|It's been a dire season on the slopes of
the NorthWest. Sure, there are still good days, even great days if you ask people like my
friend Tim, but overall we've just been waiting for the dump. Fortunately the video game
market isn't as susceptible to climactic conditions, and manufacturers have figured out
that there's gold in them thar hills.
Snowboarding has blasted onto the video gaming scene. Just last year about this time I was lamenting the delay of 1080 on the N64, and up to my neck in Coolboarders 2. CB2 was one of the biggest-selling games of the 1998 Christmas season, but the CB series is no longer the only game in town. 1080 has been out for some time now, CB3 came out last fall, Snowboard Kids exploits the superdeformed aspect of the sport, and planned for future release are at least two new PC snowboarding games, Snowboard Kids 2 and Capcom's Freestyle Boarding 99. But the big talk right now is Electronic Arts' X Games Pro Boarder, and in the immortal words of Chuck D (of course with some creative editing), "Believe the hype"
Usually I start my reviews by listing the positive aspects of the game. This time I'll begin with the worst thing about X Games Pro Boarder: What's up with that name? It's too complicated. I keep saying "Pro X Boarder" or "X Boarder Pro" or something to that effect. For ease of reading it's going to be XGPB, which may not be as catchy as MXPX, but you know what I mean.
XGPB is the first game to feature real snowboarders, and I think that's a feature not to be underplayed. Both 1080 and CB3 allow you to choose from authentic boards, but XGPB lets you choose from a wide variety of boards and the riders who would actually use them. You can play Terje Haakonsen, Tina Basich, Daniel Franck, Morgan Lafonte, Shannon Dunn, Jamie Lynn, Peter Line, or Todd Richards, and you can ride boards from Ride, Burton, Lib Tech, Morrow, Sims and Forum.
The control is very similar to CB2, so those of you who whined about CB3 can jump ship and feel settled right in. As with CB2, you use the X button to cock (or charge) your jumps. XGPB puts a little cross in the lower right of the screen to let you know you are preparing for a jump, and as you press one of the eight directions it shows the power you have accumulated for your spin and/or flip. Unlike CB2, you can't cock these tricks infinitely there is a realistic maximum. The other respect in which XGPB differs from CB2 in control is the method of grabbing.
There are two different modes of control in XGPB. The Amateur mode allows you to do tricks with the press of one button. The spin and duration of the grab are automatic. This allows novice players to get a feel for the game before dealing with any complicated trick procedures, but after playing the CB series, I felt it was just a hindrance. In the Pro mode you prepare your jump and spin/flip, release X at the lip of the kicker, then press a direction to indicate where you would like to grab the board, and finally press either the Square or Triangle (left or right hand) and hold onto the grab. At the end of your airtime you press the X button again to land. Although a little tricky at first, especially coming off of CB3, the tricks are fairly easy to get down.
There are only nine courses to play in XGPB, which is far fewer than the 30+ in CB3. The Midnight Express (alpine race), Halfpipe, Stadium (quarter pipe), Mt. Baker Gap and Slopestyle are all initially available for one or two-player play. After attaining gold in all of these events the circuit mode becomes available, which utilizes all of these courses. After getting gold in the circuit mode, four more individual courses are opened: Superpipe (a much larger halfpipe with a spine halfway down it), I-70 (another huge gap), Boarder-X, and Freeride. Once gold has been achieved on all of these courses, the super circuit is opened, which leaves the way clear to get the extra character, Ollie.
Each of the individual courses can be played head to head. Although there were only nine courses, the fact that each can be played against a human opponent helps make the lack of variety tolerable. The only thing I found myself missing from games such as CB3 was the variety of races. In XGPB racing is completely secondary to mastering tricks, combos and rough terrain.
The other truly remarkable aspect of XGPB is the music. The soundtrack features the Foo Fighters, Lunatic Calm, Content X and PFK-50, all of whom are fairly mediocre, but it also features NOFX, Pennywise, Rancid, The Bouncing Souls, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Millencolin and Chixdiggit, and that makes for a game you can listen to as well as play. In fact, the XGPB disk is playable as an audio CD, so you can listen to it on your way to the hill.
Overall, I highly recommend XGPB. The realism and quality are unmatched in snowboarding games thusfar. While the variety of play could be better, it will easily keep you busy enough to avoid your homework for the rest of the semester.