Hands-on: Shaun White Skateboarding

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Fans of skateboarding games have not had it great lately. While the Skate franchise has done something different, and has been successful all the same, the more wild, over the top nature of those early skateboarding games have been lost. And don’t look to where Tony Hawk is going now. That is a franchise that just…well, it needs some work if it ever wants to be as great as it once was.

On that note, let us roll out Shaun White Skateboarding. Like in real life, the ginger one is not just great at snowboarding, but also a very capable skateboarder, meaning even though he’s a really ugly dude, he’s still super talented and will be able to perform stuff we could never dream of. And that’s ok! We get videogames to provide out wish fulfillment, so Like the great Hawk before him, Shaun White Skateboarding attempts to make you the player the instant practitioner of amazing skateboarding tricks.

But it’s more than instantly offering a new world for players to trick and grind around. If you read Hamza’s preview of the Wii version of the game, you’ll know that vibrancy and color are an important element of the game. This is very much true with the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions as well, and it leads to an interesting take on skateboarding. Ubisoft Montreal is “trying to do their own thing” with skateboarding, inspired by the type of person Shaun White is. It makes for a very non traditional skateboarding game.

Hit the jump to understand why.

Shaun White Skateboarding (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
To be released: Fall 2010

I’ll repeat it again: Shaun White Skateboarding is a very simple skating game. With the tap of the ollie button, your character will auto-trick some random trick. That’s right, the game does the tricks for you, but it is only initially, and it’s designed to ease players into the game. Harder, more difficult tricks can be unlocked and controlled with what looks and feels like a mixture between Tony Hawk games of old and Skate, with both right stick trick control and button presses. 

Oddly, I only saw three or four bails happen in 45 minutes of playing, and feeding into the surrealism of the game, players will explode into a wash of ball bearings instead of crashing to the ground. It looks like the core mechanics are going to be very easy, so hopefully the later challenges will be much more difficult. 

Then we get to the Shaping elements of the game. Frankly, this element of the game is pretty weird, but they make sense within the game. Players will come across green arrow-looking Shaping rails and verts that are magically controlled by the player. When you are first introduced to these things, they’ll guide you on a preordained path, but as you progress through the game you’ll be able to drop these rails at any point in the middle of a trick.

This plays out with all sorts of crazy stuff, like launching from a vert off a roof, magically dropping one of these rails magically in the air, grinding in the air like on a roller coaster for a while, then launching off to perform another trick. It’s insanely unreal, and very satisfying. It feels like a super hero version of skateboarding, and feeds into Ubisoft’s goal of recreating the “experience” of skating, not skating itself.

Which I suppose brings us up to the plot elements of the game. It’s a little…weird. Shaun White has been kidnapped by an evil government organization called “The Ministry”. This authoritarian government has decided things like color and fun and inspiration are not good for the people and has decided to make the city of New Harmony a drab and miserable metropolis. Meanwhile, Shaun White is gone, and with the guidance of dapper Englishman Jonah, the former mayor of the city, your character will be using the power of skate to transform the world.

With every trick, an aura will spread out (“the wave of influence”) and transform, color, and morph the environment, with certain areas unlocked when you build up the influence meter with tricks in a three tiered meter. Much of the game boils down to building up this meter, then using the wave of influence to free people and the environment from this dark drab world. It’s visually very fun, and for those with a PlayStation 3 and a 3D set-up will like that Shaun White Skateboarding supports 3D from out of the box, and it looks pretty great to boot.

While it’s not exactly a super original plot line (Skate 2 addressed the silly “skateboarding vs the evil authoritative government”, while Tony Hawk games have done batshit stuff for a while), Shaun White Skateboarding uses the plot to do outrageous things. Using tricks to bring color to the world feels a lot like de Blob, and the vibrancy and enthusiasm it brings to the player is somewhat refreshing.

If Ubisoft can keep from laying the goofiness on too thick, and keep the earnestness in check, the whole thing can come together nicely. It’s too early to tell if Shaun White Skateboarding will be the next great skateboarding game, but it’s so weird and enthusiastic, it might fit the bill for plenty of people tired of peripherals and hard-core digital skating.


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