Written by  :  So Hai (371)
Written on  :  Jan 15, 2009
Platform  :  Wii
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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Did Ubisoft get it White?

The Good

Reviewer's Note: All of the below applies to the Wii remote method of control exclusively, (no balance-board considerations where made in this review).

Normally, I worry a little when I pick a title from Ubisoft. Why would that be? Well I think they're one of the more inconsistent company's active in the industry, and I never really know what standard of quality to expect. Compare say the broken and redundant "Rayman DS" with the acclaimed "Splinter Cell" series, or the embarrassing "Brothers in Arms: Double Time" with the "Prince of Persia" series. Even the "FarCry" series has wild variations in quality! So, I could sense that a snow-boarding title (which is so far an under-represented genre on the Wii) may even be a double-risk!

But, as many would have seen for themselves by now, Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is a success, and is sure to have players excited about snowboarding all over again – (and maybe even developers may take some notice). Before I detail why this game is worthwhile, I want to answer the question on everyone's lips: Who the hell is Shaun White, and why does he have his own game? As I live on the driest continent on Earth, perhaps I can be forgiven for my ignorance regarding winter extreme sports, but it turns out that this guy is pretty accomplished. Why, even a quick web search on everybody's favourite free encyclopaedia reveals a career awash with sprinklings of Bronze, splashes of Silver and enough Gold to buy a small country.

On booting up of the game, we are presented with a title-screen (obviously), and we can see that the presentation is pretty restrained, if not tasteful. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I usually like to see how the game promotes itself by viewing is demo mode – you know, the video that runs when you leave the game alone, so that it in the game stores we're all treated to some gnarly highlights? Well I waited, and waited and waited. This is one of the first games in living memory that doesn't run some demo content! I know it's a small point, but I wonder if it's an artistic decision, a technical limitation, or a case of forgetfulness and haste…

The prologue of the game shows a group (three I think) of friends who are all thrill-seeking snowboarders – real Gen. Y types. After a kind of goofy hospital scene, (which in retrospect seems at odds with the game), and some comedy writing that misses the mark, we are allowed to hit the mountain – literally. Each country has a mountain, each mountain has several runs, and each run has several missions (usually two). Of course, to begin with, you are given an easy run with little obstacles and fresh, powdery stuff to carve. Considerately, the first run gives players visual cues as to what motions do what via little pictures displayed at the top of the screen.

With the remote, you can control your character (although I swear it seems you control the board itself) by twisting it to either side (as if turning a key). This gives you the basic left/right movement. Holding the trigger "carves", (a sharp turn that sheds speed), and jerking the remote straight up will make a jump. Time this at the very lip and you can gain extra height. Also, as like the 1080 series, holding in the A button will make your player crouch and gain plenty of speed. There is a nice motion-blurring effect and camera-angle change that augments this move. Control in general is smooth and responsive – but it can be really strange unlearning the traditional method of control, especially when trying to do rotations in the air…

The art-style is quite cartoon-like, and the mountain and trees look like stylised graphics from another genre. I liked this aspect, as I am not all that thrilled with obsessive attention to realistic ski-slopes anyhow. The characters make taunts and celebratory phrases in real-time, and they also stack quite comically – collapsing in a cloud of snow and groans. Another omission from the snowboarding genre tradition is that none of the characters are natural or goofy inclined. They're all ambidextrous I suppose. But an original idea is that a player selects TWO characters to use. Yes, two. One to actually control, and one to film the whole run (it's the YouTube culture in all of us). As a little bit of strategy, each character has a temporary power-up that is available ONLY when they are the cameraman. Confused?

The Bad

Pulling off tricks is deceptively simple, as a single twitch/twist of the remote will unleash the most complicated of real-life moves. Adding the A or B button will alter these, or perform one of the many (and similar looking) eccentrically named grab moves. As if to confirm the trick, little cartoon icons are displayed as they occur. Stalefish, Japan-air, Truck-driver etc. all have their respective icons. It's a bit playful really. Combos are made by consecutively performing moves, and a multiplier appears in the top-right to let you know how bodacious you're being. Don't you count on re-living those twisted moves over-and-over again though; as there is no replay feature whatsoever. Must have been the same guy in charge of the demo-movies… Sure, we all usually just skip past it, but to not include it seems a bit presumptuous to me, as if there is some sort of shame in reviewing your run. Besides which, the whole damn thing is recorded by your camerman!

As you progress you unlock new characters, which come with their own specific abilities. You also gain access to new countries/mountains and runs. But with all of this content to unlock, you do find yourself doing the same things over and over again. Gain a certain score with trick techniques, or collect a bunch of trash someone left on the slopes or gain a score on the half pipe. I'm no sports-gamer, but I whipped through these challenges like they were child's play, sometimes meeting two requirements when only concentrating on one! Sure, it gets more difficult as you go along, but I wonder if the overall level of difficulty may be a little bit lenient – (perhaps the balance board provides the REAL challenge).

The Bottom Line

So, Shaun White need not be embarrassed. It appears so far, unlike the poor Dave Mirra, that this title will avoid the bargain-bin for a while longer as it seems to be a pleasure to play. Even when I stack it, I don't always get frustrated as I just want to get that score/goal, and as the missions are quite short in length, it's not a major deal to re-start and try once more, (by the way PAUSE/MENU is the 2 button for those who don't want to be as baffled as me!) Surprisingly too, there is a complete licensed soundtrack to the experience. OK, so they're not all classics, but nevertheless, it gives the game a kind of context and real-world connection. Overall, this is a very strong first entry into what I presume will be an on-going series. I could go on about what improvements there needs to be, but the main thing is that they accomplished good motion control and an all-round standard of quality that makes this thing more than just another Amped/SSX.