|What can we say? Us snowboarders are not content to simply
conquer the mountains. We want to conquer television, commercials, fashion, the Olympics,
and, of course, video games. Snowboarding has long been popular on different console
systems, with the last year seeing about a dozen titles in the genre. The fact that all of
the snowboarding games so far have come to either the PSX, N64, DC, or Game Boy is
indicative of the snowboarding demographic, at least as the advertisers and suits see it:
snowboaders are teenage boys with too much allowance. Fortunately, that image, which holds
true for the popular conception of skateboarders also, is beginning to change.
Snowboarding has been around long enough now that there are plenty of riders out there who
have "real" jobs, make "real" money, and play their games on
"real" machines. So, to do their part to help the reconception of snowboarders
everywhere, Infogrames has published Boarder Zone, the first PC snowboarding title.
While snowboarding games are a dime a dozen, the PC market has suffered (or, some would say, been blessed with) a drought in the genre. Boarder Zone is the only relief so far, and, well, it's mostly a good thing. If you are a huge fan of snowboarding and have never played a console title before, Boarder Zone will probably make you all weak in the knees. It certainly looks amazing, taking advantage of the graphics power that only exists, at least right now, in the PC world. And it incorporates the de rigeur online multiplayer mode, now old hat on PCs, but heretofore unseen in a snowboarding title. So by virtue of what the PC allows the game to do, Boarder Zone manages to make some real headway. Unfortunately, Boarder Zone is really a limited example of what can be done with the game.
I think I said that Boarder Zone looks amazing. Let me correct myself: The graphics in Boarder Zone are the most incredible I've ever seen in a snowboarding title. The snow almost looks real. Riders are beautifully rendered and move well. The scenery stretches for miles into the distance, and the lighting effects oh, the lighting effects. Multiple light sources cast multiple shadows of your rider, and the shadows change angle realistically. The sunsets and weather effects are absolutely gorgeous. You can choose to ride in day, sunset, night or cloudy conditions. With all the options tweaked, it is one of the nicest looking games out there.
While the terrain looks incredible, there's not a whole lot of it. Nine tracks are available, three tracks in each of three different areas. The courses are well-designed, and include cool little shortcuts and bits of scenery such as railroad tunnels, rivers, caves and the like. Instead of using real mountains or geographic regions, the areas are called Alpine, Forest, and Village. As you'd expect, Alpine is steep, big mountain riding, Forest has you scooting through trees, and the Village is an extreme ski resort.
You can play Arcade mode, where you get to jump into the action real quickly and play a Race, Time Attack, Pipe, Big Air, or Top 5 Race. The modes are pretty much just like they sound, and Top 5 just lets you try to beat the top five times in the records. In Championship mode you create a rider and follow his career through competition. The goal is to become one of the top three riders in each of three clubs. There are also One Event Exhibition, Practice, and Multiplayer modes. You can play multiplayer over a network and race people all over the world. It may be that I'm too used to console versions of snowboarding games, but it just isn't as much fun to race someone online as it is to blow them up, and it is a lot more fun to talk smack to somebody sitting right there. Of course, I suppose the same criticism could be levelled at any game with only online multiplayer.
Controls on Boarder Zone are fairly typical, and in fact a lot simpler than most other snowboarding games. Although you wouldn't know it from the game or manual, it works fine with a game pad. You have the basic directions, then a sharp turn, jump, and trick button. Spins and flips are powered up by holding down the jump button and pushing a direction, a la the Coolboarders series, and tricks are done by D-pad and sharp turn / trick button combos. There are about twenty tricks you can perform, including variations, flips and spins, so the repetoire is fairly limited. So far I haven't had much luck combining grabs or pulling off tweaks, so I'm pretty sure they don't exist in this game. Overall, the control is really simple and easy to pick up.
You can choose from the stock snowboarding characters: the Japanese slacker; the Scandinavian slacker, the American slacker, the racer, the ex-surfer, and the gymnast. Well, that gymnast is kind of thrown in there, but if you look at the backgrounds of some professional snowboarders it kind of makes sense. At any rate, they're all decked out in fresh gear from Nidecker and Bonfire, and are pretty comparable to any other fictional snowboard characters in any other game. You can choose boards from Original Sin, Salomon, Rossignol, Nidecker, Asnowboard, and Arbor, which is cool if you're not into the most popular boards.
All in all, Boarder Zone is not a bad game. It has a couple of clipping issues that can come up in some of the more hectic spots, and there are some walls and obstacles that are a little "sticky" and will force you to wipe out, but beyond that it all works well. The graphics are amazing, and will delight the most discriminating eye. I wish there were a way to play multiplayer in "hotseat" fashion, but that can be overlooked. No, where Boarder Zone fails is where it fails to go further. There aren't enough tricks, not enough mountains, and no innovation at all. If you're looking for something that compares to CB4, Rippin' Riders, or even ESPN X Games Pro Boarder, you'll be sorely disappointed. Of course, all the aforementioned titles are PSX games, so if you're PlayStation-impaired, Boarder Zone is your only choice. Hopefully Boarder Zone 2 will make some more headway toward using the power of the PC to enhance the game, and maybe they'll get some cooler licensing, too.