|'Tis the season, and the inclined are sliding down the slopes in
yet another season of unpredictable conditions. In the Pacific Northwest we've had an
unseasonably warm fall, followed by several large dumps. Devotees of snowboarding know
that we're at the mercy of the mountain gods, and some weekends are just better spent
indoors. Which is why we need snowboarding video games. During all the unridable moments
of the year, dry Decembers, summers, and finals, we've got our games. And the genre has
exploded over the last year. Board sports are all the rage, and even MTV has gotten into
the ring with the tag-team title, MTV Sports: Snowboarding. Together with THQ and Radical
Entertainment, MTV has created a game that's a lot like the channel not bad, but
The basic play is similar to most other snowboarding games out there. You can pick from 6 racially and sexually diverse fictional characters, all of whom have a couple of signature moves and otherwise follow the same control pattern. Some are faster, others are bigger and tougher, but all of them are immensely playable, and there aren't any real throwaways in the bunch. You race on hills in the USA, New Zealand, Norway, and Japan to qualify for MTV Challenges. Qualifying is a task, and can take quite awhile. You must score 20,000 points on each hill to open up the challenges for that hill, and the AI is incredibly stingy with the points.
Control is nice on MTV Sports: Snowboarding, and the game is quite easy to pick up. Pulling large tricks is a different story, but riding along, doing a few grinds, and some simple grabs aren't tough at all. The real tricky part of this game is figuring out the hits. Some levels have hits marked, and those are easy enough to see, but on levels where you are riding virgin pow, it's sometimes tough to eyeball where the game wants you to take off. Likewise, it can be difficult to get up on a hand rail until you realize you must be a certain distance away from the rail, and then you will leap onto it like you're magnetized. These issues, which seem to be rooted in control and level design, are undoubtedly the most annoying bugs in the game.
Of course, what is supposed to be the most impressive thing about MTV Sports: Snowboarding is the Create-a-Course mode. You can arrange different jumps and obstacles around a run to make your own snowboard park. The controls and interface for creating the run are great, and it is very easy to put something together. Unfortunately, it just doesn't give you the kind of customization ability you're really looking for. You can pick different kinds of jumps to put in, but can't make obscenely huge kickers. You also can't change the shape of the run at all. You're stuck working with the dozen or so objects they give you, and that means that the creation option gets old quick. Once you've packed in as many jumps and rails as possible, there's nothing else to be done.
The graphics are quite good in the single player mode. The lighting effects are wonderful, and the characters seem to ride very smoothly. The level designs accentuate the graphics, and you ride in weather ranging from beautiful to blustery. Adding to the realism, characters make witty quips that are funny as all get-out the first two dozen times you hear them. Where the graphics falter is in the versus mode. When two players are on the screen, the viewing area becomes tiny, even smaller than normal split-screen play. The "HUD" is huge in the two-player mode, and there's really no excuse for it. Only the basics are needed to race down a slope, and most of the space is wasted on superfluous design elements. It really knocks down the playability of the versus mode, which is where the true heart of any snowboarding game lies. If you can't ride against your bros, what's the point?
Of course, what really saves MTV Sports: Snowboarding is the soundtrack. Featuring songs by Lagwagon, Face to Face, Ten Foot Pole, Voodoo Glow Schools, and Ministry, the background music is full of things you'll never hear on MTV, with the exception of everybody's fave boy band, Blink 182. The Fear Factory cover of "Cars," featuring Gary Numan is worth playing again and again. While no game soundtrack is going to outlast the game, this is definitely the best lineup since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or ESPN X-Games Pro Boarder.
While it's better than a lot of schlock that's been released in the snowboarding genre, MTV Sports: Snowboarding still has a way to go. It's a truly impressive first try, and the MTV influence comes out in all the right ways. With an enhanced versus mode, a truly customizable Create-a-Park, and better trick control, a sequel could really be worth looking forward to. As it is, check it out before taking the chance.