Having lived at the base of a mountain range in Wyoming throughout junior high and high school, I have my fair share of experience on the slopes. While I was never a snowboarder, my brother indeed was, and we have a small history of Saturday downhill chase sessions. So when I say that Shaun White Snowboarding is an accurate and decently fun representation of those weekend trips up the mountain…please know that this is coming from someone who thinks that simply plowing down the slopes and taking in the view is good, clean fun.
Shaun White starts out by letting you customize your character from a limited selection of face templates, snowboards, and attire. Only the boards themselves have performance modifiers, and justifiably so. There are some interesting possibilities in the form of “buyable” clothing, but unfortunately most will never attain the full potential of these purely cosmetic perks; the game modes just aren’t fun enough to grind out the money needed.
Speaking of the view: the scenery in Shaun White is nearly unmatched. It’s amazing how much detail Ubisoft was able to inject into an otherwise boring setting. The trees are unique, the snow dips and mounds as snow does in real life, and the wind whips at your character’s clothes…the illusion was convincing enough that I turned on my fireplace while playing. Unfortunately, the “gorgeous detail” comes up short when your character is doing anything but staying still; most of the character animations are jerky, giving you the impression that the frame rate is less than stellar.
The controls are baffling at first, but you get used to them: the right trigger pops an ollie, while the right thumbstick pulls tricks. Even if the controls had been perfect, though, the tricks aren’t nearly as spectacular as SSX has set the standard for. The main reason for this is simply reality – which hails back to the first paragraph, in which I described the game as fun for someone who’s actually snowboarded before. Too bad reality has long since been abandoned by the last two generations of video games…
When you’re tired of boarding, you can unstrap and run around, which seems like a cool addition at first…until you realize that it’s only useful when you’re on level ground and don’t have enough momentum to get to the chair lift.
What excited me most about trying out Shaun White Snowboarding, though, was the promise of 16-player online co-op…naturally. To put it bluntly: this game had the potential to really shine, but it fell through. Riding the slopes with friends could have – should have – been really fun. Sadly, the freedom that the game gives you ends up being the bullet with which Ubisoft shot itself in the foot. You would think that the ability to ride and hike freely with fifteen other players in a beautiful, serene, and well-populated setting would be very appealing; it ends up being “an exercise in futility”, as they say, for despite the ease of joining an online match, there’s very little to do that will hold your interest for very long. Players can invite each other to races and challenges, at which point they will warp to the starting point of the challenge. You can take video clips of your friends, and you can have a snowball fight (which is cute the first time, and then really annoying after that). What ends up happening every time is that the players stop accepting challenge invites and go off on their own to ride that one section of mountainside they hadn’t before.
In the end, Shaun White Snowboarding is one of those games where you have very little motivation to actually pop the disk in, unless your friends are playing and you have nothing better to do. It’s not a terrible game, it just doesn’t accomplish anything.