Stoked: Big Air Edition is a game I didn't know existed. Other than Ubisoft's Shaun White series, I thought there were no more snowboarding games being made, which was a shame since they tend to be a lot of fun, particularly the SSX series. Stoked goes in a different direction, separate from the arcade feel from the SSX series or the Extreme Games fame set up that Shaun White offers. Not unlike EA's successful Skate franchise, Stoked is all about making a name for yourself the old fashioned way. Forgoing huge competitions, Stoked is all about the sport.
Gameplay in Stoked is very open ended in its structure. After you customize your rider, you're off to your first mountain and left to your tools. A series of tutorials is offered and needed, as the controls will frustrate players new to the game. The control style is very similar to EA'S Skate franchise, using the right stick to do ollies and tricks while the left controls movement and body rotation, and the triggers corresponding to the different arm to grab the board to pull off tricks. At first, I fumbled over the controls due to the different motions I had to pull off in such a short span of time. In a way though, it's similar to an amateur snowboarder’s first few sessions.
You will mess up, a lot. You will miss time moves, jump off a ramp incorrectly, or overshoot a spin and slam into the nearest object. The payoff when you finally nail a series of tricks for a challenge is hugely satisfying. Failing a series of grinds over 20 times, only to finally nail it is a satisfying sense of accomplishment. When you start clicking on all cylinders, the game becomes one of the most satisfying snowboarding experiences out there. It is a game that rewards patience and the desire to learn. Thankfully during the tutorials and certain challenges, they will show the appropriate combination to pull off a specific air trick. Grinds and rotations can only be figured out by simple trial and error though, for better or worse.
The games various mountains offer great draw distance, and some pretty good detail that allows each mountain to have its out personality apart from how the ground is shaped up thanks to touches like locale specific landmarks, buildings, and foliage. Snow trails are also done well, such as motion blur from dashing down the mountain at a breakneck speed, along with snow kicking into your view which is also a nice touch. One surprise is the persistent weather, where there are actual forecasts which can change the terrain of the mountain due to fresh snowfall and your visibility due to trying to ride at night (which is basically riding blind). All this plays into the challenges the games offer, as some are specifically recommended after a fresh snow fall. When it comes specifically to character models, it is passable. The customizability is less than what I would want, and a lot of the animations (with actual snowboarding and pulling off tricks being the exception) look rough and unpolished. It is not a huge detriment to the whole graphics package but it gives the game kind of an uneven quality.
Sound effects are surprisingly well done. Little things like hearings the wind whistle as you pick up speed to the sound of snow being crunched up when you're braking. Music selection is surprisingly varied as well. Not only does it have the typical skater type rock, but also a nice selection of hip hop and pop tracks as well. The music is from rather unknown bands, which actually fits the theme that the game has been going for. The voice acting, on the other hand, is a terrible. Each location has its own helicopter pilot (complete with thick accent specific to the country) that fills you in on the weather as well as a nice explanation of the mountain's history, which is appreciated. The game also hosts a selection of snowboarding pros that lend their voices and likeness to the game. While they may be simply talking the way they normally would, their voices just didn't really fit as these people are athletes, not voice actors. Finally, voice tracks in general tend to repeat way too often.
Stoked: Big Air Edition is not for everybody. It doesn't fill in the void left by the fabulous, over-the-top style of the SSX series. For players looking for the realistic equivalent of Skate to the snowboarding sport, Stoked is where it at its strongest. A steep learning curve be damned, this game hits its stride from its frustration to a feeling of satisfaction since the challenges can all be done with enough effort. If you are willing to put the time and effort for it, there is a lot of fun to be had. With that said, this game is probably the best presentation of snowboarding out there.
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