Tim Stevens

It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a snowboarding game on the Xbox 360… Amped 3 was about the last worth mentioning, and that was a launch title. Since then gamers hoping to hit the slopes without risking cracked wrists and broken tailbones haven’t had much to do. So, naturally, when Ubisoft announced a partnership with Shaun White and the development of a realistic riding game, many virtual shredders were really stoked. Sadly, though, this one’s only worth the price of admission if you can get a discounted lift ticket.

Far and away the biggest issue in the game its feel. Jump right in and the controls seem a little off; far too twitchy and a long-shot from the effortless, gliding sensation you get when riding through powder. A light touch to either side on the left analog stick has your rider veering in that direction, a reaction that takes some time to acquaint to and, even then, doesn’t feel natural. On the other hand the trick controls, which use a Skate-like setup to assign grabs to the right analog stick and spins/flips to the left while in the air, are quite intuitive and natural – it’s the all-important sensation of carving that’s lacking. 

The other missing aspect relating to feel is any sort of sensation of speed. The game relies on motion blur and fluttering clothing on your (completely customizable) rider to try to add some perception of velocity, but even when you’re racking up “Speed Demon” bonuses and traveling at maximum warp in the game the sensation is more bunny slope than black diamond. Top speed on a snowboard in real life is thrilling and frightening, and should be at least engaging in a game; instead it just feels boring here.

And that’s a shame, because there are four gigantic mountains to make your way down. Sadly only one of them is real, Shaun’s home terrain at Park City in Utah, but even the three fakes are large and full of things to do. What they are not full of is places for you to warp to, which makes the game’s many “find the hidden coins” quests a real chore. You can only travel to the top of the few lifts scattered about or to the odd helicopter drop point, usually leaving you with a long, slow, boring ride to find what you’re looking for. And, since the in-game radar guiding you to these hidden coins is hardly precise, you’ll often overshoot them, leaving you the options of spending a few minutes hiking up the trail or twice as long riding back down it. The fact that this isn’t an easy decision to make should give you an idea of how far off the feel of this game is.

There is plenty to do beyond fetch coins, both online and off, but if you want to unlock all your rider’s abilities (and spend some in-game face time with Shaun White) you’ll be searching endlessly for the floating things; that mechanic may work for Mario but it’s a complete bore here. The only thing interesting about exploring the slopes while looking for hidden goodies is the opportunity to appreciate the game’s fantastic graphics engine, which renders a sea of powder as far as the eye can fathom, as well as plenty of details up close. Avalanches are also a real possibility as you explore, which add some much needed excitement when you’re poking your way through the terrain.

Overall there’s a good snowboarding engine here if you can get past the puzzling feel; your rider does react differently on different surfaces, grinds and tricks feel good, and things are certainly lovely to behold. But it takes a strong commitment to get past the irritating fetch-quests at the beginning, and, with the sensation of speed feeling muted at the very least, each run down the gigantic mountains is rather more boring than it should be. There is fun to be had here if you skip the coin collecting, but in a title like this you shouldn’t have to go out of your way to find it. 

ESRB: E10+, for lyrics, mild suggestive themes, and mild violence
Plays Like: Amped 3
Pros: Gorgeous mountains, many ways to play online or off
Cons: Twitchy controls and overall poor feel, missing sense of speed, in-game progression hinges not on riding skills but coin-finding abilities

It’s hard to not be charmed by the idea of playing Guitar Hero anywhere you go, or of strumming your DS with wild abandon, faux pick in hand and lip askew like a geeky Billy Idol. Whimsical charm only gets you so far in the face of frustrating issues, though, of which Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades has plenty. Just as we found in our review of the original On Tour, those issues can be a real pain – usually in the wrist area. 

Decades offers more of the same, utilizing a virtually unchanged in-game engine and fret/cartridge accessory to offer 28 new tunes for your rocking enjoyment. All the tracks are from the original masters (no more touring with cover bands) and they’ve been categorized into decades, starting with “modern” for anything in the past few years and then running all the way back to the ‘70s to deliver a little Lynrd Skynrd action. 

While the songs do tend to get better as you progress through the campaign (assuming you’d rather listen to Blondie than Paramour), Decades tosses all notions of its predecessors gradually increasing difficulty aside. Instead of getting progressively harder as you work through the campaign the songs just get progressively older, meaning completing this one doesn’t lead to much of a feeling of accomplishment. However, the new ability to run through that campaign playing the rhythm/bass tracks as well gives Decades significantly more single-player shelf-life than On Tour.

Multiplayer longevity is boosted too thanks to WiFi compatibility with the original On Tour, enabling gamers with either cart to play the all the tracks from the other when connected wirelessly. That’s great if you have a friend who won’t be bothered to upgrade to the new one, but chances are you still aren’t totally sold that you should be making the upgrade yourself.

Primary among things to consider before buying is the unchanged fret attachment: if you can’t get comfortable with it you’ll be in pain long before you even hit the ‘90s. Also, with the same in-game engine you’ll still see bands that aren’t really playing along, hear sound that isn’t crystal clear, and deal with a touch-screen strumming mechanic that at its best takes a good bit of getting used to and at its worst isn’t responsive enough for technical riffs. Ultimately Decades is a better game than the first On Tour, and both games can be genuinely entertaining. But, it’s hard to see this as anything more than a 28-track expansion pack, and $35 ($50 if you get the bundle with the fret attachment) seems like a bit much for that.

ESRB: E10+, for lyrics
Plays Like: Guitar Hero On Tour
Pros: Reasonably faithful experience; new campaign mode adds some life; solid multiplayer
Cons: Still uncomfortable for most; looks, plays, and feels exactly like last On Tour