Shaun White Hits The Slopes

November 19, 2008

Shaun White's famous red curls might've earned him the nickname "Flying Tomato," but it's his wizard-like ability on a snowboard that has garnered him an impressive collection of neck jewelry, and fans around the globe. He's more than proven his weight in gold out on the slopes, but can everyone's favorite ginger athlete successfully penetrate the action sports videogame market?

You begin your career at the bottom of the ladder, as a promising, up-and-coming ripper. After a brief tutorial, the game quickly opens up to provide you with a number of choices in how you tackle your career.

Without a leash, you have complete control over the slopes. When you take on events, or where on the mountain you'll begin your ride is entirely up to you. It strikes a great balance between exploration and motivation.

The main goal is to collect 48 large coins throughout each of the four enormous mountain ranges. There's Park City, Utah, Europe, Japan, and Alaska. After successfully collecting a dozen coins, you'll earn a focus meter that grants you the ability to break through barriers, and cruise at high speed. It's disabled during events, so outside of leisure riding, its sole purpose is to help you collect more of the coveted coins. Shaun White Snowboarding makes it about as difficult as possible with a frustrating radar system and no map assistance.

Outside of the humdrum coin collecting, you'll find plenty of action simply by cruising the slopes and earning currency in races, freestyle trick and big air contests, and even more collecting games. Death race--where you fling snowballs at other riders while screaming down the mountain--is the most memorable event, but hitting opponents right next to you is nearly impossible. Money nets you new boards that alter your ride, but that's the only way. You can't increase rider attributes and the rest of the gear is just for show.

Shaun White is really big on community features. Capturing your runs and uploading them to PSN or Xbox Live is a great way to share your lines or find some new ones. There's also a hot button for quick online action. Sixteen people can mingle on the slopes, but events are limited to eight. The simultaneous multiplayer events are fast-paced and a blast to play, but you'll have to wait your turn in the individual events. We faced some lag while watching others, but while playing it ran smoothly.

With four enormous mountains to explore, and plenty of events to encounter, Shaun White has more than enough variety to keep players happy.

It took us awhile to train our brain to use the right trigger for jumping, since that function is so typically mapped to the A or X buttons. Once the training wheels came off we learned to appreciate the simple control scheme that completely ignores all the face buttons.

Shaun White is much more Skate, than Tony Hawk. Flips and grabs are performed by holding any of the eight directions on the analog stick. The problem is that's all you get. Compared to games like SSX, the list of tricks available is lacking. Double back flips, rodeos, and 1080s are about as extreme as it gets. It's much more grounded in reality, which is fine, but there are 13-year-olds out there with bigger repertoires.

Carving down the steep slopes feels great. Icy patches hamper your steering abilities, but generate speed, whereas the deeper powder slows you down, but allows you to turn sharply. Stick to the paths and you'll be rewarded with countless ramps, and plenty of fallen trees and rails to grind or slide. There's no specific button for it, but your board is drawn to them like iron filings to a magnet.

If you're the pioneer type, you can hop off your board whenever you feel like it and explore the deeper regions of each map. It's a great way to stop what you're doing and plan your route down the hill.

If you're looking for a serious take on snowboarding, Shaun White is just that. The trick list is small, but it does a great job of replicating the feeling of riding, and it makes you appreciate the difficulty of the sport.

Shaun White's virtual slopes look great, with plenty of dense forests and large gaps, but the ride isn't always as smooth as we'd like. We constantly got snagged on the smallest of objects, and experienced some pretty severe glitches. We were also disappointed that weather never comes into play. These slopes are always bathed in perfect sunlight. It never even snows.

There are some nice touches, though. Take the loading screen, for example, that doubles as half-pipe practice. Ski lifts offer a tranquil way to take in each hill, and avalanches will get the blood pumping as you attempt to outrun them.

Shaun White gets the music right with a robust lineup of board rock. With a hot button linked to the D-pad, you can always set the right mood for each run.

Shaun White Snowboarding could definitely benefit from some more polish and it's fairly derivative, but its open-ended design and subdued trick system capture the feel of the real sport. Snowboarders will appreciate the ability to play the game how they want, but it's low on flash, so weekend warriors should buy a three-day lift pass for a test run.