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
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
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
Daniel "monk" Pelfrey
Spent far too much time playing the game before writing the review.
X-Games Snowboarding 2002:
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