7/18/2003 7:39:48 PM
Wakeboarding Unleashed Featuring Shaun Murray Xbox Review
By Mark Diller
Ah, what better way to spend a hot summer day than out on the water, whizzing along behind a speedboat as you impress your friends with your mad wakeboarding skills? Of course, to do so would require that you own a speedboat and a wakeboard (it’s kind of like a snowboard, in case you’re wondering), and that you’d know what to do with these things even if you had them. But no worries – you can do all that from the comfort of your own living room couch, thanks to Activision and their new game, “Wakeboarding Unleashed.” The only element missing is the water, but maybe you could get a friend to chuck water balloons at you while you play.
“Wakeboarding Unleashed” is actually pretty similar to “ATV Quad Power Racing 2,” right down to the character and crash animations in both titles. Where “ATV” combined racing and show-off acrobatics, though, this game is all about the flips, twists, and what not. It’s almost like a skateboarding title set on the water, and the only real competition you’ll find is with yourself as you try to master ever more difficult stunts and combination moves.
When you start up the game you come to a fork in the road: you can either go with a free ride, where you can practice your moves without the pressure of time limits or other restrictions, or you can go on to career mode. Here you will choose one of the celebrity wakeboarders (to the extent that any wakeboarder is a genuine celebrity – if you’ve actually heard of Shaun Murray then you know a hell of a lot more about the sport than I do) and then start performing. While your Groove Meter slowly slips downwards you try to pull off tricks and stunts that score points and extend the length of your run. When the meter hits zero you’re done, so the complicated moves that boost the meter back up are definitely worth your while. You can jump, of course – both off the boat’s wake and off several jumps scattered throughout the levels – and perform flips, twists, and what not, plus on solid surfaces you can perform rail tricks or wall rides that take you up and over the rails, boats, rock formations, and so on. It’s very much like the Tony Hawk skating games except for the water and bikinis.
The moves you’ll pull off are the sort of things that real wakeboarders only dream of – you get so much altitude on your jumps that you’re nearly launched into orbit, giving you plenty of time to perform complicated maneuvers on the way down. The basic tricks are easy enough, but to score the real points you need to link moves together into intricate sequences that require you to keep a close eye on how much altitude you got on your launch and the obstacles that might get in your way. Performing well nets skill points that you can use to upgrade your boarder, and every now and then you unlock a new level to board on, from the Louisiana Bayou to the canals of Venice and nearly everywhere in-between. In Free mode you also have the chance to drive the boat around, which is pretty pointless in itself except it allows you to practice for co-ops in which you drive while your friend rides the board.
The controls are well conceived, offering you a challenge that’s easy to learn but very hard to master. You jump with the A button and release it right at the top of the wake or jump to get decent height. You perform tricks with the X and B buttons in combination with the directional keypad or the left thumbstick; button + direction = trick. As soon as you master the mechanics you’ll find that the real trick is matching a move to a particular part of the map; not only do you not want a jump to send your character flying into the side of a building, you also want to land in a good position for performing the next trick. You’ll find lots of complexity beneath a fairly simple surface, and that makes for good game mechanics.
Which is good, because this is a game that requires a significant investment of time. “Wakeboarding Unleashed” is not for the lazy gamer who wants easy access to every level. The game really makes you work at unlocking the different surfaces. The different levels have challenges (such as a string of moves you have to perform within a certain time limit) and objectives, and none of these are particularly easy, either. From the looks of it, real-life wakeboarding is something that takes a lot of strength and skill, so it’s appropriate that the electronic version not be easy to master.
The graphics are really very nice – as anyone who’s seen “Finding Nemo” can tell you, computers were born to animate sleek, shiny things like the surface of water so everything looks great. The character animations are quite smooth, and the different animations fit together almost flawlessly. Really the only flaw is some clipping that you’ll run into in some areas – objects that should be solid seem to be made of gas – but one feature that should have been there but is not is a camera or replay mode. You’ve worked hard enough to land that combo, and it would be nice if you could replay your triumph and bask in the glory a little bit. In a title that’s built so much around performance, the lack of any sort of replay is puzzling. The sound is competent but nothing to get excited about – the ambient sounds (motor noises, the shouts of the people around you, the little yelp your character lets out when you slam him or her into a stone wall) are all adequate, and the soundtrack is a little more varied than what you hear in every extreme sports title these days, but there’s still a sense that more could have been done with the sound in this game.
In sum, this is a game that focuses intensively on one thing: wakeboard acrobatics. If that’s your thing, then you’ll enjoy many hours out on the virtual water, mastering your skills. If, however, you pick up this game expecting there to be extensive racing or other gameplay components, you’ll be disappointed. “Wakeboarding Unleashed” doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is, and that’s exactly what the sport’s fans are looking for.
Graphics: 8. Purrty.
Sound: 7. Nice of them to dig some Van Halen out of the vault.
Gameplay: 7. Good at what it does.
Replayability: 8. Strangely addictive.
Overall: 7.5. A must-have for wakeboarding fans, and a pretty fun change of pace for the rest of us.
Wakeboarding Unleashed Featuring Shaun Murray Xbox Review