March 18, 2009
Gamers who also enjoy snowboarding have seen almost nothing that recreates the sport in this console generation. Shaun White Snowboarding released late last year as the first snowboarding title since Amped 3's release back in 2005, and now Stoked arrives as its first challenger. Delivering players the ability to truly explore the mountains and make them their own, Stoked is an entertaining experience worth looking into, despite some shortcomings.
Upon loading up the game for the first time, players must create their snowboader, selecting their sex, appearance, clothing, and equipment from a selection of options. Progression through the career mode makes more boards and clothing items available. While it's nice to be able to tailor your snowboarder's appearance somewhat, the amount of options available here is painfully limited compared to similar games, like the Tony Hawk or Skate series. There's less than half a dozen faces for each sex, with no ability to change hair color beyond a certain style's default, which means ultimately everyone's snowboarders still look pretty similar.
With your character created, it's time to head off to the mountains to learn snowboarding skills and start building fame. This early stage of the game is also probably the most frustrating. The tutorials fly by quickly, after which point you're thrown to the wolves to figure things out on your own. The left stick controls movement, while moving the right stick down, then flicking it up, allows players to ollie. While in the air, the left and right triggers control their respective hands on the snowboarder, while moving the right stick in different directions executes different grab tricks. These controls work pretty well, though they take some getting used to, making the beginning of the game a frustrating affair until they're mastered.
Building fame is key to progressing through the career mode, and fame can be earned in several different ways. As players progress down different runs of each of the game's five mountains, they'll encounter other snowboarders offering challenges at various locations. These challenges may be beating a set score using certain types of moves (grabs, flips, etc.), or executing specific tricks. Each run down a mountain has ten different challenges, and they're scattered around enough that multiples runs will be necessary to find and complete them all. Fame can also be earned by besting the default score of 50,000 for each run of the mountain.
As fame builds up, sponsors and magazines will become increasingly interested in you, and offer challenges of their own, to build even more fame or unlock new items for your character. These challenges are pretty similar to the challenges snowboarders on the mountains give you, except they are more demanding and rewarding. Other challenges include events, which consist of three runs down a course, where your average score of those runs is your challenge total, and competitions against pro racers, which involve doing specific tricks on the way down a mountain, and trying to outscore your opponent. While these events are fun, variety becomes an issue as the career progresses, as the game boils down to completing trick challenges to unlock more challenges in a rather repetitive fashion. It's fun for a while, but begins to grow stale by the time you've cleared a few of the competitive events.
Stoked is not a game for impatient gamers, as lots of practice and patience are required for success. In the challenges that require the execution of specific tricks, if you fail to land the required trick, you'll probably have to start over, although players have the option to manually restart a challenge with the back button. You'll be doing that a lot. Be prepared to pause the game a lot at the beginning of a challenge to look up how to do specific tricks as well, until you've got them all memorized. The game comes with a printed reference guide for your convenience, and the buttons for the grabs can also be found in-game through the pause menu, but pauses in the action to look up tricks break up the game's pace, making memorization required for maximum enjoyment in the game. Anyone prone to frustration and those who couldn't see themselves retrying events dozens of times if needed, are advised to avoid this game. However, patient gamers will be rewarded with a satisfying snowboarding experience.
One of Stoked's finest features is the ability to fly a helicopter around each mountain, to drop out anywhere and explore the mountains how you see fit. This ability comes after passing a score of 50,000 on every run on a mountain, and is well worth the effort, as it makes getting to previously missed challenges much easier, and allows for boarding from areas that would otherwise be out of reach. Boarding down mountains however you'd like is a pleasant change of pace from the endless challenges of the career mode, and its open-ended nature may provide this game a lot of its replay value. Each of the five mountains in the game is impressively large with a lot of terrain to see and perform tricks off of, and it's not hard to see people spending hours exploring these huge and well-realized mountains.
Besides the challenges of career mode and the ability to freely explore the mountains, Stoked features an excellent multiplayer experience for up to eight players. Players can group together on any run of any mountain, and casually snowboard together, complete the challenges available in career mode, or challenge each other to special events. Multiplayer challenges include races down the mountain, T.R.I.C.K. (which is like the basketball game HORSE except it involves snowboard tricks), open challenges on who can score the most points within the time limit, and more. These challenges are a blast, which leaves me puzzled on why some of them weren't included in the career mode in some form. It would have given the single player some much-needed variety. Unfortunately, this quality multiplayer is met with a lack of an online community. In all my tests, it was difficult to find people to play with, suggesting it may be a good idea to have friends who own this game as well, if you really want to experience the multiplayer at its finest.
Stoked's graphics manage to be excellent and mediocre at the same time. The draw distance on display is incredible, as players can see for miles. However, character models look rather generic, and lack the level of detail we've come to expect. The audio, however, is much more impressive. Stoked features the ability to skip through songs simply by pressing the d-pad left or right, allowing users to more easily fine the tune on the game's soundtrack they want to hear. Hate rap? Stoked featured the ability to enable or disable entire genres of music, allowing users to further tailor the audio to suit their tastes. Don't worry, the game has enough music on it that it's safe to axe a genre or two and still have plenty to listen to. Nothing here is from extremely well-known artists, but the songs are generally quality and fit the atmosphere of the game. The only letdown for audio is the voice acting, which gets annoying and repetitive quickly, as it seems very few lines of dialogue were recorded. Why do such great work with music and so little with voices?
Getting the majority of the achievement points in Stoked isn't very hard, once you've gotten the hang of the game, as many of the achievements come from career progression. The photo achievements and achievements for signing the guest book on each mountain are also incredibly easy, so most gamers can probably get in the high 600s here without too much trouble. The online achievements with a leaderboard component will give completionists a headache, as they involve literally hitting the number one spot in the world leaderboard of an event to get. Leaderboards refresh weekly, giving more people a chance, but it will likely take both skill and dedication to collect every achievement.
Stoked provides five huge mountains for your snowboarding enjoyment, complete with a multiplayer setup that's a lot of fun, but only if you can find people to play with. A lack of variety in the single player career, a rather sharp learning curve, and the possibility of trying challenges multiple times to succeed may turn people off, but if you can get beyond that, Stoked provides a lot of content and fun to be had for its $40 asking price.
The ability to turn specific genres on or off, and scroll through the music list at any time is amazing, and there's plenty of good music here. Unfortunately, there's little voice acting, and what we have is rather annoying.
The draw distance is seriously impressive, but character models look painfully generic and lack detail.
The controls work great once you've got the hang of them, but it may take time and practice to master.
Major points for giving players the ability to fly around the mountain and drop out anywhere, and the multiplayer is great, but character creation options are limited, and the lack of variety in the career mode can't be ignored.
Most will come with progression through the career, and doing some exploring of the mountains. The leaderboard achievements may give completionists a headache. There's nothing spectacular here, but most of the points are easy enough.
Stoked isn't for everyone. You'll either love it for the ability to freely explore five huge mountains, or hate it for the lack of variety in career mode and the rather steep learning curve. If you find yourself in the first group, Stoked has more than enough content to merit its $40 asking price.