Shaun White Skateboarding
As Shaun White hands your character his or her first skateboard in Shaun White Skateboarding with the words "Who are you?" scrawled upon it, you can't help but wonder the same thing of the game itself. So, the question is more along the lines of "what are you?" And having sunk hours into kick-flipping, grinding and grabbing, we're still unsure as to what audience Ubisoft Montreal is gunning for with Shaun White Skateboarding.
Where EA and Black Box's Skate shook up the skateboarding genre with complex analogue stick trickery and Activision's Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise continues to grow increasingly stale and irrelevant, Shaun White Skateboarding is bold and interesting blend of the two, attempting to cater to both markets with a mixture of simplistic face button controls with grabs and optional ollies on the right analogue stick.
What's unique about Shaun White's is it's story of an oppressed society, where you're tasked with bringing colour to the bizarre Orwellian dystopia, which has transformed the city of New Harmony into a relentlessly grey and drab anti-skating, totalitarian regime overseen by the fascist Ministry. It's an intriguing set-up, but who is it all aimed at? The Skate players after complexity and (comparative) realism or the Pro Skater crowd and it's Jackass tomfoolery with a dose of accessible, arcade style mechanics? We're not sure.
Shaun White Skateboarding's narrative set in the open-world of New Harmony gives your created character free reign to transform the monochrome streets into blooming colour and vibrancy with every trick you pop sending out a pulse that causes ramps to erupt from out of the tarmac, shops to spring open, trees to shoot through the soil and bright colour to ripple through the radius of your landed tricks. It's essentially a visual gimmick, but it succeeds in making the game compelling and recalls simpler childhood days of scrawling in a colouring book with a big wax crayon.
Under the guidance of grey suited stranger Jonah, you gradually form an eclectic crew of gnarly skaters to form the Rising and go about colouring the city in while influencing the people one at a time, jolting them out of their stupor. Transformation is the name of the game then and it's up to you to bring life back to New Harmony and its citizens. To do this, you have to build up 'flow', which comes in three colours earned by gaining points through successfully executing tricks. Level 1 flow transforms yellow objects, level 2 works for both yellow and blue objects, while reaching the maximum level 3 flow enables you to turn purple-aura objects as well as yellows and blues.
See the environment changing around you with every trick is a nice novelty, but it soon gets old, as the gameplay itself can be more than a little interminable at times. Judging Shaun White Skateboarding based on simply looking at it, you'd think that the game would be an accessible jaunt, where tricks are simple to pull off and fun is never in short supply. Sadly this is only partly the case, as landing tricks is baby-simple - in fact it's almost impossible to fall off your board - but gaining any kind of lasting momentum or speed is unbearably difficult. This is actually our main gripe, as it essentially ruins what is an otherwise fairly solid skateboarding game.
Shaun White Skateboarding's basic gameplay mechanics are perfectly sound, but it's the lack of pace and momentum that causes far too much frustration to make the game as enjoyable as it should be. Where Skate was frustrating because of our own shortcomings in being able to master its rewarding stick-flicking control system, Ubi's stab at skateboarding irritates with maddening slowness and intermittently unresponsive controls. Add repetitive objectives to that bitter-tasting brew, which primarily task you with smashing Ministry surveillance cameras or propaganda-spouting loudspeakers; or creating enough flow to remove an obstacle or influence someone, and Shaun White becomes a less than inviting prospect.
And yet, there's something intrinsically likeable about that the game, which makes it strangely compulsive to play. Is it the act of smashing authority and resurrecting the grey city, or is it something else? Whatever the case, Shaun White Skateboarding is actually kind of fun in small doses. Shaping objects denoted in translucent green - like grind rails, vert ramps, streets and patches of ground that can all be manipulated once you've learned the ability by 'freeing your mind' with Jonah - add to the equation, presenting you with additional options and ways to get around New Harmony by linking up rails or creating verts and pathways to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. And it goes to show that there are some nice ideas buried in there somewhere, just fighting to get out from under the slightly shoddy gameplay.
Shaun White's multiplayer also has a few decent game types to sample, with Shaping Battles, Ministry vs. Rising and Go With the Flow modes offering competitive team-based modes to sample. Lamentably, finding a match online is nigh-on impossible - or at least it was when we tried - meaning that this portion of the game is largely redundant, through no fault of its own. In the rare instances that you get a game going, there's fun to be had fighting other players for power ups or trying to outscore one another. There also support for local split-screen too, which can be entertaining with a patient and like-minded friend.
Ubisoft Montreal's first crack at the skate genre is a bit like deBlob on wheels, and almost goes some way to filling the vacancy left by the once great Tony Hawk series. However, it bails spectacularly, failing to let the level design off the leash and keeping things relatively restrained rather than cutting loose with its imagination. Locations where a dose of surrealism and invention might have worked in the game's favour are staid and sober, saved only by the odd curiosity like an off-the-wall hacking mini-game.
Shaun White Skateboarding attempts to do something fresh and interesting with the skate genre, but ultimately fails with fudged controls and glacially-paced gameplay. As the game's strange narrative grinds on, you'll slowly grow accustomed to its many flaws and maybe even put up with them, but as addictive and gratifying as drenching New Harmony in colour may be, the game ends up being fun only in short bursts, making it difficult to heartily recommend.