The Cool Boarders series is back in the hands of its creator, and the next installment - this one on the PS2 - has recently been released in Japan. Few would disagree that its recent guardians at 989 Studios misused the franchise, churning out a series of yearly installments that steadily decreased in quality. Judging from this latest version, the franchise could very well be gaining some speed; Cool Boarders: Code Alien features a lively assortment of play modes, some slick graphical polish, and a distinct level of character to boot.
Code Alien has five play modes: extreme, trick, trick master, a license mode, and a potpourri of board action titled "snowboarding combined." The extreme and trick modes are fairly cut and dried - the former sets you on a downhill course replete with obstacles off of which you can perform tricks and earn points, the latter rates you on the trick combos you perform while going downhill in series of three runs. The trick master mode sends you down an endless slope and challenges you to perform prompted tricks. It serves as a tutorial, of sorts, with the intensity of tricks increasing with each of its four difficulty levels. The license mode is similar to those found in racing games - in effect, you'll go through a series of obstacles in order to gain the actual licenses, seven in all. Finally, the snowboarding combined mode serves as the requisite tournament mode, and it consists of downhill speed challenges and trick tournaments.
Code Alien plays rather well. The basic control scheme marks X as the jump-charge button, by far the most important in any snowboarding game. Performing tricks is rather simple - it basically consists of holding the D-pad in one direction and pressing a button. Taking advantage of the PS2's analog buttons, different tricks will be performed depending on how hard you enter the command; light taps yield different tricks than holding the button down. Code Alien also allows you to precharge spins and flips prior to executing them by simply charging a jump and holding the D-pad in any direction. An onscreen prompt will alert you as to what degree of spin or flip you'll perform, and you can unleash the spin or flip at any time. This allows you to perform fairly impressive combos, if your timing is right.
In terms of production, Code Alien is top-notch. While perhaps not as impressive as SSX, it's impossible to deny that Code Alien's distinct style isn't at least amusing. Less grounded in reality than what you'd normally find in a snowboarding game, Code Alien's characters are often quirky, and they're undeniably influenced by a comic sensibility. The courses are finely rendered, and many feature day, twilight, and evening settings, which greatly alter their moods. Aurally, the game stays true to the conventions established by earlier "extreme" games; there's even a complimentary Suicidal Tendencies video included on the DVD, for all you jock rock fans. When all is taken into consideration, Code Alien might just mollify estranged fans of the Cool Boarders series. A US publisher for the game hasn't been announced, though there is little doubt that some sort of deal is in the works. You can definitely count on hearing about it in the near future.