Over the years we have watched Tony Hawk slowly decline into a mass-market peripheral-based game while EA’s Skate series slowly took over the reins becoming more realistic with each incarnation. This left the Tony Hawk players of old without an arcade-style experience to grind out massive tricks and perform in competitions. Shaun White Skateboarding looks to fill that hole with a more easy-to-use control scheme and less focus on realism. Unfortunately the game is guilty of performing one of Tony Hawk’s biggest mistakes: focusing on the story. What we end up with is a mediocre attempt to breathe life back into the arcade skating genre with disappointing results.
The best way to describe the premise of Shaun White Skateboarding is to call it the Saboteur of extreme sports. For every trick you pull off you add color to the world. The idea here is that your created skater is bringing life and expression back to a world that has been rundown by The Ministry. This evil government conglomerate has created a world devoid of any emotion and also put Shaun White behind bars. It is your job to find a way to free him while restoring the world to its former glory. Yeah I found it best to try and ignore the story too, but it spends so much time front and center, it can be hard to overcome.
For every trick you land color is restored to the world. At first this is a novel idea that keeps you tricking in areas to see what ramps and items open up. After a while you begin to realize that this gimmick is exactly that. The main game has you performing missions to further the story, but none of them go beyond the tedious fetch quests and trick performing. Nothing ever feels unique and when you factor in the simplistic trick mechanics, things grow tiresome far too fast.
The trick system was my main problem with the game simply because it feels too simplistic. You perform tricks by moving the analog stick in different directions, but nothing ever feels streamlined. Instead the game almost rewards button mashing as much as learning how to actually play it. You can purchase new tricks within the game however; none of them ever feel progressive. Later in the game things become more about platforming and less about tricks, which is ironic considering the ho-hum trick system never feels like it gets off the ground.
The other unique aspect of Shaun White is the shaping. Here you can take areas of the world and expand them by grinding on them to get to normally out-of-reach places. In the beginning these are pre-determined by the game, but as you progress you will get to shape your own paths, which actually becomes more frustrating than it should be. As I said later in the game you are tasked with more platforming elements and the shaping comes more into play. The problem is that the more intricate you need your path to be, the less cooperative the game becomes. You will fail missions after mission thanks to the quirky shaping controls, and honestly most gamers will give up due to the fact that the game has strayed so far away from its core design, it ceases being enjoyable.
I also had a major problem with the characters in the game. For starters for a game that has Shaun White in the title, you rarely get to play as him. Instead you are left with a horrendous character-created avatar that has less customization options that some early PSOne games. The patrons of the city are also devoid of any personality, even after you spruce up their environment. They shout ridiculous lines to you and generally get in your way when you are skating around the city. The world itself also feels drab even after bringing color and emotion back to it. The muted colors do little to strike a difference and more often than not it can be hard to tell where you have already liberated the area.
The multi-player had a chance to be redeeming but ends up as disappointing as the rest of the package. There are only a couple of modes and nearly the same amount of players online to enjoy them with. To really take advantage of what the game offers you need at least eight players teaming up in the king oof the hill mode, which sadly will likely never happen. You can play offline if you choose, but the appeal will wear off in less than a weekend.
Shaun White Skateboarding is a genuinely disappointing endeavor that had potential to nab the Tony Hawk fans that simply didn’t graduate to Skate. Instead we are left with a game that fumbles most of the core concepts that make these games fun. The tedious single player game and wasted innovations such as flow and shaping really hold back this title. It also doesn’t help that the trick system is devoid of any real skill whatsoever. After as much fun as I had with Shaun White Snowboarding I was really looking forward to what the team would deliver next. Unfortunately for me I am left hoping Activision brings back the Tony Hawk I grew up with.
Review copy provided by publisher.