Shaun White Skateboarding marks the video game debut of the ginger maestro on four wheels, and it's an odd little adventure indeed. Best known for his success conquering snowy mountains, Mr. White is boldly attempting to overthrow the Tony Hawk series, by positioning himself as supreme commander of arcade extreme sports action. That should be easy considering how the Tony Hawk franchise has imploded beyond repair, so there's no competition from them. The only other rival is EA's Skate, which is brilliant in its own way, but appeals to a niche audience. After failing to impress on snow, can Shaun White Skateboarding prove itself to be a worthy new challenger to the genre?
No it can't. There's no point trying to mislead you with Shaun White Skateboarding so let's get stuck into it. Astonishingly, the developers put a reasonable amount of effort into creating a storyline. The idea is completely ripped from George Orwell's '1984', creating a dull city where obedient inhabitants meander around the streets with no love for the world. Shaun White, a rebel whose antics on a skateboard could lead to an uprising, has been kidnapped by 'The Ministry' and it's your job as a nameless skater to find him, sorting out the mess as you go. You'll meet cliched idiotic characters with some dodgy voice acting as you attempt to pull off tricks and bring down the evil government. At times the writing can be amusing, but it's mostly rubbish. As you can probably tell by now, Shaun White Skateboarding doesn't take itself too seriously, resulting in a cringe-worthy and predictable plot.
After a basic tutorial, you can finally start doing a bit of exploration. Freedom is minimal and unlike its counterparts, the structure of Shaun White Skateboarding is quite linear. All you need to do is follow the objective point to your next mission as you convert depressed souls with your cool moves. Objectives range from getting rid of propaganda to the slightly more difficult task of recreating skate parks and saving important people. The main selling point here is the ability to transform the environment but the gimmick grows old within the space of ten minutes. If you have a high enough score, you can bring back parts of the city to its former glory - filling it with colour in the process. The effect is nice at first, but repetition sets in quickly. A number of special rails and ramps allow you to quickly traverse around the area, but they don't offer any real enjoyment. Aside from a creating a few wavy bridges, you can't interact during these moments. Grinding along a rail is the best example to showcase this because you're not required to do anything other than sit back and relax. Normal objects require a bit more precision obviously, but Shaun White Skateboarding never manages to balance promising ideas with fun gameplay. As you gain experience you can unlock new tricks and attire for your skater, neither of which truly enhance the game. And just when you thought it couldn't get much worse, Shaun White Skateboading plummets.
We've seen how important it is to incorporate a solid control scheme into something like this, but the game fails miserably when it comes down to pulling off tricks. The layout tries to imitate bits of Skate 3 and earlier Tony Hawk releases, and it never works. Whether you're trying to perform a kick-flip or a complex grab, the controls never feel natural and Shaun White Skateboarding suffers greatly because of it. Oddly enough, you don't need to jump in order to perform a flip. The right analogue stick is your port of call, so you'll have to flick it in various directions if you want to score points. Normally, pulling it back and pushing it forward will make you jump (alternatively you can press the X button and the game picks a random trick, or at least that's what it feels like). Logic will tell you to pull it back to start a jump and then decide what way you want to flip the board. Not here, no sir. The most basic of basic tricks are performed by moving the stick right and left. To the average gamer out there, it might sound like a minor annoyance. For people who have been playing skateboarding games for the past ten years, you'll instantly feel how unnatural the layout is. The same applies to grab tricks, which can be awkwardly modified with the right shoulder button. You can't really alter your speed or stance either, so you'll just have to move the left analogue stick forward to gain momentum. Skate perfected the idea with functionality and realism, but Shaun White Skateboarding isn't responsive enough when you're desperately trying to do something impressive. It's a brilliant example of a game-breaking problem.
Shaun White Skateboarding doesn't impress in the visual department either. The style is purposely cartoony, but falls short when you begin to analyse textures. This is an exceedingly muddy game, so cover your eyes if don't want to be offended by the cheapness of what's on display. A few of the main characters look barely acceptable, although they don't compensate for the mumbling clones on the street. Environments are flat and boring (even after you get rid of the grey), which is a shame because there's no excuse for not exploiting the hardware in front of you. The presentation is crisp and vibrant - decent loading times and streamlined menus - but everything else is sub-par. It's clear to see what they were trying to achieve with the graffiti style, but that's not enough anymore. There needs to be an extra layer of polish, otherwise you'll end up with an insipid world that nobody wants to spend time in. That's exactly what we have here, one of the most dreary video game environments available. It defeats the purpose of the core concept, replacing a depressing city with... a slightly less depressing city.
There is only one genuinely redeeming feature in Shaun White Skateboarding - the soundtrack. Music goes hand in hand with sport, so it's good to see a range of energetic songs that try and compensate for some terrible gameplay. It's not without a flaw or two, mainly Wolfmother and their mindless attempt to sound like Led Zeppelin, although there's a nice mix overall. But the damage has already been done, it's impossible to hide bad gameplay behind Andrew Stockdale's whining voice. Because there's not a huge amount of enjoyment to be had with Shaun White Skateboarding, this brief positive moment isn't able to redeem some shockingly poor choices in the development stages.
Shaun White Skateboarding won't keep you entertained for long periods of time. Players who can stomach the tripe will get around ten hours in total, and that includes a bit of exploring. There is a multiplayer component but it may as well be ignored. There's no option to search for individual game types (you can only look for a lobby or create your own). The biggest problem of all is that nobody is playing online, seriously... nobody. There wasn't a single session in progress so we can't establish whether or not the game runs smoothly online. You could always play split-screen with a friend, but there will be unpleasant consequences in the form of mental scars. When Skate 3 launched earlier this year, it started off with bugs and glitches but the community thrived in the end with so many different options. Shaun White Skateboarding isn't ready to compete, even the abismal Tony Hawk: Ride had more flair than this.
There was a window of opportunity to fill the void between simulation and arcade craziness, and Shaun White Skateboarding certainly doesn't fill it. A culmination of lackluster design and dreadful controls leave it well off the pace, just like our dear old friend Tony. Fortunately, there's a far superior alternative called Skate 3, so that's what you need to hunt down if you're in search of a solid skateboarding game. It would have been a wise decision to pin down a good snowboarding game before making the transition to the streets, because this is nowhere near the quality that's expected nowadays.