Let’s start off this review of Shaun White Snowboarding with the most obvious question for those who aren’t in the “know”. Who is hell is Shaun White? Well, Shaun White is a California native who at the young age of 22 has become a multiple gold medal winner at the X-Games along with the 2006 Torino gold medal for Men’s Halfpipe. He is good, he is damn good, and that is why it is easy to see the logic behind Ubisoft snagging up Mr. White and slapping his name on their snowboarding game. If anyone can help build a good snowboarding game it is a gold medalist snowboarding champion who is also an avid gamer.
Shaun White Snowboarding and Ubisoft Montreal should be a dream match up to make one of the best snowboarding games of all time, but much to my surprise, this hasn't happened. An avalanche of small issues add up to tackle this snowboarding dream-team. It is sad, but true, Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t going to be the next Amped II. It seems we will have to wait it out until Ubisoft Montreal or another developer gets back on the board. I know I am already in the thick of it, but hold on and read a bit more, there is still a lot of good packed into this growing snowball of gaming.
It is fair to say Snowboarding games have kind of teetered off the hit list of developers with the last strong effort coming from the controversial Amped 3. Back to the basics without all the neon pink, Shaun White Snowboarding brings a little reality back into the mix with some excellent next-generation production values. Fans of the SSX, or Amped 3, Shaun might not say “dude” as much, but they will appreciate effort Ubisoft has put into capturing the feel of the sport. For the most part, Shaun White Snowboarding keeps the gameplay on the straight and narrow, however the real issue I had with the game in terms of feel. Something is up and the game just feels a little removed from the action on screen. Again, this isn’t a comment the overall feeling of the game, only a certain aspects which grow in excepted annoyance after a few hours of carving down a path.
Even though you play in the game named after Shaun, you don’t play as the young superstar. You take on your own persona that can be accessorized in the latest brand name outerwear and gear. The outfits focuses on style with the gear effecting the way the game is played in numerous ways like amplitude, rotation, speed, balance and more. With your created character you will interact with Shaun and his diversified friends loosely binds you to a "looser to winner" storyline. The plot doesn't try hard enough to hold your attention, actually it can get rather annoying. So to get the most out of Shaun's snowboarding game you will have to looking past the rough patched storyline and focus in on the other gaming elements to keep you motivated.
Giving yourself something else to concentrate on besides the storyline you can playing online, or solo going through a number of the challenges scattered on each mountain. Each challenge has four different goals (easy, medium, hard, crazy hard) to strive for, and all you can do is your best. In the beginning you likely be grabbing easy markers, but once you start to get the vibe of the controls expect a lot of mediums and more hard's will be coming in. Winning the Crazy Hard markers will take more fine tuning and some route planning. Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t an overly hard game, but it can give you a run for your money especially when you go up against the man himself. For individual challenges they look like this big-air, jib fest, half-pipe, slopestyle, bordercross, death race (gate races), freestyle, air and ground tricks, airtime, collect and precision riding. This collecting provides a good variety to keep you busy and besides some gimmicky challenges, this is all we could ask for in a snowboarding game.
In total you have four huge mountains to use as your playground starting with your first taste of shredding in Park City. This is the beginners’ mountain that has a little bit of everything the other mountains offer only scaled down. Europe, Japan, and Alaska follow Park City with more variety some with more peak riding, lots of hidden areas and deep chasms. All in all the spacing and diversity is noticeable in each map giving which presents a new challenge everytime you head down the mountain. The immense size of the mountain really dwarfs the player, and even after going down the mountain a number of times you can still find some new unexplored areas or little jumps that you have missed. From rail riding to half pipe numbers, Shaun White Snowboarding unleashes it all.
The HUD is kept down to minimum with your scores, multipliers, radar and that sort of stuff so nothing gets in your way. This helps maintain a focus on the main screen where you can perform your tricks. Controlling your boarder is rather simple; however this simplistic approach doesn’t feel natural, like I mentioned above. The controls are overly sloppy and never really help pull you into the game like other snowboarding titles from the past. At times it can feel like you are not in the game-world at all. You are just another dude with an ultra slippery, gravity-defying snowboard.
For more control specifics, riding is done with your left analog stick while tricks are the upper buttons in combination with the left or right analog sticks. Rail tricks are automatically hinged with only your balance to concentrate on and lastly buttering is done by moving the right analog stick. Buttering is often a forgotten tool to keep the multipliers running, so get some finesse in your touch and milk that butter. The face buttons are used to interact with objects, emote, throw snowballs, and toggle between the different camera angels. A lot of freedom is given to the player to control the action, so even if the visuals get blocked by some object you can dial in an angle that is free of obstruction.
Along with normal controls, focus abilities (think super-powers) become available later on in the game. They are easy to use and boost up your speed and jumping ability along with giving you extra power to destroy in game obstacles. When you gain these powers you will be able to jump or power you way into new areas that you couldn’t reach before. The focus abilities are a nice little touch to the game and give a little more mojo to this standard alternative sporting game. Lastly, another special feature in SWS is video editing. From the main menu you can access the video editor to edit and save clips for your own personal collection or online for the whole world to see.
Multiplayer is handled with LAN, or online network play on either Xbox Live or the PSN. You can choose to ride with your friends from the main menu, or bringing them into challenges while you are playing you game. You can even drop markers anytime you want so you can start sessions in a certain spot on the mountain. Strangely enough, Shaun White Snowboarding feels like the obscure reference of Test Drive Unlimited. Online you have access to a few other modes including King of the Hill, Rat Race, Trick Challenge, and Betting Challenge. For all those with a competitive spirit you can check out your statistics online to see who the top dog is. The most fun I had with the game was hooking up and just goofing around on the virtual hill with some buddies, if you are mainly going to play Shaun White online then I can safely say, mark this up a whole ten percent higher.
It’s strange to think the power behind the snowy backdrop is from the Assassin’s Creed engine, but it is true. Ubisoft Montreal has really cooked up some series diversity behind the wheels of this engine, and Shaun White Snowboarding is a marker to its potential. Although, Shaun has this engine pushing its board through the snow, it doesn’t look as visually stunning compared to last years action hit Assassin’s Creed. For the most part Shaun White Snowboarding looks good; however it’s missing its mark falling victim to unavoidable issue of clipping. For snow effects a game like Lost Planet did it a little better even though it’s not in the same genre, there was a milestone Shaun could have hit. Shaun White Snowboarding is presentable, the framerate steady, but we needed a little more on this one.
The sound has a little less impact than the graphical contribution. I thought the overall sound effects and the voice acting of the supporting characters to be a little weak. This weakness comes from the lack of impact from the sound effects not being pushed in the forefront. When I carve, I want to hear the snow pushing aside as I whisk down a hill... and about the voice acting, I'm not even going to get into it. On the positive end the soundtrack is relativity strong with a number of alternative rock songs I haven’t heard in a while like Goldfinger “Counting the Days”, Corrosion of Conformity “Clean My Wounds” and Stabbing Westward “Save Yourself”. Actually compared to the music of 2008, Shaun White seems a little 90s retro. Oh man, I just said the 1990s are retro... getting old.
Shaun White Snowboarding slides down the gaming mountain a little too fast without concentrating on what is important. The game seems to have every bullet point check marked to produce an amped up experience; however the gameplay doesn’t connect like other snowboarding games before it. Something is missing from Shaun White’s first run which doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed in future. The lack of direction, sloppy controls and lack of impact all contribute to the gameplay feeling removed from the snowy landscape. Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t a total dud, there is a lot of gaming to mess around with including a flushed out friend welcoming multiplayer mode. Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t the next coming of Amped, but it is worth a wintery rental. Until another developer jumps into the snowboarding mix, Shaun White Snowboarding defaults as king of the mountain.
Gameplay:6.5, Graphics:7.5, Sound:6.5, Innovation:6, Mojo:6.5 Final: 6.6 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 11.26.08