The folks at Ubisoft take a stab at balance board gameplay.
Many a developer has seen fit to exploit the unique gaming opportunities presented by the Wii and its diverse brethren of input peripherals, but rarely do such efforts result in critically-acclaimed, compelling products. Even rarer are cross-platform games that actually favor the Wii with the superior version. Leave it to Ubisoft, then, and their Montreal team of developers, to show the rest of the pack how it’s supposed to be done. With Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, we’ve not only got the best version of the multiplatform game (entirely different from all the rest, in fact), but we’re also blessed with one of the first great third-party efforts to employ the lonesome Balance Board accessory (though it isn’t required to play).
Everything’s better without Tom Greene
Road Trip sends you along an international binge of competitive snowboarding in honor of Shaun White, who is leading you around the world on your little escapade. You start your journey in Canada, where you’ll find a few different courses to take the board to, each of which features two different events. Furthermore, each event features two separate goals, one of which is required for progress and the other which is purely optional (but will earn you completionists unlockable goodies). These goals consist of such demands as scoring a certain number of points, beating another rider in a race, collecting crowns, or cleaning up garbage along the course (by running across it).
Before taking to the slopes, you’ll be given a choice of riders with varying attributes. You can also select one of the characters to play your cameraman—each cameraman provides a different special ability. As you advance through the game, you’ll receive souvenirs and emails from other people to commemorate your progress. For the most part, these are pretty inconsequential, though they are humorous (some of the spam email you receive is eerily and quite hilariously accurate).
Get on your feet… or don’t
There are essentially two ways to play this game—one requires just a Wii-mote, and the other a Wii-mote and Balance Board. Either one is, quite surprisingly, excellent in its own regard. For precision, you’ll want to stick with the Wii-mote, but if you’re down for a workout and you want the full experience, the Balance Board will do the trick. It’s very much like the Mario Kart Wii dichotomy of analog stick versus wheel; there is a bit of a trade-off between fun and precision between the two control methods.
The Wii-mote method of play sees you tilting the controller from side to side to steer and flicking it upward to jump. Tricks (of which there are a few dozen total) are performed via a series of tilts and twists as well. Other maneuvers, such as tucking and carving, as well as more sophisticated tricks, involve the use of the A or B button—but that’s as complex as it gets. This actually works quite well and doesn’t feel forced at all—though admittedly it can all be done with a regular controller in hand as well, as evidenced by the PS3 and Xbox versions of the title.
Meanwhile, balance boarders will be shifting their weight to and fro on top the vertically-oriented peripheral to steer, and leaning forward to tuck or backward to brake. Jumping requires an upward movement that does not remove your feet from the board (lest you are scolded by the game for your haphazard motions). Tricks are a little more, well, tricky… as you will have to position your feet differently on the four corners of the board and employ the help of the A or B button to pull off anything worth talking about. Stringing tricks together while playing with the balance board is considerably more difficult thanks to the feet shuffling (which can become quite disorienting), and as was the case with both Wii Fit and We Ski, careening downhill at high speeds makes precision turning difficult when you’re using your legs. Perhaps it’s the fact that you aren’t physically fastened to the board that renders it slightly awkward—if you’re like me, you may find yourself artificially shifting your weight to and fro to try and maneuver more accurately. Problem is, then it’s hard to keep track of which way you’re actually leaning, making play rather confusing.
But it’s still a blast. Shaun White’s well-balanced design allows for sensitivity adjustment of the balance board—low, normal, or high—so that you can tailor the experience to your liking. I personally prefer high as it allows me to maneuver more mutedly and still produce the same results, thereby reducing the odds that I will stumble gracefully off the side of the balance board and strike my head on the corner of the wall. Though it isn’t perfect, it’s proof positive that the balance board accessory is quite versatile in its range of gaming applications. As often as possible, I play the game with the balance board, as it makes everything from basic downhill boarding to grinding (where you must keep your balance) more fun, even if it’s more challenging.
Find out what it means to me
As you cut through the slopes, you’ll score points by performing tricks. Predictably, the more tricks you can chain together, the more you’ll score—though you’ll need to pull off adequate landings for them to count, of course. Also at your disposal is the so-called Respect Meter, which can be filled in much the same way as you earn points. Once this meter is full, you can perform the aforementioned special ability granted to you by the cameraman you chose.
If you’re not so hot on tackling the mountain alone, you’ll be pleased to know that Shaun White also features four-player split-screen co-op and versus modes as well. In co-op, progress is achieved not via challenges from other racers, but instead via acquisition of medals (bronze, silver, and gold) on the various slopes. You’re still judged by mostly the same sets of criteria as in the single-player adventure, but everything’s considerably more straightforward in order to better accommodate the multiplayer aspect of the experience. Versus sends you through cups specific to each unlockable country, and is fun—but, of course, it’s doubtful anyone will be playing with four balance boards. On that note, if you’d rather, you can simply take turns racing against your friends’ ghosts in Hot Seat Mode, which allows everyone to compete using the same balance board if you so choose. Finally, the half-pipe is a blast if and when you tire of the slopes.
A White Christmas
Shaun White was loads of fun at E3 (where we begged the developers to let us spend extra time with the game to try and beat their half-pipe scores), and it represents a fantastic third-party effort on Wii. Graphically, the game is polished to standards even exceeding many of Nintendo’s recent efforts, with a completely unique stylized approach that is much better suited to Nintendo’s 480p console than the more-realistic presentation of its Xbox 360 and PS3 peers. Likewise, the soundtrack is populated with a great selection of tunes from such timeless artists as Blue Oyster Cult and Bob Dylan. It really is an above-and-beyond effort in terms of presentation, and the gameplay is certainly amusing enough to warrant consideration, especially from balance board owners. Overall, while nothing stellar and occasionally shallow, Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is one of the better holiday titles available for the Wii this year. If you’re looking for a sports action thrill on your Wii, give it a shot and see if it doesn’t dispel some of the dust.