Review: Stoked (Microsoft Xbox 360)


Stoked (360)
Genre: Sports
Developer: Bongfish
Publisher: Destineer
Release Date: 2/26/09

There was a time when extreme sports games were being released in a dozen different ways each year. With the current generation of consoles it seems like this genre of gaming is dying out, while skateboarding is still getting yearly games between Tony Hawk and .skate, other sports have been left behind. Maybe it was done to death in the last generation but I’m still waiting for a current generation version of some of these different sports. Until recently snowboarding was one of those ignored sports. Shaun White’s Snowboarding was meant to fill the demand for a snowboarding game, but was released to lackluster reviews. On the heels of that release is Stoked, developed by a small company and released at a budget price.

In many ways Stoked is to the snowboarding genre what .skate was to skateboarding games. Stoked uses a similar control interface, the left stick move the player and the right stick is for jumps and tricks. Holding down the left, right, or both triggers determines the type of grab trick. This helps separate Stoked from other snowboarding titles, and after adjusting to the control scheme it feels great. Even after trying for awhile to adjust to .skate I still had issues with the controls where in Stoked after it eventually became second nature. This is probably because in Stoked you never have to worry about pressing a button to gain momentum since you are boarding down a mountain.

Right away you will be asked to create a custom boarder. There are not really a lot of options to this as there are only a couple of different faces and hairstyles to choose from and at first many of the different clothing options are locked. This isn’t that much of an issue since you are mostly going to be staring at the back of your boarder’s head, but it would’ve still been nice to have had some more options.

After that it’s choosing the mountain you want to ride on. There are five mountains total and three unlocked right away. Each mountain will display the time of day and weather conditions for that specific mountain. This is a great feature for this type of game since the conditions can really effect the mountain you are riding on. If it’s sunny and there is less snow on the mountain there will be more exposed rock on the mountain which will make certain sections more difficulty to ride down, while deep snow might open up more areas.

At first you have to choose for a helicopter to take you to different drop points. At each of the drop points on the mountain there will be ten different challenges as well as an overall high score to beat. Beating these challenges earn fame points. Unfortunately many of the initial challenges (and many of the other challenges in the game) are of the same type. Most of the time you will either have to nail a trick (or multiple tricks) from a specific location, beat a score using only certain moves, or a mix of the two with gates to board through. When you become a pro-rider the challenges open up and soon you end up doing more involved challenges for sponsors to earn clothing or to earn the cover of a snowboarding magazine, and while the nature of the challenges stay the same the feeling of progression is more satisfying.

However the time it takes to become a pro is surprisingly long in the game. You need to earn 66 fame points, and many of the initial challenges only offer 1 or 2 fame points. It took me four hours to get to that point, and once you do it’s great because the game really opens up and becomes a more expansive experience. I should also note that during those four hours I was also trying to pass the Wolle pro-challenge, which took a lot of time. Each mountain has a pro that after meeting specific qualifications you can challenge. With Wolle you have to ride through gates and each gate you have to perform certain tricks. On top of that you can only crash 3 times before failing and you have to beat the pro rider’s score. Here’s a hint for Wolle if you get stuck, tail slide is your friend.

The time between unlocking sponsors and pro challenges might have been a bit more bearable if there had been some kind of visual notification on how much progress had been made already towards a goal. Like a meter when gaining fame points showing how much was left until you become a pro rider, or a visual cue when you complete one of the goals that are required to challenge a pro rider. Instead the only way to do this is to pause the game and go through the menus. The game really could’ve done more to encourage players to go for one more run instead of burying the current level of progression behind menu screens.

While it does take awhile for the game to open up it is also worth noting that right around the time that you do the whole boarding system starts feeling natural. When I first started I had to consult the grab bible anytime I wanted to do a stalefish or nose grab, and it took a little bit of time to get the hang of switch and which way to turn was frontside. Stoked is not a pick up and play sort of game. The game takes a lot of patience and the first few hours will be full of curse filled frustration, but once you get the hang of the game it is a lot of fun. There were times when I wanted to throw my controller through the wall during Wolle’s challenge because I’d either crash for a third time or I’d get to the bottom of the hill to only be 20 points away from beating the challenge. Once I did beat the challenge it felt incredibly rewarding, which pretty much describes how the whole game feels.

Some of the frustration is from the physics system instead of the actual gameplay though. There are times when you will swear you landed right and you still fall down due to some unseen force. It’s not often but it does happen. Rocks in the game are an issue as sometimes you might board off of one and go off in a strange direction, but if you hit the rock the same way the next time you might just crash instead. The controls are mostly great, though there are times when I’ll pre-load a jump and then I’ll jump but it will not register. Sometimes when I try to do a flip and a trick it will have a hard time registering the grab move I’m attempting.

Graphically Stoked is a pretty sharp game. Then again most of the game is snow and mountain. The backgrounds of different mountains in the distance look great and the move animations are smooth. There is some pop in when it comes to trees or even other rider’s tracks in the snow, but nothing that gets in the way of gameplay. Falling snow looks like small white balls instead of anything authentic. The camera stays pretty close to your rider and I never had an issue with it, but there are three other camera views that can be accessed if the default view doesn’t work for you.

One thing about the game is that it takes almost entirely in mountain back country. That means there aren’t very many artificial areas to trick off of, like half-pipes. Compared to the SSX games the landscape looks practically empty. There are a lot of environmental things to trick off of and well placed fallen logs and while some of the environments from mountain to mountain might look similar they certainly feel different. At first you choose different drop points but after awhile you unlock the ability to fly a helicopter and then every part of the mountain becomes accessible. No invisible barriers at all, the only thing stopping you from going down certain parts of the mountain are steep drops. It’s hard to describe just how great it is in a snowboarding game to be able to choose from a whole mountain and then choose any part of it to drop onto.

There’s an interesting variety to the music in the game, but there are very few stand out tracks and there’s a lot of generic sounding music. You can go into the options and choose what style of music you want to listen to in the game and that’s at least a welcome option. The sound of crunching snow is just perfect to my Minnesota ears, even though I’ve read elsewhere that it’s exaggerated.

Both graphically and aurally there’s just not enough impact to crashing. .Skate 2 has a whole bonus mode based on how badly you crashed with some painful looking spills, in Stoked you will likely crash a lot at first, and even going high speed into a cabin doesn’t seem as life threatening as you might imagine it would. Some ragdoll physics for the crashes or some bonus system like in .skate would’ve helped make some of the crashes during the learning phase of the game seem more tolerable.

Aside from the difficult learning curve in the game, most of the challenges aren’t that bad and require only a few tries at most to complete. The high score for different drop points is easy to reach since even if you get to the bottom of the mountain you can still prewind and do spin tricks over and over again until the point total is reached. The pro challenges are by far the hardest parts of the game, and strangely enough the pro challenge on the first mountain is harder than many of the others.

One of the other great things about Stoked is the game let’s you play in whatever way you are more comfortable with. There are two different styles Hucker or Stylish. Huck is centered on landing more tricks and spinning more despite clumsy landings and Stylish is all about doing a trick well using slow spins and perfect landings. The game never forces you into a style and doing either is fine, though I personally found Stylish to be more of a challenge since it requires a greater level of presicion.

There’s an online component to the game where you can ride with up to seven other people. Joining or creating a game by default is for freeride, but you can challenge the people who join you to different gametypes like T.R.I.C.K., which is a HORSE style variation where one player does a trick and then the other players try to do the same trick with failure gaining you a letter. There are a couple of variations of high score competitions, and a great one called Ground Is Lava where you have to try to stay airborne for as long as possible. One of the things I fail to understand about the game is how they included such variety of different gametypes in the multiplayer part of the game, but not in the single player. These modes would work as great challenges in the single player portion of the game.

Between a control scheme that encourages landing well over trying to do ten tricks in a row and having authentic snowboard riders, magazines, and apparel, Stoked succeeds in being a game that tries to capture the complete snowboarding experience.

The Scores:
Game Modes/Story: Decent
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Incredible
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Even though the learning curve for Stoked is set pretty high, the game is a rewarding experience if you have the patience to learn the controls and get through the beginning challenges. With a little more polish to the physics engine and some more variety to the single player game Stoked could’ve been a genre defining title. As it is, it’s still a fun snowboarding game and for $40 is an easy recommendation.

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