Review: Shaun White Snowboarding

ShaunWhiteSnowboarding.jpg Much like Assassin’s Creed – which this game borrows its engine technology from – Shaun White Snowboarding is equal parts spectacular and disappointing. As an open-world sandbox snowboarding game, SWS brings some much-needed freshness and innovation to the genre. Being able to freely roam four massive mountainside locales (five if you get the Target Limited Edition like Ubisoft provided for me to review) discovering your own paths down the mountain and making up your own trick lines is an amazing thing.

And that’s how SWS begins. It’s a game that leaves a strong first impression. The first time you start at the top of the mountain – looking down from high above at the frosty landscape below covered with swaying, snow-covered trees and wisps of fresh powder blowing across the ground – and then begin boarding your way down the mountainside with absolutely no restrictions you’ll be blown away. That feeling of speechless wonder holds for a while too, but after a trip around the different environments a feeling of “is that all?” gradually sets in.

The game’s problem is twofold. First, it lacks any sense of direction. You can take on various trick challenges located around the mountains and embark on Shaun’s Quest, a silly tacked-on series of missions that essentially serve as a story mode, but neither is rewarding enough to hold your attention for long. It’s great that you have total freedom, but within that freedom there still needed to be some sort of tour or career structure to give you a sense of progression and direction. To me, sandbox games are only successful when they balance freedom with linearity. I need to be able to run around and do what I want, but also have a main path through the game to focus on when I’m done winging it. This game fails to deliver such a balance.

Secondly and lastly, the game suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Is it a simulation or more of an accessible arcade-type snowboarder? The answer is both and neither. The developers clearly tried too hard to make it both when they should’ve focused on just one style. They wanted to make a game everyone could enjoy, but ultimately wound up alienating both audiences some.

For the most part, SWS is based in realism. The trick system is grounded in reality — you can do spins, flips, jibs, grabs and board tweaks, but nothing outlandish like in an SSX game – the sense of speed is kept within reason, and except for some minor control quirks the core snowboarding mechanics are smooth and satisfying. But then there are other elements that spit in the face of the game’s realism and take it into a completely different direction, most prominently these focus abilities you can learn by completing Shaun’s Quest that enable you to charge up and break through barriers, move at super speed or gain big-air boosts off of ramps. Both styles work individually, but together they conflict with one another.

These downfalls are all the more disappointing given how enjoyable the game can be when its bright spots shine through. Multiplayer is easily the game’s grandest accomplishment. Being able to hook up online and make up your own challenges with up to 16 players does well to capture that feeling of a day on the slopes with your friends – you can even have snowball fights! Character customization is great as well. You can buy and outfit your boarder with all sorts of fresh gear (boards, jackets, boots, goggles, backpacks, hats, etc.) to differentiate yourself from other boarders on the mountain. I’m also a big fan of the game’s interface. Using the four directions of the D-pad you can access many important features in real time without ever having to pause the game, functions like changing background music, saving replays, chatting, and joining a multiplayer session. There’s even this feature that allows you to place a map marker that you can warp back to anytime you want, that way if you find a cool trick path you can set a marker at the beginning and then should you fall you can instantly warp to the start without having to travel back up the mountain. Great stuff!

As a whole, though, Shaun White Snowboarding is right smack in the middle of this holiday season’s avalanche of game releases. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it’s merely a decently entertaining snowboarder that’ll knock your socks off at first, but leave you feeling cold over the long haul.

TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Freeriding down a mountain is a joy
+ Fun-filled online multiplayer
+ Beautifully rendered mountainside environments
+ Intuitive real-time menu interface
+ Strong character customization

Cons:
– Lacks focus and a rewarding sense of progression
– Can’t decide whether it wants to be realistic or arcade-like
– Moving around on foot is kinda clunky
– Unpolished crash and collision animations

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3, PC, PS2, PSP, DS and Wii
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/16/08
Genre: Snowboarding
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-16

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!