Big air, big mountains, and lots of snow, are some of the things that Shaun White loves. Thanks to Ubisoft, he is happy to share them with us. Shaun has proven time and time again his skills on the slopes and now his red-haired fame has gotten him to make his first attempt at videogames ala Tony Hawk. In Shaun White Snowboarding, Ubisoft has crafted a well-balanced blend of both realistic and arcade styles of gameplay in a free-roam atmosphere. While seemingly a strange mix, the end result gives a rather decent experience – especially if you are an extreme sports fan.
Like many recent extreme sport games you start out as a rookie and work your way up to soon become a glorified champ; don’t get scared of the huge masses of snow though, Shaun has your back at all times. At the very beginning of the game, Shaun becomes your mentor as he pledges to unleash your inner snowboarding beast. To successfully complete Shaun’s course, you must collected several coins scattered across all four mountains, and complete different sets of challenges. Once you’ve tackled those slopes and collected the precious coins, you will face the “Flying Tomato” himself.
Before jumping into gameplay we must focus on the control mapping of the game because, ultimately, there can’t be much strength in gameplay if there isn’t a well-structured control scheme. If you hate controlling these types of games with a keyboard and mouse, this game will not change your mind. If you don’t have a choice, the keyboard controls are simple – sort of. Half your keyboard functions as a left thumb-stick, and the other half as the right thumb-stick.
If you truly hate this, then you are in luck; the game supports optional controllers: Logitech Rumblepad 2, and Logitech Dual Action USB Controller. In my case I endured the keyboard for sometime, but quickly hooked up a Sixaxis controller. Later on I moved to a DualShock2 and stayed with that choice.
Lets assume you are using a controller (which happens to be the game’s default anyway). Unlike Tony Hawk’s franchise, Shawn White Snowboarding takes a similar approach to EA’s Skate by focusing all tricks and moves on the right thumbstick. Differently from Skate though, there is no flickit system. You only need to push the thumbstick in any of its directions, and your trick will be nailed. Clicking the right thumb-sitck triggers secondary sets of tricks.
Interestingly, the jumping button is placed in a shoulder button unlike most games that place it on a face button. You may also want to note that there isn’t a way to map out your controller scheme, so you are pretty much a slave to the default set. Overall the controls are pretty easy to learn, so mastering the giant slopes on SWS shouldn’t be a problem – no need to be Shaun White either.
The simplicity of the controls lets us enjoy what is perhaps the strongest point of the game – gameplay. Taking yet another hint from EA’s Skate, you have a complete open-world environment, but your focus isn’t much on the story or competitions but rather the feeling of being a part of the snowboarding culture. Ubisoft is able to deliver this greatly by giving you a lot of flexibility from the get-go. When you start the game, Shaun quickly teaches you the fundamentals. After that, you are open to all the different mountains: Alaska, Park City Utah, Europe and Japan. From that point forward, you are free to do anything at anytime. It is completely up to you where to start your run on the slopes, and take part on events.
All the mountains are giants; they take a good amount of time for you tackle from peak to base. Not to worry though, your ride down the slopes will be quite entertaining; there are many places to get some big air, cliffs that you need to watch out for, trees to maneuver your way through in high speeds, broken trees to grind on, and some man-made rails, half pipes, and icy circuits. You are never alone – an enormous number of riders are always active on the slopes. If one of them keeps getting on your way, just throw a snowball at him to knock him down!Ubisoft was able to create true freedom in this game enabling you to take control and skirt around the mountains as you please. In your map you will find about three standard slopes to go down from, but it doesn’t end there. There are many secret paths that will interest you and if you missed a coin, or you spotted something that is a bit up the slopes, just hop off your board and hike up the mountain. With this setup going SWS gives you a sense of freedom that no other snowboarding game has been able to pull off to date.
Although going down the mountain can be quite entertaining, after a while you might want to start playing the game and start unlocking a few achievements. Interestingly, SWS has a great system that helps you tackle the single player with your friends – essentially multiplayer built on the single player. In other words, you can complete the entire game online or offline. Down all the mountains there are a variety of challenges that need to be dealt with in order to move forward and face your mentor; these challenges can be completed either alone or with friends. It’s a collaborative system which doesn’t require you to beat your friend to progress through the game – you can help each other.
Objectives & Realism
Thus far the game lives up to a great Shaun White’s experience. Unfortunately further down the game, the sense of realism and arcade styles of gameplay will clash – leaving you wondering whether you just bought an arcade sports game or a realistic simulator. Once you have collected enough coins, Shaun will start teaching you “focus powers”. This turns the game into an experience that feels like SSX rather than Skate’s realism. Not a bad thing, but the game promotes itself as an authentic snowboarding experience, and placing “focus powers” to enhance a players abilities on the slopes isn’t quite an authentic trait of snowboarders – unless of course Shaun is keeping some secrets from us?
If SWS would have stayed in their “authentic” path it would have been much better for the game since it ultimately confuses the gamer because quite frankly, if you can give us super jumping and blazing speeds, why can’t you give us a wider repertory of tricks? Although the merge wasn’t a great idea, some gamers will like to know that your Focus powers are disabled during events, so the only time you can use them is when you are free roaming the slopes and capturing those precious coins. This makes up a bit for the clash of gameplay that the game suffers from. At then end of your slippery ride, you get an enjoyable run missing a solid perspective.
Perhaps one of the game’s objectives that becomes frustrating is the aching fascination of collecting the coveted coins. Finding them is one thing that will probably put you on the edge, but fortunately you have some tricks at your disposal. The coins are placed on your radar, allowing you to backtrack to find them. Once you have an idea of where they are, you want to spot some markers that are placed before the coin’s location. These markers are represented with one of your focus power logos. They will ultimately lead you to the coins location.
Once you find a marker, leave another marker of your own, so in case you fail to get the coin you can relocate yourself in the same spot and start over. You can place these checkpoint markers anywhere you happen to be, which is quite nice considering that in many previous snowboarding games getting back to one exact point of the slope was impossible.
While the menacing slopes have tons of interactivity and playability that renders the game a pleasing experience, I was hoping the four mountains would be a bit different than what we have. All four seem the same with a few different touches here and there. There is also the weather factor that is noticeably missing. All different locations are set on a perfect sunny day – it doesn’t snow regardless of how much you’ve played. The addition of day and night with some climatic effects would have added to the game’s pursuit of realism.
In addition, going down the slopes isn’t as fluent as it could be. Sometimes there are structures that you’ll get stuck on for a while. If that happens, all you can do is get off your board and walk away. In addition to that little problem, there are a few other glitches that pop in sometimes drafting you away from a smooth ride.
There are a few features which compensate these flaws somewhat. Take the loading screen for instance; a half pipe that you can practice endlessly on while you wait for the next place to load. You can also take ski lifts and drop out at any given time. And let’s not forget the raging avalanches that you’ll need to tame from time-to-time.
Of course this wouldn’t be a sports game if it didn’t had a killer soundtrack. This time for me though, it barely gets there. There are many hits included in this game but quite frankly, I would have eliminated some of the songs that were played. You can find songs from Goldfinger, and Gil Scott-Heron, along with other known singers and bands. For example Goldfinger’s “Counting the Day” is a good example for a good song, but adding “Play that Funky Music” or “Ring of Fire” seemed a little out of the place.
Aside from this random soundtrack, which sometimes repeats songs way too much throughout your play through, the game lets you quickly change the song by pressing a face button, so you don’t have to be stuck with “Acceptable in the 80’s” all the way down the slope.
Ubisoft has made a great attempt at capturing the snowboarding scene, but while not quite giving us the ultimate experience, it delivers the thrills of the snowboarding realm and offers a feeling of reward after landing perfectly nailed tricks. The game is greatly attached to its online portion, so playing with friends makes the game much more enjoyable.
SWS isn’t a perfect example of the next big thing. There are some notorious flaws: glitches that distract you from a seamless experience, graphics that could use much polishing, and bit of lag in the system that tends to stop you from completing your goals. However, on the whole SWS gives snowboarders a vast sense of thrill and fun playability. Ever since snowboarding games came along, there was always the hope that one would be able to let you return back up the mountain with little to no effort. Shaun White Snowboarding gives you a great sense of freedom to please your snowboarding needs.
Things we like
- Freedom to get back up the mountain and try again.
- Simple Controls.
- Online component is well tied with the game as a whole.
Things we didn’t like
- Glitches and lags.
- Sometimes frustrating gameplay.
- Music sometimes out of tune.