Considering that Extreme Boards & Blades comes from the same company that brought us such disasters as Extreme Paintbrawl, Extreme Bullrider, and Extreme Wintersports, there's every reason to expect it to be as long on licensing and short on gameplay as those releases. That's why I was a little taken aback to find that Boards & Blades actually manages to deliver a fair dose of fun - though not necessarily for the long run, and not necessarily for everyone. But at least it works as it should, a claim that few other Head Games titles can make.
It's all pretty surprising, because the amount of money people spend on skateboarding and skating gear means this game could very easily have been another advertising showcase along the lines of Extreme Tennis and Extreme Wintersports, where almost as much emphasis is placed on picking out gear at the pro shop as on actually simulating the sport. Instead, the only license you'll find here is Mountain Dew, and it's kept to a minimum (though personally I'd like to have seen those superhuman riot grrls from the Dew TV ads make a cameo appearance). Another shocker is that Boards & Blades has a user interface that actually makes sense, with stuff like joystick configuration screens and video options that Head Games didn't think were important enough to include in some of its other titles.
Though it features 3dfx and Direct3D support, Boards & Blades has the same sort of blocky and ill-defined characters found in both Extreme Tennis and Extreme Wintersports. It's not too bothersome when actually playing - a Tomb Raider-style perspective means all you'll see of the characters while skating is their backs - but you've got to wonder why developer Silverfish Studios didn't bother to make at least the images in the character selection screens a little more appealing. Another area that could have used a little more polish is the CD soundtrack. Skateboarding and skating go hand-in-hand with ska and punk music, but in keeping with the budget pricing, Head Games decided not to pony up the dough for tracks from bands that people actually listen to. Instead, it opted for an "original ska soundtrack" from a band called Pfred, apparently made up of guys who huffed one too many gallons of gasoline while listening to Sonic Youth over and over. This music might scare off the cops who've come to run skaters off the streets, but it sure doesn't sound like anything any skaters would want to shred to.
You won't find any type of competition against humans or computer-controlled opponents in Boards & Blades; instead, your only opponent is the clock, and the only goal is to rack up enough points performing tricks to advance to a new level. Like just about any arcade-style game made, Boards & Blades uses a traditional locked-level system; thankfully, you don't have to be an expert in order to gain access to new locales. The game's 15 levels provide a good level of variety, and after a little practice you'll be surprised at how many moves you can pull off.
Boards & Blades definitely has its share of weird little glitches. Tap the "push" button too many times, and you'll find yourself screaming along at what feels like about 90 miles per hour, and on a couple of jumps I found myself going nearly two and three stories high. Graphical clipping is fairly rampant, too: On dozens of occasions I saw my character's head and torso imbedded in a concrete wall, as if the Navy had used skate punks instead of sailors for the Philadelphia Experiment.
But what prevents Boards & Blades from reaching its full potential isn't technical issues; it's the game design. Sure, moving on to new levels is fun - for a little while. Without anyone to compare your performance with, the only reward for playing is the knowledge that you pulled off a very cool move, and there's not even an instant replay feature so you can sit back and marvel at just how good you really are. Of course, you and your buddies could all create characters and take turns on the same levels, but the game wouldn't keep track of who's ahead in the point tally. You'd have to do that yourself with pencil and paper.
Sooner or later you'll put down Extreme Boards & Blades and probably never come back to it (unless you've discovered the joys of Pfred, in which case I suggest you seek immediate psychiatric attention). It's miles ahead of some of Head Games' products, though, so let's hope the game enjoys enough success so the company will understand that a good game is better than a big-name license.