Version tested: Wii
Everything except Modern Warfare 2 has fled from Q4 2009. Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2, Heavy Rain. All gone. It's because none of them wanted to go up against Shaun White: World Stage, for fear of the inevitable - for fear of being crushed, like fragile snowmen, in the terrible wake of the Flying Tomato.
It's not hard to understand why, either. I have fond - if rather vague - memories of Shaun White: Road Trip. Nice, chunky character art comes to mind, along with a solid, colourful world, and a soundtrack featuring the Blue Oyster Cult along with, I think, some Bob Dylan.
It wasn't all great, of course - I seem to remember the half-pipe sections were about as much fun as being forced to do the catering at your own funeral, and the trick system was fuzzy to the point of being faintly pointless - but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the game overall, and even brought it out once or twice over Christmas, at which point a friend of mine fell off the balance board and broke that little bookcase I should have placed safely in the hallway.
Luckily, World Stage is here to rekindle my fading memory a little, because, as sequels go, it's really pretty similar to the original. Progress in this kind of game is always a bit glacial - it's probably hard to get excited about the idea of making improvements when you're faced with a yearly release schedule, just as it was probably hard to get excited about the idea of the Suez Canal while staring at a giant wall of rock with a pickaxe in your hand - but World Stage makes for such a cautious update that it can be quite difficult to even work out which bits are different.
So, what has changed? The biggest addition for 2009 seems to be the ability to design your own tricks, pre-recording the spins, grabs and tucks for each move in a special area, before slapping on an icon and giving the whole thing a name of your choosing.
It's a nice enough idea, but it's an option that's only available if you have a Wii MotionPlus. This seems a bit of a swizz, as, given the limited degree of feedback and precision the design mode apparently requires, it seems to be the kind of thing that it would be entirely impossible to do without one.
Designing tricks also unwittingly lays bare the game's biggest problem, revealing that the trick suite itself is hardly the most charismatic collections of animations in the first place, composed of a handful of different stances and grabs muddled up in a variety of permutations, and differentiated, for the most part, mainly by the choice of name and graphic stuck on top.
Furthermore, the system is so carefully designed to cope with the innate imprecision of the Wii remote, that any broader use for the MotionPlus seems largely redundant. Giving you extra control in a game which is entirely built around a necessary sense of ambiguity is hardly that useful to you, and it merely highlights the fact that pulling off moves has been de-skilled to the point that the only thing separating a basic low-scoring trick from a riskier, higher-scoring one is how many buttons you hold down while making the same simple gesture.