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ESPN Winter X-Games
Snowboarding 2002


Developer
Konami

Publisher
Konami

Genre
Sports

Players
1 - 2

ESRB
T

Take to the slopes just like the pros and rise in the ranks to best them as well in Konami's snowboard offering.

Snowboarding games have increased in popularity over the last few years. What formerly was a niche game is now seen as a major commodity in a publisher's lineup. A good snowboarding game can sell enough units to propel an ailing company into the financial "black" while one that sucks will taint a company for the rest of it's existence.

The rise in popularity of Snowboarding games also comes with increased popularity of the sport. Over the last few years, several superstars of the sort have emerged. While the profile of snowboarding has increased, it hasn't quite hit the mainstream just yet. There are few competitions of national importance to get all of the great snowboarders together. One of the few such competitions is ESPN X-Games.

The Winter X-Games is an annual event where shredders from all over the world compete in various events, such as the Superpipe and Snowboarder X. The event is open to both skiers and snowboarders, but Konami didn't release a game that encompasses the two flat sticks on your feet. No, Konami released ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002, a game that actually attempts to recreate not only the event for snowboarders, but the road to get there.

The first thing that should be mentioned is the stars within the game. There is a wealth of greatness represented in the game for you to choose from. There are a few notable exceptions however, mostly due to licensing and "contractual obligations." This is due to the fact that there isn't a player's association or union representing snowboarders. With such sports as Football or Baseball, where such an organization exists, publishers deal with the union and get to utilize the entire body of athletes. In sports such as Snowboarding or Tennis, where an organization does not exist, publishers have to negotiate with the individual athletes to make an appearance in the game.

The athletes that do show up in the game are a great representation of the sport. What is especially nice is that there is a wonderful selection of female boarders included. This is something that shouldn't be overlooked or marginalized. Having a large female boarder selection not only increases the appeal to women gamers, it truly shows how equal the two sexes are in the sport. This is a direction that I would like to see other publishers move into.

The 4 events selected to be in ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 are a nice representation of the event, Big Air, Superpipe, Snowboarder X, and Slopestyle. From the start menu, you can jump into the X-Games mode, pick your athlete, and start shredding. Big Air is fairly simple - get some big air and pull off those mad tricks. Nail your landing, get points, and take home the gold. Plant your face, and take the kiddie bus home. Superpipe is a rather long halfpipe (made out of snow of course) where you basically trick your way from one end to the other. Grabbing some big air here doesn't hurt, although you will need to pay particular attention to which direction you are headed when you land, since points are taken away for going in the wrong direction. Snowboarder X (or Boardercross) is racing though gates. Go fast, stay on course, and try not to show off too much. Slopestyle is the Freestyle event. Get from the top of the course to the bottom racking up as many mad points as you can.

There is a Tutorial Mode included in the game, and veterans of snowboarding games may want to skip it. Newcomers to the digital downhill experience will want to take advantage of this. It covers the basics quite nicely.

Dual Mode allows two players to take to the slopes. This should be enhanced for Xbox's 4 controller ports. You can take to any of the various slopes that have been opened up in Snowboarder Mode (see below) and school various friends on which pro boarder has the true mad skills.

Where the game really shines is in Snowboarder Mode. Here, players create a boarder, and take on the rest of the world, starting at the very bottom. Starting in the players "Hometown" your digital alter ego will get some practice time on the local slopes before moving on.

Starting off locally, players have a small amount of cash to blow. It's best to hold onto it at the start, and use it later. In every town there is a snowboarding shop, which has all the info on competitions in the area (as well as all the stuff to buy). It is here that you can sign up for local competitions and earn money and increase your standings. Occasionally, there will be a special event that allows you to progress onto the next city. Win the event, and the next city in the snowboarding circuit opens up and becomes available to you.

Each town has a few different courses. Traveling around from place to place will allow you to beef up your stats all around. One town may have a superpipe to practice, while the next may have a course with a lot of rails. You can't get proficient at any of the skills unless you practice, so heading to the various towns is a must. Each town also has a gym, where you can spend money to beef up various attributes. Each gym focuses on a different aspect (one will allow you to beef up your speed, another your rate of spin, etc.) so you'll want to it the gym in each town.

The Snowboarder Mode almost plays out like an RPG. The stats of your boarder increase slightly with each day you practice on the slopes, according to your activity. One of the more interesting attributes is Charisma, and if you get enough of it, you'll be getting offers to get filmed and endorsement deals, etc. Instead of monsters to battle, you battle the slopes (and pipes, and rails) along with other boarders when racing. Side quests are like the daily activities, with the X-Games being the overall quest (although there are no dungeons, thankfully, in a snowboarding game).

The create-a-boarder is not too deep, but works really well. I was actually able to create a boarder using my own age and weight. Unfortunately, the weight wasn't as evenly distributed on my virtual boarder as it is on me, so I lost a few pounds for the Xbox. Other than that, the creation of a snowboarder is a truly pleasant experience in the game, as a large number of attributes can be manipulated.

The graphics of ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 don't quite live up to Xbox potential. Draw-in is not much of a problem, and clipping is limited, but the character models seemů blocky. The game was obviously ported from the PS2. The Xbox is capable of much better graphics, and I really wish Konami had taken advantage of this. Snow effects are good, but not great. Konami isn't alone in this though, as no snowboarding game has yet to capture the true nuances of snow physics.

Audio is also another shortcoming, but it definitely doesn't hinder the experience. The announcers have a limited (though at times very colorful) palate to draw from. Music in the game is used effectively, but I got rather tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, particularly in the Snowboarder shop in each town. Jet Set Radio Future played songs constantly, even when going from stage to stage. It would have been nice if this game did the same thing instead of starting a new song constantly. Having a custom soundtrack would have been great, and at this point, it's a feature that should be pretty much standard in Xbox games.

The controls in the game can be a little rough to get used to. The response isn't as quick as in some other games. At times it can be downright sluggish. After building up your boarder's stats, responsiveness improves, but if you're going to be a snowboarder, you would be expected to have some pretty good reflexes in the first place. Many people may not even notice the control "issue" while for those that have been playing snowbarding games for a while could see some slowdown, particularly in steering.

ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 is one of the most complete snowboarding sims out there. The depth of the Snowboarder Mode alone makes the game a must have for fans of the genre. While there are some shortcomings in the technical areas, the game more than makes up for them in other areas, such as gameplay.

Daniel "monk" Pelfrey
Spent far too much time playing the game before writing the review.




ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002: The Scores

Graphics

Sound

Gameplay

Depth

Presentation

Overall

7.5

7

9

10

8.5

8.9


The Final Word:  This game isn't instant fun. Sure, it has some "pick up and play" built in, but the real heart of the game is the extensive Snowboarder Mode. This is where the game was meant to be played. The game is highly engrossing and playable, and more than makes up for the technical shortcomings.


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