You wouldn't expect a skateboarding game to amount to much, really. Surely it could only be as good as 1080 on wheels and dry land, right? Wrong. The level of variety, excitement and just sheer quality of the gameplay available here is utterly astonishing. No word of a lie, myself and a friend spent six hours straight playing the various 2 player battle modes and attempting challenges in single player... he left my house at 2am. Controlling the game is simpler than I would have expected. The moves you can pull off are extremely simple to execute, because what counts is getting enough air in order to pull of huge combinations of moves which really rakes the points in. No one move is more complicated than a combination of a direction and two button presses or vice versa, and each character has a specific set of unique moves, including a main special stunt and other hidden specials. What this means is that there is a fair amount of value in trying out different characters, instead of the only difference between the players being their costumes.
The single player game is quite strange, and it's not immediately obvious what you're supposed to be doing in order to progress to subsequent levels, but the basic premise is this: on each level you have ways to obtain video cassettes, be it by performing tricks to reach a minimum score, finding a hidden tape or attaining a set number of targets (like grinding 5 park benches, or smashing a series of sign posts) and other such miscellany. When you manage to collect the required number of tapes, you can unlock extra boards and levels, and also increase your characters skills stats. At the beginning it's quite easy to fulfil objectives, but as you progress the tasks get increasingly harder until you realise that you're retrying over and over again to try and reach that elusive hidden tape. Eventually, it can get so frustrating you'll leave the console in a huff, but I guarantee you'll be back again.
So much to do...
There are nine levels in all, comprising of six freestyle levels and three competition arenas. The freestyle locations vary from deserted warehouses to a converted waterworks, and all are replete with ramps, rails, half/quarter-pipes and all sorts of obstacles with which to throw your chosen baggy trousered hero at, the idea being to try and grind and jump off of anything and everything - this includes moving vehicles in the street levels. The competitions involve gaining enough points in a freestyle competition against a gaggle of other contenders, progression depending on coming in at least third place. Getting stuck in a competition, however, halts a lot of your progression through the game. You can keep going back and collecting as many tapes as you like, but some levels refuse to unlock unless you pick up the necessary medals. This can prove an extremely difficult task in the later levels, and I was desperately restarting the competition over and over to try and get a decent amount of points. Variety and difficulty of the stunts you perform are what woos the judges, and even if you fall over once, you can wave goodbye to your chances of winning. There are also various interesting 2-player modes available for your perusal, which includes a regular trick attack mode, a tag mode (each player performs stunts off pieces of the scenery to "tag" them your colour, and you can steal tagged objects from your opponent by scoring higher on the same obstacles) and the curious HORSE game, where one player goes on a trick run, and their opponent must try to beat that score - the first person to fail gets a letter to a specified word (the default being "HORSE") "branded" on them. You must try to keep ahead to avoid being branded with the word and the game ending with "PLAYER IS A HORSE". As you can imagine, more obscene phrases were explored...
You sure is purdy
Graphics-wise, the game clearly makes use of the expansion pak, and each player model is wonderfully rendered, animated and sharp. The levels are staggeringly detailed and some surprisingly large, taking a good while to fully explore in their entirety. Overall the graphics are crisp, smooth and very, very hard to fault... the only little niggles being the occasional jerk between animation transitions, heavy fogging on the outdoor levels and somewhat smeared textures at times. The music has been a point that many of my skater friends were raving about, featuring all your favourite bands you've never heard of. To be honest, the music suffers at the hands of the compression needed to get it all into the cart, as roughly only half of each song is included the resulting looped music quickly becomes incredibly annoying, especially as the quality is particularly poor anyway. You're better off turning the music off all together just to hear the fantastic sound effects as your board rolls, grinds, jumps and clunks on the ground - it is astoundingly realistic.
This kind of game is exactly what the Nintendo needs to rejuvenate faith from the public and hardcore fans alike. The challenging single player and unremittingly joyous multi-player experience will have you playing for not days or weeks, but literally months. It is a true stayer, and I can't see anything being a true contender to it in the near future. Truly one of the most inspirational, addictive and utterly triumphant games ever, which can only just be improved upon.
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