Stoked Review: Boarding With The New Kid
Destineer Games is the last place I expected to find a good snowboarding game; EA – sure, Ubisoft – maybe, but not Destineer. No offense to the publishers, but their track record of games have pretty much been all over the place, from “Homie Rollerz,” to “WordJong,” and they don’t appear to have many extreme sports games under their belt. However, after spending quite some time with “Stoked” for the Xbox 360, it seems like they managed to put together a pretty solid title.
“Stoked” isn’t the next “SSX” (this writer’s King of the Hill when it comes to snowboarding games) but that’s because “Stoked” takes a more realistic approach to snowboarding, and does it in a different setting. This game takes you away from the crowds and the race tracks, and puts you in the back country where it’s pretty much just you, your board, some trees, and the helicopter that just dropped you off. You don’t have to worry about other people getting in your way too often, or having to make it to the bottom of the run in a certain amount of time – it’s open-ended and the mountain is yours.
While you are working your way down the mountain in career mode, there are challenges that pop up, no matter what run you’re on, as long as you haven’t gone too far off the beaten path. Each of these challenges offers you the opportunity to increase your fame, which in turn will get you sponsored, and open up more of the game. The challenges range in actual activity, but they are heavily focused on tricks – either getting a certain amount of points only using specific tricks, or doing grabs in order … you get the picture. The better you do in these challenges the faster you progress through the game, but either way, it’s going to take you a while.
One of the game’s biggest drawbacks was the fame/progression system, mostly because it took so long to get to a point where I felt like I was making steady progress. From the game’s outset there are 3 mountains available, with an additional two to unlock, which is only done by getting sponsored, and becoming famous. In order to unlock the first new mountain, you need over 60 fame points, and you only get one point per challenge. There are a few additional ways to get some bonus points, but they tend to be a lot of work. In other words, the beginning of the game was extremely repetitive, before it picked up and I felt like I was getting anywhere in “Stoked,” at the same time it still managed to be oddly compelling. On the plus side, after you reach the first sponsorship, the fame starts rolling in, and the game picks up quite a bit.
It only takes a while to progress through the single-player, if you wanted to jump online, and go head-to-head with your friends, you can pretty much do that right away. “Stoked” offers a pretty seamless Xbox Live integration allowing you to board with up to seven of your friends, and each of the challenges and downhill runs all have weekly refreshed online leaderboards that show you your standing as soon as you complete them.
As far as the nitty-gritty of the game goes, the controls appear to be modeled after “skate” where almost all your board control falls on the right analog… and ya know what… it worked better in “Stoked.” When I played “skate” I was constantly frustrated by not being able to pull off the tricks because I was flicking the stick ten degrees off, but in “Stoked,” you have a little more airtime to work with, and the controls tend to be a little more forgiving. Top that off with the fact that there is trick and grab handbook included with the game, and you shouldn’t have too many problems pulling off the tricks that you need to throughout the game.
The graphics may leave some people looking for something a little shinier, but “Stoked” is a budget title from an independent publisher, so you should be a bit forgiving. For the most part, everything on the mountain looks good as it goes whizzing by; it’s the character models that leave a bit to be desired. They just didn’t look as good as an Xbox 360’s model should look at this point in the consoles life. Additionally, outside of the large wardrobe that was included, the character customization was pretty stock, and not that deep. Oh well, at least they were smart enough to include a bikini as an option for the female riders… after all, isn’t that all we really need?
Over the years, deep soundtracks have become as important a part of snowboarding games as the snowboards, and “Stoked” is no exception. They happened to go the indie artist route, offering the player numerous tracks to choose from, most likely artists they’ve most likely never heard of, but that’s usually a good thing when you want to focus on the mountain – not knowing the song helps you keep from splitting your focus. Either way, it’s a solid blend of genres, from hip-hop to rock, creating a pretty solid audio experience, and you might even discover your new favorite band along the way.
Every now and then a game comes along that changes my mind about a developer, publisher, or genre as a whole. “Call of Duty 2,” “Dirt,” and “World of Goo” are just a few of the games that forced me to really change how I perceived a major parts of the games industry, and it looks like “Stoked” can now be added to that list, in hopes that Destineer will continue releasing games of this quality. While there are some flaws in the game, if you’re willing to put in the time, it’s well worth the payoff. I’ve found that snowboarding gets one worthwhile game a year, and there’s a good chance this “Stoked” could be 2009’s game.
“Stoked” was released on February 26, 2009 for the Xbox 360.