Version tested: PlayStation 3
The internet is amazing. Look, here's what Wikipedia can tell you about Shaun White: "Shaun Roger White has been a notable competitor in professional snowboarding since he was fourteen... White was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect for which he endured two open-heart operations."
Wow! Now let's see what Shaun White can tell us about Shaun White, thanks to this interview on Heckler.com: "My perfect day would just be learning a new trick. That just makes the day. You know how it is, you skate a lot, if you try that trick all day and you finally make it then everything is sunshine after that."
Amazing! And hey, look at what I can tell you about Shaun White: turns out Ubisoft's Shaun White Snowboarding - hereafter referred to as Shaun White Waterboarding - completely blows. You might have been interested in it as a sort of snowbound Skate: a more weighty, precise alternative to Amped or SSX. It's totally not. It just blows.
Mostly this comes down to the control scheme and handling, two crucial parts of any boarding game. I can't speak for the Wii version (and Tom says it's a little better) but on 360 you're never given the level of control you want, and your snowboarder is alternately weightless and too heavy. When it comes to gaining serious momentum on slopes you seem too light, but when you're cruising along flats you decelerate far too quickly.
Similarly, when it comes to tricking, all it takes is a moderately steep downward slope for any player on the cheapest board to be able to ollie high enough to backflip- yet trying to maintain speed on a halfpipe is one of the hardest things in the game.
But by far the most irritating aspect of the handling is the inability to simply make your board go where you want it to. It's something may not notice at first when you're simply cruising down one of the game's four mountains, just chilling and doing tricks as they come to you, but eventually the time will come where you try one of the events scattered across the piste. This is where things go wrong. When you only have a limited amount of time or space and you need to hit every ramp and every turn and avoid every obstacle, you'll see just how fiddly and frustrating the game is capable of being.
(Incidentally, there's a fifth mountain in the game if you buy the game from Target. As in, the American retail store. This exclusive content nonsense really has to stop.)
The handling is probably worst in the one event which isn't about tricking or racing, known as Collectibles. This has you thundering down the mountain trying to hit rotating guitars which are placed in a simple curving line, so you wouldn't think it would be that hard to hit them all, right?
Wrong. It's a nightmare. Whereas Skate gave us a concrete world, then politely told us the rules and asked if we wanted to master it (to which the answer was almost always "oh Lord yes"), nothing in Shaun White Waterboarding feels bolted down or finely crafted. Every time you carve to the left or right it feels imprecise, and correctly landing after getting some big air is worse. Over the last two days I've watched my poor character take 50 or 60 separate tumbles in the snow despite landing cleanly with his entire snowboard flat to the ground, and twice I've seen him continue on his way and snap back upright as if nothing was wrong after landing on his back.
A saving grace is that there are a couple of events in Shaun White Waterboarding which don't suffer these problems, namely the grinding and racing. Grinding's pretty good, because most of the time your board is magically drawn towards any rails, trees, boxes and the like which are lying around, enabling you to put satisfying combos together fairly quickly. Racing is adequate, because you're no longer wrestling with the controls - although it is a bit dependent on how expensive your board is.
Ubisoft Montreal also saw fit to include a rubbish snowball-throwing mechanic, which works by letting you press B to instantly snatch a snowball from the ground, then hold B to aim it at your nearest opponent and release the button to fling it. Anyone who gets hit by a snowball instantly collapses face-first into the ground. Think of an un-aimed snowball as a tiny green shell (though capable of rapid fire) and an aimed snowball as a red shell. And yes, that means that in first place, the AI pelts you with what might as well be rocks at all times.
A slightly better idea in the game is the way Shaun occasionally makes an appearance to teach you a new Focus Ability, something you can then use to access different paths down the mountain. The first ability allows you to shoulder-barge through walls of ice and certain fences, for instance. But the implementation of the system is half-baked. Instead of making you feel clever by letting you return to kick the ass of previously impassable obstacles, Super Metroid-style, the main use of the Focus Abilities is in letting you collect the giant rotating coins marked on your map, coins which then unlock... Shaun White teaching you the next Focus Ability.
A final feature is multiplayer, which does the Burnout Paradise thing. Using the d-pad you can get up to 15 people to join you on your mountain, or you can join them on theirs. After that there are a couple of multiplayer-only races at the top of each mountain the lot of you can access, though that's it. I guess you could just ride around and enjoy each other's company, or if the snowball throwing was any good you could have a snowball fight. But it's not.
Let's at least end with something nice, since I've been so mean for all of this review. A substantial amount of time and money has clearly been spent acquiring all the tracks that make up the game's music, which is a nice mix of pop old and new, a bit of soul, dance, some classic rock and plenty of grunge that brings to mind the excellent Project Gotham Racing soundtracks. Though come to think of it, PGR lets you sort the music by genre, strip individual tracks from the playlist or listen to your own music, none of which Shaun White Waterboarding quite manages. Oh, snap.
4 / 10