Shaun White Snowboarding Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PS2 | DS
Shaun White Snowboarding box art
System: X360, PS3, PC, Wii, PS2, DS Review Rating Legend
Dev: Ubisoft 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Ubisoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 16, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 (16 Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Slick on Presentation, Near-Empty on Substance
by Jason Lauritzen

Ubisoft wants to appeal to the Mountain Dew-infused part of your brain – should it actually exist. That one part of your head that still retains '90s-themed, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sayings like “cowabunga” and classifies events in two distinct, woefully under-articulate categories: extreme and non-extreme. Image personification – centering on coolness – is activity number one, and life maxims don't get much deeper than “grip it and rip it, dude.”

Shaun White Snowboarding screenshot

Shaun White Snowboarding – built around the medal-winning persona named in the title – is Ubisoft's attempt at capturing the snowboarding crown from well-known series like SSX and Amped. Starting a new series is always a potential risk, but sometimes when you take a great chance you reap the best rewards. Unfortunately, with Shaun White this is not the case. Ubisoft has gone so far in the direction of slick presentation and personality inflation that the actual point of the game – fun snowboarding – gets lost in the over-hyped mix.

After building your initial character, complete with customized board and other accessories, you soon find yourself listening to an exchange between Shaun White and a stereotypical sports announcer. White proceeds to elaborate (no joke here) on his “sexiness” and explain why snowboarding is the best activity on Earth. At the tail end of this unnecessary introduction, you're already barreling down the mountain. There's no virtual instruction deity in the sky divvying out tutorial advice – it's just you and the slopes that make up Park City, Utah. Occasionally a text box pops up on-screen telling you that you can hold a particular analog stick to perform a grind and to experiment with holding some buttons to do an awesome trick.

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Normally, tutorials are bemoaned by critics, but when you've got something like snowboarding – which in its typical gaming form requires careful button presses paired with proper controller memorization – it's a necessary design ill. The fact that Shaun White almost completely ignores tutorials (the occasional text box or quick chat with Shaun is all you get) is not only surprising, but feels negligent – without a proper period of chaperon-led instruction, you're left to twist in the virtual cold, experimenting until you get a general idea of how the game functions.

Shaun White Snowboarding screenshot

Shaun White derives much of its control philosophy from EA's Skate. Similar to that title, the dual analog sticks are the most important part of the controller equation. You use the left stick to perform spins and grinds and the right stick is reserved for various board grabs. The two can be paired, allowing you to pull off slightly more complicated moves. For example, you can twirl the left stick to spin through the air while pushing the right stick to the left, allowing you to grab the board at the same time. This system – while seemingly simple – doesn't offer as much depth as one would assume; you'll more than likely find yourself doing repeats because you don't seem to have many other options at your disposal.

A few minutes into your initial ride through Park City, you’ll run into Shaun White and the rest of his snowboarding buddies. Shaun explains that Park City and the games three other mountains – Europe, Alaska, and Japan – are all open world. You can board from top to bottom, while utilizing ski lifts and chopper rides should you need to move around quicker. Along the way, you can compete in a variety of events, but the main goal is his quest, which revolves around collecting tokens.

Shaun White Snowboarding screenshot

Yes, this is a boarding game that is more about a N64-esque gaming convention than actual competition. Each mountain has 12 tokens in total that you search for. Upon collecting enough tokens from each mountain, Shaun rewards you with new focus powers, letting you do things like smash through barriers and get more air. The central problem with this token collecting concept is that it feels like a throwback to Banjo-Kazooie, but instead of Jiggies, you're collecting currency-themed objects (such as Euros and Yens). You're not rewarded with more real content – all this does is unlock abilities that you should have had in the first place. Making you search around virtual slopes for hours to reward you with the ability to smash through a barrier that then contains another token turns the process into one of tedium.

“Search” is the right word for this token collect-a-thon. Shaun White utilizes an onscreen radar that lays out where tokens are (as well as events), but it's never exact, instead functioning as more of an approximation. Due to the vague nature of your radar, you'll constantly fly past tokens, forcing you to take off your board and trek back up a section of the mountain. The more detailed map screen can help you find events on a particular mountain, but highlighting an event and pressing a button does nothing – you're forced to board to every event. To cut down on travel time, you can look for the nearest ski lift or helicopter drop off, but this monotonous bit of back-and-forth could have been eliminated with a simple fast travel option.

Screenshots / Images
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