game with awesome environments that we can’t appreciate because of so many gameplay problems. I really believe that the developers have something here that they can build on, but in it’s current form, I just can’t recommend this game.