Battle of the Snowboarders

Snowboarding is a hobby that, in truth, not many of us participate in during our everyday lives. In the UK, particularly, we are not blessed with many (read any!) good boarding spots. However, this lack of real life involvement hasn’t stopped games developers giving us plenty of snowboarding titles in recent weeks. That these have been lapped up by the public shows that we don’t have to do something for real to love it in a video game.

With this in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the 3 main snowboarding titles on the market at the moment. They are:

1. 1080 Avalanche for the Nintendo GameCube
2. Amped 2 for Microsoft’s Xbox
3. SSX3. This is multi-format, but to balance out the above, I’ll be using the PS2 version.

What will follow is a mini-review of each of the titles, then a summary of where you should spend your gaming cash this New Year. So let’s begin.


1080 Avalanche

Hopes were high for this title, being the sequel to what many consider the finest snowboarding title ever released. That game was 1080 Snowboarding on the N64. It was always going to be a tough job living up to such a grand heritage, and I’ll explain why I don’t think Nintendo quite managed to do it.

Graphics

1080 Avalanche looks gorgeous, no doubt about it. Every bit of power has been squeezed from the GameCube to give us a game that is full of beautiful scenes. The character models move convincingly, with clothes flapping in the wind, and the environments are stunning. Little touches, such as the snow sticking to the boarders clothing after a fall are lovely and add to the sense of immersion. Graphically, though, the stars of the show are the avalanches referred to in the title. On certain levels throughout the game, your rider will be chased down the mountain by these avalanches. Truly, they are memorable gaming moments as your pad shakes, the screen wobbles and the avalanche gets ever closer. Trees and buildings are knocked down in its path and this adds to a sense of panic as you struggle to escape its clutches. The framerate can unfortunately suffer a little wobble here and there, but it’s never enough to be a major problem. For the most part, the game runs at 60 frames per second, which is impressive given the amount happening on screen at times.

Gameplay

The controls in this game are adequate. They suffer no major flaws but they are not as responsive as the other games we will look at today. The main game mode on offer here is the Match Race, which sees you racing a rival down increasingly difficult courses. Initially, there are 15 tracks on offer with 3 different difficulty levels – novice, hard and extreme – to conquer. Once you beat these, you will unlock the extreme difficulty level, which gives you access to an additional 7 courses. In truth, these are not brand new courses, as they are made up of parts of the courses you have already beaten. All of this is fun, but the problem to me is that the tracks are so short. The initial tracks will take you little over a minute to finish and even the later tracks last no longer than 3 minutes. This means that Match Race can be beaten very quickly. To pad out the longevity of the game, there are 3 other game modes included as well. Trick Attack is self-explanatory and will see you trying to accomplish high trick scores on the various courses. Gate Challenge is fun and sees you trying to hit cleverly placed gates on your way down the mountain. Time Trial is, though, what you will see most players coming back to. It’s a very good mode, too, with all the addictiveness that can occur in trying to shave hundredths of a second off your best time.

Multiplayer gaming is catered for here, and the performance of this is impressive. There is no noticeable drop in framerate or detail even with four players split screen on a single GameCube. LAN play for four players is also available, although I didn’t have the facilities to test this out.

Sound

Very good, running in Dolby Pro Logic II for those with the right equipment. The games music is, unusually for Nintendo, licensed and accompanies the game well. The sound effects are excellent too.

Lifespan

For me, this is the fly in the ointment. If you are a time trial fan, you will be playing this for weeks and months to come. If not, then what is on offer can be completed very quickly and there will be little replay value for you. Multiplayer racing will extend the longevity a little, but I am left with the feeling that Nintendo could have included more here.

Overall

Make no mistake, 1080 Avalanche is a good game. It looks great and is fun to play while it lasts. However, and here’s the rub, it will always be compared to it’s daddy, 1080 Snowboarding. Given this comparison, 1080 just doesn’t live up to expectations. Saying that, though, it’s worth a rental at least because any self-respecting video game fan should see the avalanches here, they are worth the rental fee on their own.

Graphics 8.3
Gameplay 7.5
Sound 8.0
Lifespan 6.5
Overall 7.3

So we see that Nintendo’s offering is competent, yet in many ways uninspired. How can EA Sports Big match up with their offering, SSX 3?


SSX 3

SSX 3 is the third in the line of extreme snowboarding titles from EA and follows on from SSX and SSX Tricky. It aims its gameplay at the far more extreme angle of snowboarding, with mad tricks and huge air the order of the day. The game is now centred around different peaks on one huge mountain, which differs to the previous games’ style of travelling the world to reach different events.

Graphics

This game is amazing to look at, particularly given that I have been playing it on the oldest of the 3 major consoles, the PS2. Character animation here is top notch and among the best I have seen in the video game world. Your boarder twists and turns so realistically that you may be fooled into thinking these mad tricks are actually possible in real life. EA brags about there being something like 30 different kinds of snow in the game. I don’t know if this is true, but the snow does look great and you can easily distinguish between new snow and old, packed down snow. This isn’t just for effect, though, as the type of snow you are on affects your rider’s speed just as it really would on the slopes. The environments are truly stunning to look at and are a treat for tired gamer’s eyes. Deserving of a special mention are the lighting effects, like the sun shining through the trees, or through the clouds as you jump off a very high peak. Brilliant stuff indeed.

Gameplay

This is where SSX 3 excels. The riders are so responsive to your controller presses that it really feels like it’s you out there. Make a mistake and there’s no sense of being cheated, just that you need to practice more. The main game mode is Conquer the Mountain, where there are 3 huge peaks to conquer, all with a mixture of modes to play. There are races against up to 5 other riders, there are face offs against a single rival, there are the trick runs and there is the free mode where you can simply enjoy yourself on the slopes. Here you will find challenges to complete and cash icons to collect, which can be used to buy new equipment for your boarder. Once you have beaten each peak, you can do a whole peak race, which goes from the very top of the peak to the bottom. After beating Peak 3, you can race the entire mountain in a descent that takes a full 30 minutes to complete. This gives you an idea as to how big the mountain is and is a great experience. Alongside these main modes, you can also select to play just a single event against the AI riders or a multiplayer race against a friend. I have to say, though, that EA has chosen to stick with the vertically split screen which simply doesn’t work. It’s hard to see where the turns and jumps are and this makes this mode much less fun than it could have been.

A saving grace is the PS2 version’s ability to take the action online. This is much better and the online performance is just fine. Racing real people, on a full screen, is where the multiplayer should be played on SSX 3.

The tricks in SSX 3 are every bit as mad as before, and then some. There are now 3 levels of Uber tricks for you to build up to. You begin by performing normal Uber tricks, which will fill up your Uber meter. Once full, the tricks become more complex, and these fill up your Super Uber meter. Once this is full, you can unleash mind-blowing tricks that have to be seen to be believed. The beauty is that the tricks are actually very easy to pull off, simply by pressing a shoulder button and a face button. The pay back in seeing the trick performed is amazing in comparison to the work involved in actually performing it.

Sound

I am a big fan of the sound in this game. The celebrity voice-overs of SSX Tricky have gone, but this is no bad thing. The new voice actors tend to be much better anyway. The soundtrack is excellent and it is all linked together by a great DJ on Radio BIG. The DJ will comment on the music but will also comment on your accomplishments in the game, or give you tips on where to go for your next challenge. The sound is linked to the gameplay, too. If you get particularly massive air, the sound will fade out and then gradually come back as you approach the ground. A nice touch.

Lifespan

There is plenty to do and see in SSX 3, and I am confident this is a game you will be playing for moths to come. The single player side of the game takes some completing if you are a perfectionist who wants to get 100%. Combine this with the online racing and there can be no complaints when spending £40 on this title.

Overall

EA Sports Big have managed to come up with a sequel that betters SSX Tricky in every way. There is lots in the way of content here, but it’s the almost perfect gameplay that makes this such a must have title.

Graphics 8.5
Gameplay 9.6
Sound 8.9
Lifespan 8.9
Overall 9.2

So we see that EA have a strong contender, but that’s not the last of the bunch. Microsoft have also offered us Amped 2, the sequel to one of the Xbox launch titles. Any good? Let’s have a look.


Amped 2

Amped was a well-received launch title on Microsoft’s big black box, but you had the feeling that there was more to come from the system and the game itself. Amped 2 is Microsoft’s attempt to let the franchise reach maximum potential. The question is: have they succeeded?

Graphics

Amped 2 takes a different approach than that of its main contenders. This is a snowboarder firmly rooted in reality and, as such, there are no avalanches to flee and no uber tricks to perform. This doesn’t stop Amped 2 looking great, with finely detailed character models and impressively daunting mountains. The animations could be said to be the most realistic, as the riders are attempting tricks that you would actually see true life boarders attempt. The environments look good, too, and again these have been designed to mirror real snowboarding events.

Gameplay

As stated above, this is the snowboarder’s snowboarder. Everything you see here could be attempted in reality and as such, the game could be seen to be a little duller than it’s rivals. In actual fact, this is only half the story. Amped 2 is the least instantly accessible game we have here, but that can also be its true appeal. Practice makes perfect here, and the sense of satisfaction when you finally nail that trick or get the hang of that grind is unparalleled. The control system is similar in that it has quite a steep learning curve to it, but with enough practice, it becomes amazingly intuitive. This truly is a game that rewards your time invested in it. The meat and drink here is the career mode, which is based solely around tricks (no racing in this game, much like the real sport). You must achieve high scores and impress the watching media if you wish to progress. Impress enough and you’ll gain sponsors.

This game is also excellent in multiplayer. Most importantly, it is fully supported by Microsoft’s Xbox Live service as one of their new XSN Sports games. Playing online has generally flawless performance, but be warned. Online, the players are good, so you’d better spend time practicing in career mode to build up your boarder’s stats and your own skills. Online game modes are imaginative enough, with Trick Race being my favourite. This is one of the few occasions when being first to the finish actually matters. The catch is that, on the way down, you must trick certain objects and achieve a certain score on these, or your rider will freeze for a limited time.

Sound

The music in Amped 2 is a bit of a mixed bag, but is of a generally high standard. The game includes over 300 new songs from some lesser-known Indie bands, so you may discover some new music likings while playing the game. You can also use your own custom soundtracks should there be nothing to please you in this massive selection. Sound effects are good and while there is nothing to amaze, there is nothing to really disappoint either.

Lifespan

The Career Mode in Amped 2 is big and will take you quite some time to master. This is partly because the game is more difficult to get the hang of, but a game that is a challenge is a good thing in my book. The online modes are where you will be playing in a few months though, as these work so well once you are proficient at the game. Again, no complaints for my £40 here.

Overall

Amped 2 takes everything that was good about Amped and improves on it. If you were a fan of Amped, this will be right up your street and will satisfy in every way. The primarily trick based gameplay may not be to everyone’s liking, but if you’re after a more realistic experience, this is where to aim your cash.

Graphics 8.3
Gameplay 8.0
Sound 7.8
Lifespan 8.5
Overall 8.2


Summary

So, there we have an individual look at the 3 main contenders. Let’s now draw some conclusions in this battle. Remember too, guys and gals, this is only my opinion after extended play of each and you may well disagree.

By far the best game out of these three is SSX 3 on the Playstation 2. It has very balanced gameplay with equal emphasis on racing and tricks, graphically it’s brilliant and the online play is the icing on the cake. It will take you a long time before you are bored of this game and you will feel like you have had very good value for your cash. It is a multiformat game, but before buying it on another platform, remember two key things: The PS2 controllers is what this game was designed around and this makes a huge difference. Also, the online play is only available on the PS2.

Next in line would be Amped 2. It will lose out in some people’s eyes due to it being almost completely trick based. However, it set out to be the realist’s choice and it has accomplished its goal very well. It’s a big game with a lot to do and the online play works flawlessly. If you don’t have a PS2, this may be the one to go for due to this internet functionality. It looks great and the custom soundtrack feature is always a plus.

1080 Avalanche always had the hardest job, having such a grand heritage to live up to. It’s a good game, make no mistake, and if you only have a GameCube, its exclusivity may make it appealing. However, it’s almost all racing based with little emphasis on tricks, and these races are very short. It’s main mode pales in comparison to the Conquer the Mountain of SSX 3 and the Career Mode of Amped 2, and I can see some feeling Nintendo should have given them more for their £40. To me, then, this is my last choice, as it disappointed me in so many ways. The avalanches are amazing, but worth £40? I think not.