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Shaun White Skateboarding
Graphics: 6.4
Gameplay: 5.8
Sound: 6.6
Control: 5.7
Replay Value: 6
Rating: 6.1

Shaun White is an X Games and Olympic celebrity who has his own mountain. That should’ve been enough but now, he apparently wishes to conquer the world of skateboarding, too, and hence, we get the surprisingly ambitious Shaun White Skateboarding. It’s a game that offers fans a neat single-player twist, a few interesting gameplay mechanics, and a world that is just begging for your boardin’ flair. Now, before you put too much stock in the above score, bear in mind that this review features more subjectivity than other pieces of analysis; I just found too much of the game to be intensely boring, despite its good ideas. Other critics have said the same thing. But the point is, I’m sure skate fanatics might feel very different and after all, the technicals, control, and overall foundation isn’t bad. I guess you either get into it, or you don’t. For me, it was the latter.

The character modeling and a few of the backdrops and effects aren’t anything special, and even when you start bringing your environment to life, things still don’t leap off the screen with clarity and vibrancy. Even so, it’s a fairly consistent, even pleasing presentation that really comes together in certain areas. There also aren’t many technical drawbacks and flaws, which leaves us with a relatively clean palette. It’s just one of those games that isn’t exactly memorable and sort of falters while attempting to reach a loftier level of visual achievement. Much like a lot of the story and some of the campaign objectives, the backgrounds can be too bland and uninspired and pretty soon, we just sort of lose interest. Who wants to bring sheen and luster back to an environment that doesn’t even dazzle us when we’ve completed our goal…? Even so, it should be commended for succeeding in several important areas.

The sound is even more subjective, as the voice acting is passable and the effects are solid, but if you don’t enjoy the soundtrack, you’re already primed for disappointment. On the other hand, if you really drink in your surroundings and find that certain rock tracks complement your skating, you’ll be good to go. There’s a small balance issue involving music, effects and voices but it’s not always noticeable and because we’re almost always focused on the gameplay, it’s not a huge problem. I also liked a few of the ambient effects that helped to spice up a landscape that desperately needed some spicing up. But as I said in the intro, both the graphics and sound are fine (if a little disappointing in a few spots) and it’s very possible that one person could enjoy it all, while another person will be annoyed from the get-go. I was sort of indifferent and disinterested.

Okay, so here’s the deal- a controlling, oppressive organization called The Ministry has somehow managed to remove all color and spirit from the city. The citizens are just sort of wandering about in a daze. The legend Shaun White could help to restore hues, tone and soul but The Ministry has already thought of that, and they’ve imprisoned him in quite the intricate fortress. Your goal? Get him out and in so doing, return life to your lifeless surroundings by skating like a madman and performing all sorts of stunts and tricks. By successfully completing tricks, you earn what the game calls “Flow.” Get enough Flow piled up and pretty soon, your perfect landings will allow waves of color to spread across the ground beneath your feet. The world will retrieve its lost color and citizens will snap out of their zombified state, and some will even join you on skateboards of their own.

It’s not a bad concept at all – even if it’s a little nutty – but as I talked about above with the graphics, even the restoration of color isn’t quite as satisfying as it should be. It’s almost like you’re only restoring a bit more depth and richness, as even the fresh landscape seems lacking. It’s kind of like going from drab and ashen to “eh…well, that’s better, I guess.” It’s great to have new structures pop up because you can expand upon your trick repertoire, and the more you unlock via restoration, the higher you can fly. In this respect, the gameplay can become more entertaining as time goes on. And it could’ve reached a high fun factor if it weren’t for some of the plot-driven objectives, which are either silly or mind-numbingly boring. But for now, let’s talk a bit about one of the game’s cooler aspects: “shaping.” This is my favorite feature, even if I’m not the biggest fan of shaping control shifting to the left analog…the thing I usually utilize for direction.

After I got past that mental hurdle, though, I had fun with shaping. You can extend and bend rails, which might allow you to reach previously inaccessible parts of the map, and you can transform transparent vert ramps into real ramps. At some point, you’ll be able to raise platforms and create rails out of nothing; this shaping process works as a nice addition to the standard skating maneuvers. It also makes you feel as if you’re doing something a little different and takes the focus off an often lackluster environment. As for the trick-oriented gameplay, it’s not as realistic as Skate but it still strikes a good balance between demanding and lenient, and most fans of the sport will be able to rip off some big tricks. I still don’t like using the analog sticks for some of the more complicated tricks but still, vert skating is something I could do for a long time without getting bored.

And in all honesty, I would’ve rather done that than tackle some of the objectives. Good God. For some bizarre reason, the game decides it wants to branch off in a new, ill-advised direction about halfway through the story and suddenly, the sense of freedom and laid-back style disappears. In its place there’s this irritating platformer that has you tasked with completing various “missions” of a sort. This can include destroying cameras or even clearing away pigeons and worst of all, the controls and gameplay mechanics take a big hit. Instead of just free-wheeling about, you have to get to a certain point in a certain amount of time, so you spend the vast majority of your time thinking, “hm…how do I get over there?” Then, when you start, the game pulls you in preset directions on rails, which can get ridiculously annoying, although not as annoying as failing multiple times just because you felt the game cheated you.

Lastly, the less said of that stupid hacking mini-game, the better. I have no idea who came up with the idea but it should’ve been nixed immediately. If the developers had stuck with the initial vision and expanded upon the open-world skating a bit, and given the world more of a lively exterior, it would’ve been fine. It probably would’ve been worthy of a pretty decent score. But this switchover to a different style of gameplay just doesn’t work in my eyes, and I have a hard time believing that even hardcore skating fans will enjoy it. This is because the mechanics aren’t as reliable and the objectives just don’t ever seem interesting. Playing online is also boring, as it’s difficult to find anyone else playing, although I will say I didn’t notice much in the way of lag. At the start, I was encouraged but after my fifth attempt of an objective that I couldn’t care less about, I had to stop.

Shaun White Skateboarding takes a decent idea and tries to make it work, which is admirable. It really is somewhat ambitious, and I liked the Flow and shaping and accessible, reliable controls. But the platformer/puzzle aspect flops and the overall feel of the game drops a few notches on the overall appeal meter.

The Good: Decent controls (until one gets to the platforming stuff). Good, unique concept. Stable technical presentation, albeit a tad under-spirited. The shaping is usually pretty fun.

The Bad: Not enough effort put into the “coming to life” aspect. Platforming/puzzle idea falls well short and compromises control. Not enough people interested in online. Objectives can seem pointless and boring. Much of the world can also seem boring.

The Ugly: Frustration can reach supreme levels when platforming/shaping with a skateboard.

11/1/2010   Ben Dutka