The notion of a skateboarding videogame initially struck me as rather silly. Want to ”play” skateboarding? Then just…go skateboarding. Why would anyone even remotely interested in experiencing the exhilaration of zipping down a sidewalk on a rolling plank of wood (or, if they’re brave enough, launching off a half-pipe) want to settle for a stationary, button-punching simulation? If the answer is ”To avoid breaking your neck,” then…well, good point.
Skate 2 — the state of the art in extreme-sports games — offers chickens like me the visceral thrill of skateboarding without any of the risk. The freeplay feature allows you to cruise through vast and richly imagined environs without fear of losing your balance or spraining an ankle — though when you get sideswiped by a car, the physics are jarringly real. (Except, of course, for the part where you can just get up and start skating again.)
The simple fun and meticulously conceived world are enough to earn the casual gamer’s dollar. But this really isn’t a game for them. Instead, it’s aimed squarely at the hardcore skateboarding set, for whom tricks like ”one-foots,” ”hand-plants,” ”hippy jumps,” and ”ollies” not only come naturally but need no explanation. (And by the way? There isn’t any.) The game’s career mode is throw-the-joypad-against-the-TV difficult; it took me more than a day to clear the tutorial, and only professional obligation pushed me further. But that’s cool: Skate 2 is Madden football for skateboarders, and then some. By allowing for multiplayer online play and providing the opportunity to edit and share highlight clips of amazing moves, it offers a hub for skateboarding culture itself.
But I have a complaint. I know skateboarders feel marginalized. After all, baseball fields are everywhere; why not skateparks? But Skate 2‘s outlaw/martyr motif lays it on thick and silly. Your character has just been paroled from prison — a live- action opening sequence features several celebrity skateboarders as inmates doing hard time — and now aspires to destroy a monolithic corporation that hates, hates, hates skateboarders. Wheel past their nasty guards and they’ll practically lynch you. Skateboarders as counterculture punks? Yes. Oppressed minority? Not so much.
A more genial depiction of the extreme-sports community — and a much more accessible simulation of an extreme sport — can be found in the form of Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip for the Wii. The game follows a bunch of fun-loving boys and girls who somehow have enough money to travel the world trying to catch up with their globe-trotting friend and idol, the Olympic snowboarding champ. It’s a goofy setup for a simplistically structured game (complete a couple of challenges, move to the next location) that uses the Wii’s Balance Board to replicate the task of managing a real snowboard. Figuring out how to position your feet to bank corners, gain speed, and execute tricks is initially tough, then really satisfying, and then… boring. There’s not enough challenge and narrative to maintain interest once you master its innovative interface. If only Shaun White were more like Skate 2, and Skate 2 more like Shaun White, both could have been A?s. Instead, Skate 2: B+; Shaun White: B