|Fall comes, the mountains start getting the dump, and I countdown to the
start of a new season as email snow reports filter in twice weekly. It's too crummy to go
outside, and about the only thing I can count on getting done over Thanksgiving break is a
whole lot of video game playing. That's why it's a perfect time to be seriously addicted
to Coolboarders 3.
This is the kind of game that you'll be really impressed with if you haven't played the first two, but odds are you'll get frustrated if you've played CB1 or 2 until your thumbs bled and are looking forward to kicking ass on new courses with new characters. The control has been completely revamped so that, if you have any real experience with the game's predecessors, you'll be razed to novice level once again. Because of the massive reconfiguration of the controls, CB3 has been panned by a lot of early reviews. Speaking as an avid fan of CB2, I think the lukewarm reaction to this game has less to do with quality and more to do with sour grapes.
The first thing I noticed about CB3 is the change in the overall design of the game. CB2 was designed in the "Skate or Die" sort of video-punk aesthetic: you know, lots of flourescent colors, garbage cans and witty one-liners. CB3 is much more in tune with modern snowboarding fashion: more sedate colors, racing stripes and virtually no commentary.
You can play in several different modes, depending on the number of boarders. "Single Event" allows you to play and replay just one course, and when you get the gold on that individual competition you earn new boards and riders. "Practice Mode" is virtually the same thing except you don't set any records. "Tournament" is the mode where you play all of the courses on an individual mountain, and if you place first in the tournament you open up new mountains which can then be played in either single or double player mode.
At the beginning of the game, the first three mountains are available to play on. There are six mountains in all: Powder Hill, Devil's Butt, Mt. Koji, The Alps, Everest and the US Open. Each mountain has several courses: Downhill, Boarder X, Slalom, Slopestyle, Halfpipe and Big Air. All of the courses are played in the tournament mode.
New to this version are the inclusion of all the courses in the tournaments and the Boarder X, Slalom and Slopestyle competitions. Boarder X is the new rage on ESPN2, and is great on CB3. Four riders race down a slalom-ish course, pulling big airs along the way and beating each other up. The Slopestyle competition replaces CB2's single boarder park, and is a blast. The new parks are truly insane, and it's much more gratifying to be scored rather than having the console reiterate to you how "cool" you are over and over again.
The aforementioned fighting is a new feature that I'm not sure I like in CB3. While I'm too young to feel video games stand any chance of ruining our youth, I'm old enough to be really tired of the image of snowboarders as knuckle-dragging snow monkeys looking for a fight on the slopes. But, it's just a game, and the real reason I have problems with it is that it's just too much to think about while I'm racing, so I usually ignore the option, and that makes it a wasted button.
And if there's one thing CB3 needs, it's as many buttons as it can get a hold of. The addition of the punch button seems to be at the root of the reconfiguration of the controls. What makes the Coolboarders series so cool is that they are race games that incorporate the same kind of special moves that make games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken so much fun. There are hundreds of trick and trick-combo possibilities in all of the Coolboarders games, and in CB2 the tricks were pulled off by using all four Right and Left buttons. In CB3 there is a jump/grab button (X) and the moves are pulled off by doing certain combos on the direction pad or joystick.
Spins and flips now have buttons, also, which is another major change from CB2. You no longer have to "charge" your spins, and you also don't have to "charge" your jumps because there is a new Power Meter that can only be filled up so far and then starts losing power. This means that jumps, spins and flips now have a more realistic limit put on them.
After one play I realized that I was not going to be able to just slide right into this game, so I surrendered myself to it and found it to be a rewarding experience. I cursed the controls up and down, but the improved array of courses, riders and boards kept me interested. CB3 is also good about rewarding repeated play. On each level you unlock at least a couple of boards and a new character.
There are over a dozen characters in this game, but I found it difficult to tell between them because there is no attribute readout as there was in CB2. In trying them all out, I could tell that there were differences, but didn't find one in particular I really liked best, and kept second guessing myself about who did better at what. One thing I liked a lot, however, was the sheer diversity of characters. There are a lot of women, several African-Americans, some Japanese riders, and each represented a different facet of snowboarding culture. The characters are costumed much better than any of the previous games and their skills seem to match their archetype.
There are also over 20 boards to choose from, and this time around they are all based on real models. There are a lot of Burtons and several Rides. There are even pro models like the Jennie Waara and the Jeff Brushie. It makes me wonder which Coolboarders will feature professional snowboarders instead of fictional characters. I'd much rather play Jim Rippey in the Slopestyle than Cowboy Bob.
The graphics are only marginally better. I don't have a big problem with this, because I think the graphics in CB2 were pretty good to begin with. The sound is drastically improved over the last version. 989 Studios chose to forego the cheesy announcer guy and develop a great stereo sound environment. Different snows have different noises, the ice sounds crunchy, and the only thing you hear in the air is the wind whistling through your ears.
Overall, I've thoroughly enjoyed CB3. It's given me the same play CB2 gave, in large part because I had to completely relearn the controls. If you loved CB2 you can love CB3, you just have to remind yourself that change is good as you're struggling through the Powder Hill tournament. If you've never played Coolboarders, now is a great time to start. I'm already looking forward to number four.-- Shawn Rider