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Preview: Shaun White Skateboarding


What's happening in the screenshot above is one of the elements that makes Shaun White Skateboarding stand apart from the likes of Tony Hawk and EA's Skate 3. By doing tricks and generally skateboarding really well, you're transforming the game world from one that's monochromatic and lifeless into an eye-popping technicolor wonderland. Yes, it's pretty much like when Dorothy opens her front door after landing in Oz.

This part of the game came into play the moment I picked up the controller for my recent (and our first) hands-on with SWS on HD consoles. Something as simple as performing an ollie sends out a shockwave that brings color back to the surrounding world. It's not just about changing the look of the world, though, but its design as well.

Gallery: Shaun White Skateboarding (PS3/360) (08-10-10) | 4 Photos

You'll see this in action in the new video below, but the reward for stringing together the wildest trick combos in this game isn't merely a high score -- it actually opens the door to even higher ones by letting you reshape the environment. The demo I played had me starting off performing simple tricks, but it wasn't long before I was finding spots where tricking with my groove meter filled up would cause pavement to rise into ramps.

In other areas, rails "grew" as I ground along them, taking me to otherwise unreachable areas. Same with special verts that, like the grind rails, can be shaped as you see fit later on in the game.

I started out wondering why the world needs another skateboarding game. Now I know why -- and can't wait to play more.

All of this alone was impressive, but wouldn't really be more than some fancy effects if the game didn't control as superbly as it does. To be honest, I've never dropped into a skateboarding game and found it as immediately accessible and satisfying to control as SWS is at this point. It just feels good -- but not like you're somehow being "pulled" into perfect landings on rails or rescued from bailing when you otherwise would have. It's simply really easy to perform tricks and get a flow going. Plus you're eased into it. I started out using the X button (I played the game on PS3) to ollie, but, 15 minutes or so in, was introduced to using the right analog stick to do so -- enabling me to pull off flip tricks in the process. Again, this just felt good.

As I got more comfortable with the controls, and was performing more impressive tricks, the game rewarded me with a second tier to my groove meter, this one blue and longer than the initial orange section. So, I had to try for even crazier moves to max it out and earn the ability (for as long as it stayed charged) to affect blue-hued areas of the game world. The transformations that resulted were even more dramatic, with whole areas reshaping to resemble a skate park.

Though I only got to explore one fairly small area near the beginning of the game, its producer played through another while I watched (in 3-D, which actually looked pretty good, save for the drop from 60 to 30 frames per second). In what was described as one of the game's more linear story missions, he skated across rooftops at breakneck speed, shaping grind rails to bridge massive gaps and ... avoiding a helicopter that was shooting at him. Seriously. The stage took him from the rooftops, across billboards, through skyscrapers under construction and along train tracks, with dramatic slow-mo moments along the way. I wanted to play it so badly. Hopefully next time.

It's not a perfect analogy, but playing SWS reminds me a lot of one of my favorite (also extreme sports) games: SSX. Sure, it's skateboarding, not snowboarding, and is open-world versus track-based, but what Ubisoft is cooking up has that same sort of over-the-top, fun vibe to it. That, and its ability to be picked up in a snap, but keep surprising you with its depth.

I started out wondering why the world needs another skateboarding game. Now I know why -- and can't wait to play more.

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