Many of you might remember Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, from Nintendo's disaster of a press conference at E3 2008, where the presenter on stage played the game with all the grace of a slightly constipated gopher. This was perhaps an unfair first presentation, as the game itself is actually far better than you would think after seeing such a horrific display. The game is actually quite inventive in its control scheme, and is one of the few games compatible with the severely under-utilised Wii Balance Board. With great graphics, fun gameplay and well-designed controls, Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is, dare we say, a trip worth taking.
Strangely enough, the game is based around a fairly decent story mode. The game begins with two friends joining Shaun White on his worldwide tour of the world's best slopes, but along the way they gain further followers and allies, who are all available as playable characters. It's all fairly lightweight and fun, with plenty of genuinely good humour throughout both the story segments and the in-game character comments. There's also a constant stream of mobile messages coming to you throughout the game with sometimes amusing comments, although largely it seems to be a superfluous addition.
As mentioned, you start Shaun White: Snowboarding with two characters, who you can interchange at any time. Each of these characters seem to have wildly varying stats with one main 'talent' standing out. For instance one, character will be better at pulling off air tricks, while another will have a much greater speed. However, they all have a unique 'special' characteristic, and this is where one of the game's interesting features comes into play.
As well as selecting a playable character, you must also select another character to take the role of a cameraman to film them, presumably taking the player's POV and following the snowboarder all the way down the slope. This is where their 'special' ability comes into play, as they can help boost the various attributes of your chosen snowboarder, such as their speed, jumping ability and trick score. This bonus is only activated after collecting 'respect', which fills up a 'respect' meter. This system actually works quite well, giving you the opportunity to swap various characters in and out and try different combinations to see what works best for you.
In single player, the way game unfolds is by taking you to various locations around the world and presenting you with a selection of courses within them. For instance, you'll usually be faced with four courses, one of which will be locked off until you've completed the other three. There are various objectives within the courses, divided into the easier 'dare' objectives and the more challenging 'respect' goals. These objectives can range from achieving a certain amount of points, to coming first in a race or even collecting garbage around the track (how environmental of them). If you were looking for actual racing in this game, you may find yourself slightly disappointed, as there's usually only one race per location, and even then they seem to be extremely easy to beat.
Of course, the main point of interest in Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is the Wii Balance Board controls, which actually work very well indeed. Essentially, you mount the Balance Board as you would an actual snowboard and everything else comes fairly naturally. Turning is as simple as leaning back and forth with your rear foot, while speed is controlled by leaning forward and backward with both feet. You also have to control the game with a Wii Remote in hand, as performing tricks requires you to hold down certain buttons while positioning your feet in the correct way. You can jump by simply crouching and standing on the Balance Board (you must not jump, because then the game will pause, scald you and send you to bed with no supper). It's all incredibly intuitive, although it can be hard remembering where your feet are supposed to go for some of the more advanced tricks, but this is probably just like regular snowboarding.
Sometimes the Balance Board seems a little less responsive than you'd hope, as your turning can sometimes take too long or tricks can inexplicably fail, but for the vast majority of the game this control scheme is absolutely fine, and not just the novelty we feared it would be. The game even seems to try to compensate for some of this, with tactics such as automatically attaching your character to rails as they approach them.
Of course, if you find yourself Balance Board-impaired, then you'll find that the game's regular Wii Remote controls are excellent as well. We expected that the game may use the Wii Remote horizontally, but to our astonishment and wonderment it does not, rather it's used normally by pointing it at the screen and rocking it from side to side. This method of control is very responsive, and you'll soon find yourself navigating complicated course obstacles and pulling off huge tricks with ease. As the game gets harder towards the end, we actually recommend using the Wii Remote over the Balance Board, as you'll save yourself a lot of back pain and you'll find it easier to reach those seemingly unattainable scores.
The game also has some decent multiplayer options. The story mode can be played co-operatively, although unfortunately your progress does not carry over into the single-player mode should you wish to continue without a friend. It should also be noted that only one Balance Board can be used at a time. There are also a few multiplayer modes which allow up to four players to compete in a split-screen mode or a 'pass the Wii Remote' fashion. These modes are fun, but fairly standard, although we expect that this game could still find life in a party due to its unique controls and welcoming gameplay.
Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is no slouch when it comes to its presentation. The graphics, while admittedly a little unspectacular compared to its next-generation counterparts, are pleasingly stylised and have an extremely smooth frame-rate. There is also a lot of interesting course design, and the developers obviously had fun with courses that seem to resemble the Fortress of Solitude more than anything else. The game also has a strong soundtrack, with Blue Oyster Cult's 'Dont Fear the Reaper' and Audioslave's 'Gasoline' being highlights. The voice acting, while at times cheesy, is also well done with some particularly well-delivered one liners from time to time.
We're not certain if Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip will find a large audience on the Wii. The snowboarding genre isn't always one that has screamed out to casual players, yet that is exactly the market that will perhaps enjoy this game the most. With the Balance Board, the game is essentially pick-up-and-play easy, while even with the Wii Remote players will find themselves getting into the snowy action in no time. That's not to say that there isn't plenty here for more experienced gamers, but overall Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is a light and extremely fun affair, that shouldn't be missed by Wii gamers looking for something where the motion controls work in harmony with the game, rather than being tacked on.