1080 Avalanche Review
1080 Avalanche delivers a sometimes thrilling sensation of speed and features a number of nice touches not found in other snowboarding games, but it has very limited lasting value.
Most of Nintendo's GameCube games this year have been new installments in its established franchises. A number of them have also been racing games, and 1080 Avalanche falls into this particular subcategory, alongside the previously released F-Zero GX, Kirby Air Ride, and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! One of the first games unveiled for the GameCube even prior to the system's release, 1080 Avalanche is the sequel to 1998's excellent Nintendo 64 snowboarding game 1080 Snowboarding, but this new game seems unlikely to enjoy its predecessor's popularity. 1080 Avalanche delivers a sometimes thrilling sensation of speed and features a number of nice touches not found in other snowboarding games on the market, but it has very limited lasting value in its single-player mode, and the split-screen multiplayer mode and network play option don't do much to compensate for this shortcoming. The game is fun to play, but there just isn't much to it.
Fans of the original 1080 Snowboarding will notice many similarities between that game and its new sequel. A nicely done animated main menu--styled after a ski lodge--lets you choose from the available game modes, it lets you choose a boarder, and it also lets you choose a board. The game's loading times between its various courses are actually a little lengthy, though during them, you can sample the game's selection of licensed music, which mostly consists of indie rock and electronic beats that nicely fit the theme of the game. A minor issue with the interface is that you need to use the control stick to navigate most of the menus, yet you need to use the D pad to select music. The manual offers profiles of the game's five main characters, each of whom is ranked differently for speed, acceleration, jumping, turning, and balance. These differences, however, are not particularly pronounced during gameplay, nor are the characters' personalities. Not that this stuff really matters, since it's all about the action on the slopes.
This is where the tried-and-true gameplay of 1080 Snowboarding shines through once again. Though there are other snowboarding games currently on the shelves, including EA's excellent SSX 3 and Microsoft's Amped 2, 1080 Avalanche plays quite differently from these and delivers some terrifically fast snowboarding, at times. For some reason, your speed in the game is listed in kilometers per hour and no miles-per-hour option is available, but you won't need a big number to tell you when you're going extremely fast here. Speed lines rush toward the sides of the screen, and the camera begins to shudder and then fisheyes as everything on the edges of your field of vision dramatically stretches out as you move faster and faster. Unfortunately, 1080 Avalanche's frame rate just can't keep up and often noticeably starts to chug. That undermines the game's otherwise fairly impressive looks, but still, when you're hurtling along at blazing speeds, you won't have too much time to care.
Apart from using the L button to tuck, lowering your boarder's profile to increase his or her speed at the expense of maneuverability, and using the control stick to edge the board around turns to otherwise keep yourself on track, 1080 Avalanche also features a trick system. The most interesting aspect of the trick system is actually what happens when you screw up a landing. Though you'll bail if you crash straight into something or if you completely botch a trick, it's more common for your boarder just to lose balance. You'll slow down and eventually fall over when this happens, but by quickly spinning the control stick, you can regain your footing and can carry on. This is a simple but nicely handled mechanic. You'll quickly master it, though, because the penalty for taking a dive is often the difference between winning the race or not. It doesn't take that long to get back on your feet after you fall over, but sometimes you'll stand back up in a place that makes it difficult to get back on the main course and up to speed. So, just avoid getting knocked over, right?
As for the trick system itself, it's pretty simple. You can plant your feet for a jump, and then, while airborne, you can execute the standard assortment of grabs, spins, and flips. It's pretty easy to pull off tricks, as well as to grind on rails. There are some stunt courses in which the goal is to string together as many tricks as possible, for high-scoring combos, but in most modes of play, the benefit of tricking is a boost to your power meter. It takes just a few good tricks, or one long grind, to fill it out, at which point your boarder will start shimmering. This shimmering represents a heightened state that allows him or her to knock over any opposing boarder or to recover quickly from a fall. Tricking during a race tends to unnecessarily put you in danger, so the strategy is to max out the power meter as soon as possible, then stop tricking until your powered-up state goes away (and it only goes away when you knock over an opponent or take a spill yourself).