Version tested: Wii
Sorry about this, but if you've been hoping the Balance Board will bring a touch of realism to Road Trip, offering the genuine thrill of the slopes without the ensuing Swiss casualty department, or, even worse, paying the best part of a tenner for a glass of citron pressé, then I've got bad news. It's a novel and largely successful way to control the game, but standing on a plastic plank makes you feel like a snowboarder only as much as standing in a garage makes you feel like a car.
It's only a bit disappointing, however, because while the game falls slightly flat on its most obvious promise, it delivers in a handful of other ways. This is speedy, knockabout fun, with some pacy level design, and a very generous nature. Wii versions of multiformat games often conjure masochistic disenchantment, but this is easily the best Shaun White console experience of the bunch.
And - make sure you're sitting down - Road Trip is also the best-looking version. While the Wii can't hope to compete in terms of particle effects and textures, this is a game crafted for the platform, and it shows: the slopes are bold and cartoony and, along with the characters, give it a solidity far more enjoyable than the often glitchy, pop-in ridden efforts on the other consoles. The frame-rate's decent too.
Really, it's a Saturday morning cartoon of a game - a frantic spill through five locations, as cheaply thrilling as a quick snowball fight, and as satisfying as a cup of hot chocolate back at the lodge. Each stop is drawn with flair, from the stampeding moose of Canada, to the craggy boulder-strewn slopes of Chile and the neon backdrops of Japan. It's bold strokes, certainly, but the simple nature of the game encourages that, and the whole experience is driven home by a soundtrack of surprising brilliance, which can be summed up in four words: Don't Fear The Reaper. Actually, it can be summed up in three words: No Avril Lavigne.
And while the Bill and Ted cast never approaches the slacker charm of the SSX games, they're still a chunky, lovable presence, whose range of different skills are matched by charismatic animation. Voice work is less successful, however - one of the girls talks in such cloying half-formed cutespeak that at one point I thought she was telling me about some "slick pervs" up ahead, after which slick curves were a minor disappointment (although slick).
Crucially, Road Trip's excellent presentation is enough to carry you past an annoying opening ten minutes while you struggle to get to grips with the Balance Board. Standing on the board sideways, you steer by shifting left and right with your back foot, while your front foot handles tucks, and carves are left to the B button of the remote. As usual, carves increase manoeuvrability but slow you down, while tucks send you zipping into the distance but cause problems if you're heading for a tree. Meanwhile, as everyone who's read the amazingly stern warnings on Wii Fit will already know, physically hopping up and down on a Balance Board is an act of such evil recklessness that it's likely to trigger the raising of the dead, so jumps become a matter of pumping the board with both feet.
It works well enough most of the time, but as tricks are carried off by frantically redistributing your weight in various strange ways (along with pressing combinations of A and B), there will be moments when your character hops into the air and nuts themselves against the side of a mountain when you were really only making preparations for a wicked Melon 360.
After a half hour or so, the Balance Board starts to feel natural, and while it doesn't really convince you that you actually are pelting down a slope with flies in your teeth and a questionable woolly hat jammed on your head, it's an enjoyably energetic way of controlling the game. It's also surprisingly sensitive to your movements, even on the lowest of the three available settings.
But if you don't have a Balance Board, or you can't be bothered to keep moving the sofa about, the Wii remote offers equally acceptable controls. Tilting the remote steers, a flick in the air will get you jumping, and A and B still tuck and carve. Tricks are less successful: jab randomly at various buttons while yanking the controller in any direction and you'll pull off something rather special, but it probably won't be the same something special you got the last time you did exactly the same thing.
Taken on traditional videogame levels, it's slightly broken, yet the generosity of the whole process - coupled with excellent animations and a surprisingly large set of moves - means that it's weirdly enjoyable nonetheless. In the end, the trick system in Road Trip has the same kind of unexpected payoffs that endlessly pressing the "randomise avatar" button does in LittleBigPlanet - but without the zebra heads and General Alcazar moustaches. It's not perfect, but it could be worse.
While each control method is enjoyable, there's a sense that the game never entirely finds its sweet spot in terms of difficulty. Pulling off tricks on the Balance Board can be extremely tough, as can lining yourself up for jumps and landings, whereas the remote makes it a touch too easy to blast through the game, maracas-style. Road Trip certainly coaxes more reliability out of the Wii's inputs than most other titles, but it can't entirely avoid that familiar fuzziness the console tends to bring with it.
In terms of structure, alongside the five locations, Road Trip has three basic challenge types - collecting, trick runs, and races - even if it uses a handful of different event names to make it seem like there are more. All three have their pleasures, aided by some busy, if linear slope layouts filled with jumps, grind-rails and sudden turns, and every event has a basic "Dare" objective alongside a more challenging "Respect" one. The option to choose from a range of camera operators, each of whom provides a specific special move such as a trick-points boost or bursts of speed, introduces a pleasantly undemanding layer of strategy, as well.
Despite this, special mention goes, and for all the wrong reasons, to the half-pipe sections, where the need for the fast turns that neither control method can handle combines with imprecise tricks to fuel intense frustration. It's not that they're hard to complete: it's that they're hard to complete without exposing the limitations of the controls. Your best strategy is always to vigorously shake everything from start to finish, and it makes you and the game feel slightly fraudulent. An unnecessary and, thanks to the unlock structure, often compulsory aggravation in the middle of an otherwise accommodating game.
While the single-player's undoubtedly short, it's vivid and full of easy charm, and the multiplayer provides some of the most fun you'll have had with your Wii since the joys of Wii Baseball ended suddenly with that ruptured tendon and a year spent being pushed along the seafront at Margate in a bath chair. The entire solo campaign is playable in split-screen co-op with up to four players, and there's a separate range of challenges and cup runs alongside that.
Only one Balance Board is supported at any time, but if you can't bring yourself to buy three copies of Wii Play for the other remotes, there's a hot-seat pass-around mode which is surprisingly entertaining, and, despite a very strange design decision - characters or locations unlocked in single-player will not carry over, so you'll have to unlock them again by playing the co-op campaign - the joys of local multiplayer are so suited to this chummy kind of game, so you probably won't notice the lack of online options.
Road Trip, then, is something of an unexpected surprise. It can't reach the heights of SSX or the first and second Amped, but what it lacks in precision, it makes up for in slightly mindless fun. It's not a technical snowboarding game or anything approaching a sim, but it never pretends to be, and while its controls are often a little too random to make it a real classic, it has enough speed and novelty to capture the joys of bombing downhill, stringing a few moves together haphazardly, and barrelling into your best friend when you run out of other options. Just remember to watch out: those slopes may look harmless, but I hear there are some pretty slick pervs up there.
7 / 10