|There is no uncertainty that
'tis the season for snowboarding games. MTV Sports Snowboarding and Coolboarders 4
commercials are flooding the airwaves, and now Capcom has thrown their hat into the ring
with Trick'n Snowboarder. While TS incorporates some great new innovations, making it not
your ordinary snowboarding title, it lacks enough in quality and originality to make it
passable for most fans of the genre.
Snowboarding and board sports games have a special place in my heart. I think of them as very similar to fighting games, except the competition is not as directly confrontational. Generally, these games are oriented like race games: you clear a circuit of races and competitions to open new circuits, and usually new gear and riders. There are generally head-to-head multiplayer options where you can compete for either best time or trick score, or a combination of the two. Games following this pattern include ESPN2's Winter X Games ProBoarder and Coolboarders 2 and 3. What makes snowboarding games better than your average racer is the trick factor. By performing the right direction and button combinations you can pull off way cool stunts just like the pros. This is where the fighting game comparison becomes apparent. As in a fighter, much of the joy of play is in the manual dexterity that is required, and the satisfaction of developing a skill set to do well at the game. Generally, as with fighters, much of the quality of the game depends on the depth of the control and fighting systems. Games that have extremely simple systems get old fast, no matter how flashy the graphics, and, likewise, games that suffer in visuals can make up for it by excelling in control.
Capcom has put its own spin on the genre by building the game around a team filming snowboarding videos rather than the usual race/competition circuit. The story mode allows you to take your rider through a series of fim shoots on mountains all over the world. You'll jet from Japan to Alaska in search of extreme terrain. On the extreme courses you are given a run-down of the film crew's plans, and instructed to hit certain points off different obstacles. For example, you may be required to do a flip off the first cliff, and then a double grab trick in the boulder field. While riding the course you can hear the radio chatter of the crew, advising each other of your approach. A small window appears in the upper left of the screen to show you the view from the camera position.
Also along the way you will compete in half-pipe and big air competitions. Like the extreme courses, your performance in the contests are captured on film, and you must achieve a certain goal to get by. As you go from level to level, you encounter a few challengers who you can then earn as playable characters in the free mode. In addition to opening up challengers for play, you can enter a code to play Leon, Claire, or the Zombie Cop from Resident Evil.
In addition to the story mode are free mode, versus play mode, and edit mode. The free mode simply allows you to cruise the courses for points without any game constraints. Versus mode is almost identical to Coolboarders 3 you play split-screen races competing for either the best time, trick score, or combination of the two. TS also supports the link cable, so you can play against a friend in full screen, which is a nice option. Edit mode allows you to edit together the footage that is filmed of you so you can create your own snowboarding video, and is much more fun in theory than in practice.
The problem is that while TS makes significant strides by adding a true "story" mode, it falls either short or mediocre in almost every other area. In all honesty, this game would have been really incredible if it were competing against Coolboarders 2. The graphics are not bad, but they are no better than any other snowboarding game. Since the graphics are so-so, the edit mode and film emphasis suffer. There are four nameless characters to choose from at the outset, and you can edit together other characters from these templates. Clothing is provided by Sims and OP, which proves that TS isn't completely out of touch with the snowboarding world. Even so, there is no indication as to which boards the characters ride.
The control is simple, but odd. You have your standard flip, grab and ollie buttons, and the R and L shoulder buttons spin your board. But to steer you use a combination of the D-pad and the R and L buttons. The shoulder buttons swivel the board, and the D-pad leans the rider, which makes it weird steering. The odd directional control is compounded by strangely set up courses. The extreme courses are arcade style (you can jump off rocks!), but there are only a few really large jumps in the game. Most of the courses are spent riding along gaining speed. The halfpipes are horrible. Because TS seems to only recognize certain points to do tricks from, your approach to the halfpipe is extremely limited.
So the control and course design are frustrating, but that doesn't keep you from flying right through the game. You score points for trick attempts, and many times those points alone can qualify you to pass a level. There are over a dozen courses, but they go very quickly, especially after you figure out the secret to scoring big: flips. It seems that in order to score halfway decent in TS, you must do a flip. Granted, flips are a major staple in snowboarding today, but they are not required to create an impressive trick. Double grabs and spins also boost your score a lot, but it's all useless if it doesn't have that invert.
Overall, Trick'n Snowboarder is one of those games that's just a little late. A couple of years ago the climate was perfect for an innovative take on the sport, and even today the implementation of a true story mode is a breath of fresh air. With TS the heart is in the right place, but the graphics, control and level design just need to hit a higher level. It's worth the weekend rental, but save the big cash for your lift ticket.