What better way to cool down a group of games writers in the middle of summer than showing them a video game about snowboarding?
I'm not a fan of the Wii Balance Board, so I wasn't really looking forward to "feet-on time" with the game until I saw the demo master wipe out on a slope. His character model came up coated in a fine powder of snow and for one second I forgot that it was stiflingly hot in the city and forgot the gigantic sunburn on my back.
What Is It? Shaun White Snowboarding World Stage is sequel to the 2008 Wii game, Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip. World Stage opens up the world of snowboarding to competitions and throttles back on the free riding from the first game, though you can still play with buddies in the multiplayer free mode. The game supports up to four players, although only one person can use the Balance Board while other players have to use the Wiimote and Nunchuck control scheme.
What We Saw Because I'm a total amateur with Shaun White and not big on the Balance Board, I played a beginner course about five times to get used to the controls and poked around a bit at the campaign mode hub (an airport with an arcade machine) and more difficult course.
How Far Along Is It? The game is due out in November 2009 – when the novelty of snowboarding in summer will be long gone.
What Needs Improvement? Counter-intuitive Jumping: This is probably more the Balance Board's fault than World Stage's – but the jumping mechanic takes some getting used to. The rest of the controls are so smoothly integrated into the snowboarding that you barely have to think when it comes to speeding up, slowing down or turning. But when you want to jump, you have to press downward with your feet instead of lifting upward or, you know, jumping. The temptation to jump is so hard to resist, the game is even programmed to chide you about damaging the Balance Board if you so much as rock back and forth on your heels too quickly.
What Should Stay The Same? The Rest of the Controls: Jumping aside, nearly all of the snowboarding controls were tight and immersive. I thought it was strange to hold the Wiimote in one hand and use the board for the rest when watching someone else play, but I didn't notice it at all once I got my feet-on turn.
Final Thoughts I know nothing about snowboarding and even less about Shaun White, but World Stage is such an intuitive game, I don't think that matters. What more could you ask for from a serious sports game besides authenticity and a low barrier to entry? I may not go out and buy it for myself, but I'd never turn down a chance to play it – especially on a hot day in July when there's not a beach in sight.