The one interesting thing about the Xbox launch was the amount of
snowboarding titles available. Until the New Year, they were equal to
the number of football titles (not so anymore with the recent release of
NFL 2K2 from Sega). This begs the question: Is snowboarding really
that appealing? Obviously it is growing exponentially in popularity and
creeping out of its niche roots like skateboarding has done with Tony
Hawk. Snowboarding in the recent Olympic Games has also managed to
solidify the sport among the annals of athletics.
Amped is, to my knowledge, Microsoft's first inaugural snowboarding
game. It comes, however, with no compromises. It carries licensed
snowboarders, equipment, locations and all the usual trappings that
befit an established sports title. Gone are the days when you can
create a realistic sports title with fudged player names and unlicensed
property. You get the option of starting a quick race as well as a
career mode. The career mode paces you through a series of hills in
which you must perform a certain style of move for a certain sponsor.
Appease enough sponsors and you are able to gain access to new
equipment, new hills, etc. The quick race mode merely lets you replay
your accomplishments with other equipment or other characters.
Snowboarding is supposed to be easy to pick up, even more so than
skiing. So naturally, the controls in Amped are equally simple to
harness as well. Movement is dictated on the direction pad in the left
hand. The A button controls jumping whereas the other three help you
perform tricks. After playing rounds of Max Payne and Halo, I found it
interesting the right joypad remains unused. Otherwise, the moves are
easy to start off. It is chaining them together and finding the correct
setup that is tough in Amped. Much of the problem rests on the runs
themselves. Most of the short levels take a little over a minute to
finish. The tracks are wide but not very lengthy so you really have to
plan ahead which jumps you'd like to use to get the maximum amount of
points possible. The length issue is exasperated by the fact that it
often takes a fair bit of time to build enough speed and via extension,
get enough air to really put up some amazing moves. Ad hoc or mindless
button mashing won't work here either since the points only accrue if
you are able to facilitate a solid landing.
An interesting spin Amped puts on snowboarding, that I wasn't aware of,
is the inclusion of rails that you can ride on. The effect is not
unlike the groundbreaking Dreamcast title, Jet Grind Radio. Amped also
has built-in measures to keep the scoring respectable ergo the fact that
you can only ride so many rails in plain vanilla fashion before the
reward for that is proportionally lower. This prevents people from
simply jumping around at the top of the hill to get the requisite amount
of points. The rails, however, are tough to access and you almost
require foreknowledge of when to get on since unlike Jet Grind Radio,
Amped's emphasis on realism means you can't jump very high.
Realism also factors into the graphics themselves. The visuals in Amped
are impressive but not outlandish or fantastical. Though the amount of
snow does not make for any imaginative terrain texturing, there is an
abundance of particle effects to make the snowy landscape come alive.
Moreover, attention has been given to the actual snowboarder models
themselves and that effort is also reflected in the numerous obstacles
you encounter. On the other side of the technical coin, you get a good
aural experience as well. With roughly one hundred and fifty soundtrack
titles, you won't be finding this game's music boring anytime soon.
There is also a little everything for everyone with mellow ambient music
as well as the more boisterous punk or ska tracks. Luckily, there is a
fairly sophisticated system to allow you to mix in your own soundtracks
on the Xbox as well as toggle between the existing ones. Because of the
simplicity of the controls, a dedicated button is reserved on the
controller allowing you to skip a certain track. The music wasn't
entirely to my taste by default but I was cruising to some good tunes
with some tweaking.
The levels in Amped are short but they are also completely free of time
constraints. There's no pressure to get down the hill quickly and load
times for the same run are non-existent, so you can retry the run
repeatedly without annoyance. This gives beginners quite a bit of
leeway in trying to learn the game and there is a slight learning curve
before you can start smashing records. Perhaps one of the most
underwhelming things about Amped is the multiplayer component. Unlike,
say, the Xbox version of Tony Hawk, multiplayer here adheres not to 21st
century rules but to 1980s arcade conventions. There is no split-screen
play so if you have four players, they will have to play in succession.
Another peeve I have with the title is the menu layout. Although it is
intuitive and it is functional, I found most things I wanted to change
or do were always one or two choices too long. For example, to start an
ad hoc race is hardly as quick as the moniker on the menu claims it is.
Being developed and published by Microsoft, Amped comes with the same
polish that graced Microsoft's attempts in NFL Fever 2002. And dare I
say it even possesses the ability to surpass that achievement, at least
in the gameplay department, with its strict abeyance to the realism of
the snowboarding sport. In the end, Amped is faithful to snowboarding
and if not the actual craft, at least the very zeitgeist of the sport.
It is easy to start playing and the title is enjoyable to a wide range
of audiences. The absence of any time limits adds to this accessibility
as well. Hardcore players who have honed their skills on titles like
SSX Tricky may not find this title very compelling. However, Amped
offers some dazzling scenery to compensate. Some of the weather
effects, like snow and fog, are realistically draped on the open vistas.
Ultimately, if you were like me and was curious about the whole
snowboarding 'thing', Amped is a great title to help you learn about the