The snowboarding genre is
a venerable old one. In many ways, it was snowboarding that really started the extreme
sports movements. Games like Coolboarders and 1080 got the ball rolling, and that ball
eventually rolled into the likes of Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra. While all the other extreme
sports got fairly realistic coverage on the console, snowboarding games took a different
route. The genre has been dominated by the fantasy strain of snowboarding, and that aspect
of the genre pretty much belongs to SSX Tricky (although Dark Summit is not bad at all).
there has always been a niche for the more realistic snowboarding game. X Games Pro
Boarder on the PS1 was a great attempt, and its successor for the PS2 was also really
pretty. But these two games, as the titles imply, kept snowboarding isolated to
competition. However, competition is only one aspect of the sport. Trickin
Snowboarder by Capcom tried to bring more reality and shed the constraints of the
competition by framing the game as a story in which you were trying to become a
professional snowboarder by impressing sponsors and photographers. But the game was
ultimately pretty silly and fairly small.
And now, just as SSX fanaticism has many gamers expecting insane air, nutty
tricks, and all-out wacky characters in their snowboarding game, we get Amped: Freestyle
Snowboarding. I for one am excited. Its not a question of whats wrong with SSX
nothing, really. But SSX doesnt give me the rush of "really"
snowboarding. Amped is, by far, the best version of the sport weve seen on a console
system if, and thats a big if, you are a certain kind of snowboarding enthusiast.
Amped is all about recreating a snowboarding lifestyle. Amped is a whole season
of free lift tickets and jet setting to all the best mountains in the world. Mountains and
runs are modelled on real resorts. The clothing comes from real companies. Likewise, the
boards, boots, bindings, and everything else in the game is true to its real-life
counterpart. Sponsorships include the predictable, like Burton, Ride, and K2, to lesser
known snowboarding companies, like One Ball Jay and Lib Tech. These guys have done their
homework. The soundtrack is composed of some 150 tracks from indy punk, ska, reggae, surf,
emo, hip-hop and techno bands. The game just oozes street cred.
The gameplay is structured in a completely logical, although fairly innovative,
way. You choose your character and equipment, then load a mountain. There are three real
mountains offered: Snow Summit, California; Brighton, Utah; Stratton, Vermont. These hills
are rendered with great attention to detail and done very well. You can also choose from
some fantasy locations, such as Swiss Alps-like Altibahn and the dream terrain park of the
Gunnys Gulch. The company line is that there are 120 different runs to explore,
which is true, but some of the runs overlap others. This just adds to the realism of the
game you can go anywhere on the mountain, so you eventually get to know the runs on
each hill and can choose a path accordingly. Maybe you want to catch the cornice and then
cut across to the half pipe? Maybe a quick jaunt through the trees and then over to
The freedom of movement is largely why Amped is so successful at recreating the
snowboarding experience. Once you load a mountain you can choose from the available runs,
which can be as many as six or so. There is a significant, though by no means annoying,
load time as the mountain loads, but starting and restarting runs, even if you switch to
different runs on the same mountain, is really quick and painless. When you start each
mountain there are only a couple of runs available. The goal is to earn freestyle and
media points. You earn freestyle points by doing tricks off any jump or obstacle. You earn
media points by doing a trick in front of one of the many photographers positioned at
strategic locations on the mountain. As you complete these goals you get valuable skill
points (which you can assign to stats like balance, jump, switch, etc.) or open up new
equipment, new media moments for your scrapbook, and new runs or levels.
Lest you get bored with impressing photographers, Amped includes explore,
sponsor and pro challenges. If you explore the mountain youll find snowmen to knock
over. Get enough of them and you gain a ranking. Sponsor challenges ask you to impress a
particular company rep. Each rep likes different kinds of tricks, so you must tailor your
run to his or her liking. Pro challenges require you to follow the local pro down a run,
completing tricks of equal or greater value, hitting the same jumps and obstacles as him.
The variety is completely adequate, especially since simply riding around is a good amount
The graphics on Amped are beautiful. Never before has snow looked so snow-like.
The views from the tops of the mountains are breathtaking, and lighting effects are
amazing. The character rendering leaves something to be desired (when are we ever going to
see wind effects on clothing?), but is perfectly adequate for the game. The mountains
truly feel big. The big gulley on Altibahn feels perfect, and there are several very
impressive bits of terrain throughout the game. On the first run through, and occasionally
afterward, youll find yourself impressed with the quality of the environmental
graphics. Tricks and rider movement is excellent, and it is easy to distinguish between
Controls are pretty straightforward, although Amped opts out of adopting a THPS
style of control. You perform tricks by pressing the A, B, X, and Y buttons, and the right
and left triggers control your lean and tweak. The A button controls your jump, and like
many other snowboarding games you jump upon release of the button. The controls are the
first of Ampeds shortcomings. Its not that the control scheme itself is flawed
having the triggers adjust balance and orientation during jumps is a great idea
but the sensitivity of the controls is unforgiving. You must time jumps and spins
just right in order to pull them off, and there is very little room for error.
Having a deep and complex control scheme is one thing, and I dont mind
games requiring work from gamers to master them, but Amped is a bit extreme with it. What
makes it more frustrating is that the game is so deep. It will take many, many hours to
"beat". Although the premise and gameplay are pretty straightforward, the
distribution of skills, the fact that equipment affects skill ratings, and the desire to
become the top ranked snowboarder in the nation will keep you coming back. And as you come
back, youll be continually frustrated that the game is so dang unforgiving. You can
get to where you are good at it most of the time, but perfecting a technique is difficult.
Also frustrating are the few odd physics errors in the game. Overall, Amped
tries very hard to achieve realism. It seems as though the developers, in order to give
you complete freedom of trick-performing, made it so the bottom of your board will latch
onto rails. So sometimes if you fall into a rail, your board will become stuck to it as if
held by a magnet and you will spin around it a couple of times. Sometimes these accidents
are really funny, but as they happen fairly regularly, the humor wears off.
The only major oversight in Amped is the lack of a real multiplayer mode.
Although there is a multiplayer mode, it is not a splitscreen game. You take turns making
runs down the mountain and you can select a variety of game types and mods. These games
are fun, but without the splitscreen it just doesnt feel the same.
Neither of these problems make Amped unplayable far from it. But they do
impinge on an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience, and they work to narrow
the appeal of an already niche title. In large part, it is the incredible control of THPS
that gives that franchise its mass appeal. Without that same quality of control, Amped
cannot hope to break out of its niche as a realistic freestyle snowboarding game.
But for those of us patient to deal with it, Amped offers a great game. One
thing that has been neglected in praise of the game is the convenience of playing it. The
menus are easy to navigate and load times are strategically placed and minimized. The
soundtrack screen is a work of art. Songs on the unweildly soundtrack are separated
according to genres, and you can turn on or off each genre as you desire. You can have the
soundtrack play straight through or randomly. You can also add your own playlists to the
soundtrack, offering an infinite number of audio possibilities. Load up your huge playlist
and you can leave Amped on all day, listening to it when youre not playing it. The
songs play all the way through, even when starting, ending, or switching runs, and you can
skip to the next song using the white button. These sound options are genius, although it
should be said that finding a list of the dozens of bands on the soundtrack is nearly
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding is a must for any fan of realistic snowboarding.
It packs weeks of entertainment onto a little disc, and offers a whole lot of good fun.
The great graphics and excellent mountain designs make Amped a beautiful game, and the
soundtrack options make it sound good, too. While it has its foibles and flaws, Amped is a
hell of a lot of fun.