SAN FRANCISCO--Digital Bridges' new game, Arctic Challenge Snowboarding, is the only mobile snowboarding game to feature a real-world license--the eponymous annual tournament takes place at the end of March in Norway--as well as real-world professional snowboarders. Will the developer be able to leverage these promising attributes into a real-world success? The beta version's abundant features and console-style gameplay indicate that this game has a lot of potential, even if some tweaking remains to be done.
Arctic Challenge Snowboarding will feature two modes of play when it comes out later this month. There's even a career mode, where you pick one of three actual pro riders--Gretchen Bleiler, Travis Rice, or Andy Finch--and set off to tear down the mountain. There are a total of nine tracks, three of which can be unlocked over the course of the game. As you satisfy the various track requirements, you'll start to move toward the game's goals: self-realization, harmony with nature, and acquisition of mad skills, equipment, and cash (and not necessarily in that order). As you ride down the mountainside, you can pick up dollar signs to boost your fiscal reserves, which can then be put to good use buying new boards and topping off your skills.
Arctic Challenge's gameplay scrolls down the mountain from an isometric perspective. The control scheme and snowboarding mechanics are definitely on the console side of the spectrum. As a result, you use the 4 and 6 keys to rotate your board in either direction, while the 5 key is used to jump. This system seemed counterintuitive at first, but it seemed to work fine once we got used to it. You'll need to learn how to maneuver, too, because the course designers have seen fit to litter the mountain with obstacles. In one particularly egregious instance, we careened into a half-buried minibus that had been parked directly underneath a jump. Luckily, some of the terrain features can be turned to your advantage. Effective use of ramps and rails will boost your score enormously, if you master the 10 or so midair tricks and multiple types of grinds. All these are executed via button combinations while you're grinding or hurtling through the air.
We gave Arctic Challenge a try on a Motorola V600, and the game's presentation looks to be on par with other sports games on the handset. The slopes are rendered cleanly, with clear sprites for all the terrain features. The character art is on the small side, but it makes sense, given the scale of the mountain. One point of concern was the game's relatively slow rendering speed, which made the snowboarding action feel a little on the jerky side. Hopefully this problem will be smoothed out through some further optimization. Arctic Challenge also seems to use music very effectively to set the "extreme" mood. Nothing says powder bustin' more effectively than a little MIDI heavy metal.
There seems to be an explosion of snowboarding games coming out early this year, but Arctic Challenge is shaping up to be a strong contender. Though the version of the game we played needed a bit of polish, we're confident Digital Bridges will have everything slope-ready by release time in late March or early April. Stay tuned for the full review.