Normally, we'd wince at the mere thought of seeing an expanded edition of a game in the same calendar year as the original, but even we had to ignore our cynical impulses for Stoked: Big Air Edition. It's not the robust sequel we'd hoped for, but this super-sized iteration addresses so many of the Stoked's already minor concerns that we can forgive the need to buy another lift ticket for a second jaunt down the mountain.
Despite the new subtitle, the majority of the Big Air Edition experience is carried over from the first release, which - as described in our original review - is mostly a very good thing. Like EA's Skate did for the skateboarding genre, Stoked trumps its more arcade-like counterparts with a precise simulation approach, putting strong emphasis on the analog sticks to pop up and perform various tricks. Shredding the slopes of the game's massive, open mountains delivers a zen-like experience at times, and it's not hard at all to kill a couple hours simply hunting down killer spots and putting together increasingly elaborate trick combinations.
Much as we enjoyed the original Stoked, it had a few quirks that made the game very difficult to approach for impatient novices. Most notably, the game initially dumped you onto a mountain, forcing you to aimlessly complete tiny challenges for hours until you earned enough fame points for the photo ops and competitions to kick in. The Big Air Edition thankfully ditches that curious approach, instead offering immediate access to the media challenges that lead to competitions, sponsors, and opening the full set of mountains. Plus, the advent of on-screen Trick Tips means you won't have to tear open the manual every 30 seconds to tell a Mute command from that of a Stalefish Tuckknee Tweaked.
Switzerland's Laax and K2 in the Himalayas join the previous game's settings for a total of seven wide-open summits, and each brings its own unique competition and dozens of smaller challenges to conquer. Moreover, every single mountain has been outfitted with marked paths used for the all-new race events, a feature sorely lacking from the original Stoked. Actually navigating yourself through the checkpoint gates can be a frustrating venture at the highest speeds (which have been increased for the Big Air Edition), though it's still a solid diversion on the slopes.
The Big Air Edition doesn't make any aesthetic strides (same drab-looking riders and set pieces, same soundtrack), but otherwise, it's a sharp upgrade - one that improves the out-of-the-box experience for newcomers, while adding enough fresh content for veteran shredheads. Sadly, the nearly empty leaderboards and thin online competition seem to indicate a lack of momentum for this budget 'boarder, but with luck, Xbox 360 owners will give it a fresh look once the holiday release rush subsides.
Dec 3, 2009