Just in time for the blistering snowboard season, Shaun White's elusive red curls and infectious grin once again plaster the Nintendo Wii. Following in the footsteps of last year's Road Trip, Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage lets you take to the virtual slopes atop the balance board in a reasonable simulation of real-life carving. There's plenty of fresh new powder in World Stage, but is it really time to queue up for another lift ticket?
At the game's outset, we join the flying tomato and his trusty band of misfits en route to the airport. Upon arrival, he pauses long enough to wave everyone goodbye, which prompts the beginning of a Shaun-less single player campaign.
Campaign mode breaks down into several event types. Rail-riding, big air contests, half-pipe runs, and various races down the slopes round out the list of choices. Do well, and you'll earn points that advance you to more difficult brackets, and bring you further to your ultimate goal: a spot in the top five world rankings. Ultimately, though, there's nothing special about the simple and straightforward structure. Sure, you'll unlock new courses and a handful of characters to use in multiplayer and further events, but its nothing we haven't already played through a hundred times before.
When you aren't going it alone in the campaign or shredding the mountain tops in freestyle, you and a friend can battle it out in split-screen multiplayer. If you both want to use the Balance Board, then you're limited to taking turns in the hot seat mode.
Considering this is Shaun White's game, it's odd that he isn't playable until you finish the three hour campaign. Until then, you can choose from 12 other characters, each with varying strengths and weaknesses. Strategy plays a role when selecting your camera operator, since the right combination can really complement your rider's ability. Build up your meter, and you'll be able to get a quick burst of speed, jump higher, or even use a power-up to aid in a race.
Online rankings, various achievements, and tracked stats flesh out an otherwise lackluster list of modes. What's more, if you have the Wii MotionPlus, you can fully customize your moves in the trick editor, and even assign them graphics and names.
Before strapping in, wannabe boarders have a few choices as to how they can tackle the controls. Beginners will find solace in the Wii remote. Tilting the control left and right is responsive, making carving down the slopes easy and functional. However, those looking to pull off precision will want to attach the MotionPlus accessory, which provides much more control in the air. Otherwise, all your mid-air arm flailing might look impressive onscreen, but it'll seldom end well.
By far the most rewarding control method is the user-friendly Balance Board. By standing sideways with your feet properly spaced apart, you really get a feel for the sport as you dig your heels in and point your toes to effectively navigate the courses. Like last year, the Balance Board controls hit a few snags. Once you get going on a half-pipe or a similarly advanced course, losing your balance is far too easy, especially when trying to recover from the more demanding tricks. It's a small tradeoff for an otherwise immersive ride.
The difficulty in Shaun White never arises from the courses themselves. Your character gravitates to rails like some sort of human magnet, and the courses are wide and easy to navigate. It's more of a case of over-sensitive motion controls. Squaring yourself up to land after catching air is tougher than it should be, especially since accidental pulls or pushes on the board or remote send you tilting far off the mark. We also found ourselves jumping unintentionally, another major cause for wipeouts. But in spite of these infrequent hiccups, Shaun White is easy for beginners to pick up, and challenging enough for experienced virtual boarders.
The charming Saturday morning visuals will be familiar if you played last year's game. Shaun and his fictional friends are full of personality, though some amount to nothing more than the stereotypical snowboarder dudes. Lips move convincingly during the talking sequences, and little touches, like the menu navigation in the airport, maintains a cohesive feeling. Out on the slopes, there's plenty of color to liven up the otherwise dreary white pallet, though onlookers are nothing more than mangled blurry sprites. The revolving 3D backdrops do manage to look decent, but if look at them straight on, you'll notice their seams. Overall, the game has a pleasant vibe, but it falls flat in places.
Apart from MotionPlus support, there isn't a whole lot new in World Stage. Ubisoft has certainly played it safe with a short and unimaginative campaign. But it's hard to knock the Balance Board controls-they totally make the Shaun White experience, and make it a pleasure to revisit the virtual slopes, sameness and all. The game is much harder to recommend if you can't play it with a Balance Board, though. If you're thinking of going at it with a Wii remote, then knock an entire point off our score.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.