We found Shaun White Snowboarding to be a solid diversion, but its bewildering coin-collecting focus and unlockable skills, like busting down obstacles with nary a scratch, must have thrown off those seeking a straight-up simulation of the sport. Stoked happily aims for that more pure experience and the differences are apparent from the start: no silly narrative, no special powers, and – most importantly – no currency to hunt down on the wide-open slopes.
Instead, you get a no-nonsense recreation of the sport that actually forces you to learn tricks or constantly consult the manual – a little of both, really. Initially, this lack of frills comes off as a lack of focus, as your first few hours in Stoked will be spent completing simple challenges with no real sense of when it will add up to more. But after accumulating enough fame points, the floodgates open with interested sponsors, photo ops, film challenges, and large competitions spread across the five slightly nondescript massive mountain settings.
While the occasional race or other off-beat event type would have been a nice campaign addition, Stoked's focus on learning and pulling off specific tricks works very well and is encouraged by the short challenges you'll be immersed in. You'll fail – often – but it'll drill certain tricks into your brain and force you to gain a better understanding of positioning, both in the air and when attempting to land. It's tough, and chances are you'll want to toss the controller at some point (or curse at the bystanders' quips, as we did), but when it all eventually clicks, Stoked absolutely recaptures that sense of accomplishment that made EA's skateboarding sim Skate such a fantastic experience.
In fact, Stoked's control scheme seems very much inspired by Skate, albeit without the more complex thumbstick movements. Both jumping and tricks are mapped to the right stick, with grabs executed by holding one or both trigger buttons. Aside from the occasional "shoulda-been" landing, we largely found the controls responsive and physics convincing; the only notable exception comes with the trick competitions, which take place in tight, roped-off areas. It's not hard to lose momentum by crashing in these areas, and recovering on a flat plain can be an exercise in futility. We even got stuck between a rock and a hard place (well, a particularly sturdy fence) in one competition and had to start over a couple times.
Stoked's online approach takes a cue from Shaun White, allowing players to easily swap between campaign challenges and riding against others, and the races we would've liked to see offline actually appear on Xbox Live, along with trick-based events. Actually finding seven other players to ride against on a regular basis has been a challenge, but that may be an unfortunate consequence of Stoked being a little-hyped budget ($40) release. Please buy this and meet us on the slopes.
Other low-budget signifiers include some bland-looking riders and effects, not to mention few "known" artists on the soundtrack. But in the areas that really count – offering a compelling, substantial simulation of the sport – Stoked is the best option for virtual powder fiends we've seen in some time.
Mar 4, 2009