|System: X360, PS3, Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 23, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
Many have tried to remove the Tony Hawk franchise from the top of the skateboarding heap, but none have succeeded. Unfortunately, Shaun White Skateboarding doesn't do the trick (get it?), either. While it's innovative in a number of ways and the basic mechanics work well, the campaign and multiplayer modes aren't fun enough to keep fans coming back for more.
In the single-player game, you live in a society that has banned skateboarding and imprisoned Shaun White. The government, known as the Ministry, has also removed all the color from the world, leaving only shades of gray. You have to show off your flashy moves, which both brings the color back and gets you closer to breaking Shaun out of confinement. Basically, it's like Footloose, except with Shaun White in Kevin Bacon's role, the Ministry in John Lithgow's, and skateboarding instead of dancing.
Anyway, to finish the game, you have to complete a variety of missions. The core mechanics are simple enough. Steering and tricks are accomplished with basic controller movements -- Wii-mote flicking on Nintendo's machine, and joysticks and the occasional button on the current-gen consoles. There's a "flow" meter that builds when you do tricks and slowly shrinks when you're not accomplishing anything. There's a new system called "shaping," through which you're able to create rails, ramps, and verts out of thin air to get to your destination. At first, these follow pre-set paths as you travel along them, but eventually you have to steer your skater through the air in the direction you'd like to go. If you go the wrong way, you hit a patch of air and fall to the ground.
Whenever you do a trick, the area around you changes from grayscale to full-color, which is an interesting and well-done visual effect. People, vehicles, and buildings in the affected area are "de-influenced," or freed from the shackles of the totalitarian government and regain the colors of freedom. (It turns out that most people would look exactly like skaters in a genuinely free society.) As you fill each flow meter, you're able to reach more people and do more things with your skating magic.
So far, so good. Die-hard skateboard fanatics might complain that the trick system is too lenient, and those who prefer realism might complain about the over-the-top story and shaping feature. Fans of Shaun White's previous games will hate the fact that you can't play as the shaggy-haired Olympic superstar for most of the game. Those are all legitimate gripes, especially the complaint about the trick controls; while you can perform any number of specific moves (ollies, transfers, pop shuvits), it often feels like you're just hitting the trick buttons at random, and you're rarely penalized for button mashing. But those who don't mind a game where it's easy to pull off impressive-looking stunts will be quite happy with what they find here.
The problem lies in the mission design. Most of your assignments are simple fetch quests or "do tricks until you reach level X" challenges. These become bland in a hurry (one of your early challenges is to wall-ride on twenty Ministry propaganda signs that are spread over a large area, many of which are difficult to access), and the skate parks you explore often seem like haphazardly thrown-together collections of rails and vert ramps. As you gain EXP, you can buy new tricks, but even that doesn't spice up the repetitive gameplay.
Also, the challenging elements are often simply frustrating. For example, when you die -- you never fall down, but rather simply explode, meaning you won't get any of the impressive "ouch" scenes that other skateboard games offer -- your flow level drops all the way to zero. This means a single mistake, if it happens at the right moment, can sap away quite a bit of work. In addition, many of the fetch quests require you to take multiple ramps in a row, so falling to the ground means you have to skate all the way back to the beginning. This is especially annoying in some of the shaping-heavy challenges. Every good game punishes players for messing up, but too often we felt we were being abused rather than instructed by the setbacks we incurred.