PS3 Review: Shaun White Skateboarding



For old-school fans of the Jet Set Radio games, Shaun White Skateboarding is the closest you’re likely to get to a new entry in the series any time soon. Though it takes the bare mechanics of Skate and the challenge-based structure of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Ubisoft’s new pro boarder game owes a great deal less to those franchises than it does to SEGA’s woefully under-loved roller-skating graffiti-’em-up. Throwing a dash of colour, personality and originality on overly familiar skate game mechanics, it’s also a damn good game in its own right, too.

Rather than have you assume the role of the famous snowboarder/skater/Olympic gold medallist or one of his X-Game pals, Shaun White Skateboarding plonks you in the role of a nameless character to personalise as you see fit. You see, the world as we know it has been squeezed of all life and joy by the icy grip of totalitarian oppression and all colour, choice and artistic expression has been banished by ‘The Man’, personified here by shady Orwellian government faction The Ministry. Underground revolutionary Shaun White is at the forefront of a rebel uprising, but wouldn’t you know it, he’s been captured and locked away by Ministry goons. It’s now up to you to bring colour and life back to the world with – of all things – the gift of skating prowess and a magical board.

Yes, the story to Shaun White Skateboarding is dafter than a lobotomised squirrel and better yet, it’s entirely aware of that fact, embracing it with open, eager arms. In fact, perhaps the defining quality of the game is its amazing sense of humour. Load screens take the form of Bioshock-esque faux-propaganda posters decrying the dangers of grinding and the evils of choice, topped off with incredibly funny little messages and slogans plastered over them. It’s a simple idea, but genuinely hilarious writing makes the load times, shockingly, worth looking forward to just to catch all the great gags. The refreshing humour extends to the game at large, too – cut scenes are filled with surprisingly well-rendered characters who’re vaguely cartoony in appearance but boast expressive faces, impressive lip-synching and great voice acting that really coax genuinely funny performances from these polygon people.
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While its sense of humour might be a huge chunk of the personality driving Shaun White Skateboarding, there’s a slant of fun, creative gameplay mechanics that do wonders in steering the game away from the Skate and Tony Hawk franchises and closer to less expected ones. The core gameplay itself is somewhat similar to Skate; jump and flip tricks are handled by pulling the left analog stick down and flicking it up at different angles depending on the trick, while the right analog stick steers your direction and rotates you in mid air for those 1080 spin moves. Things get a tad more complicated when it comes to vert tricks and more complex manoeuvres as you’ll then need to hold one of the shoulder buttons as you flick and move the sticks to nail your desired lip stalls and transfers.

Where things get more interesting is in the game’s use of “flow” to influence the environment. Rather than just tracking simple combo scores, Shaun White gauges your “flow” on a coloured meter at the bottom of the screen – sort of like your skate mojo, if you will. Successfully nailing tricks and grinds in succession will build your flow meter, slowly filling the three coloured sections that make up the gauge. The game’s various levels start out as oppressive, grey corporate wastelands deprived of colour, in which citizens wander from place to place, all sporting uniform blue suits and briefcases. Once you fill up a section of the flow meter, each trick you land omits a bursting radius of energy from your board that rejuvenates a small area of the city and the surrounding populous, restoring colour, fun and fauna to the world, parting the clouds and transforming the drab, monochrome drones into enthusiastic, attractive youngster with diverse wardrobes and high spirits.
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Some areas also transform further, requiring you to fill higher stages of your flow gauge to activate them. Fill up the yellow first section of your flow meter and then land a trick in one of the areas surrounded by a corresponding yellow swirling light, and the concrete will shake and crumble like it’s at the heart of a kaiju movie, before the ground rises to form a ramp or fountain for you to bust more moves on. Certain more elaborate transformations might require you to hit the blue second or the purple third section of the meter to trigger them, adding the incentive to re-explore areas after you’ve learned some new tricks and maintained a steady flow, with those newly-crafted obstacles and jumps allowing you to snag previously unreachable collectibles, earning XP with which to buy tricks along the way.

In the most creative and visually inventive part of the game’s design, flow-influenced ramps and rails are dotted around the city, which begin as barely-there glowing green arrows that shape and form themselves fully as you ride along them. While they initially build along a pre-determined outline, later rails and ramps can be “shaped”, allowing you to steer and guide the direction of them as they form, or reset and reshape them the next time you jump on. Though there are limitations to shaping (meaning you have only small amount of time in which to guide the rail to its desired point) it’s an incredibly fun mechanic that adds an extra layer to the game’s colourful visual style and the navigation of the free-roam levels.

While the influence of Jet Set Radio is evident in the game’s luminously colourful aesthetic and much of the gameplay, more surprising is the hints of Mirror’s Edge in Shaun White Skateboarding’s DNA, not just in the “extreme sports crew versus totalitarian government” storyline, but in select gameplay set-pieces, too. As you play through a section which has you outrunning a Ministry helicopter, jumping, sliding and grinding along rooftops, hitting glowing rails and ramps along the way, it’s hard not to be reminded of EA’s parkour platformer. Shaun White Skateboarding keeps tossing left-field curveballs into it’s skate game design that only help distance it from the Tony Hawk and Skate franchises; its personality and design may be a Frankenstein’s monster of influences, but it’s an incredibly fun and well-constructed one.
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That being said, it’s far from a perfect game. Levels are expansive, free-roam affairs (with later sections of the city unlockable as you progress and separated by a load screen barrier), and while you can hop off your board and run around a-la Skate, strangely there’s no option to jump while on foot. As a result, while off your deck you’re left helpless in the face of anything higher than the ground you stand on. It seems like a colossal oversight which makes exploring and lining up tricks that little bit tougher.

The overly complex controls can be problematic at times, too; while simple actions are a breeze, the sheer amount of tricks which couple shoulder buttons with a push of the analog sticks make it incredibly hard to remember which trick is mapped to what, leaving you having to jump back into the manual and relearn each trick as you need it. And even with the tongue-in-cheek approach to its story, the practice of your flow transforming The Ministry’s soulless propaganda into, of all things, billboards for the game’s corporate sponsors Stride Gum and Wendy’s restaurants seems more than a tad disingenuous.

However, those minor issues pale in comparison to the imaginative creativity, fun game mechanics and personality that the game has in spades. Falling somewhere between the two flagship series’, while many might dismiss Shaun White Skateboarding as being not enough like Skate or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it’s the differences and ingenuities that the game has over its genre competitors that make it such a great experience. Toss in a superb soundtrack, expansive levels and a few fun multiplayer modes, and there’s a wealth of fun to be had in the world laid out by Ubisoft. Colourful, inventive and incredibly funny, Shaun White Skateboarding is a lovely counterpoint to the familiar skate sims and hopefully marks the beginning of its own flourishing franchise.

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Shaun White Skateboarding is available to buy on PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii now.
Click here to order the game from Amazon.co.uk.