It's a very strong start for the surfing genre on Nintendo's system, and a unique and enjoyable extreme sports game in its own right.
The Xbox and PlayStation 2 are no strangers to surfing games. The Xbox was blessed with the excellent TransWorld Surf at launch, and the PlayStation 2 sports a small catalog of lesser surfing games. But to date, the GameCube has been left out in the cold. Enter Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, which is a very strong start for the genre on Nintendo's system, and a unique and enjoyable extreme sports game in its own right.
Treyarch, the team behind Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, as well as an assortment of Tony Hawk ports, has essentially taken the Tony Hawk style of gameplay and adapted it to the sport of surfing, making the game a breeze to pick up for any experienced "pro skater." When you're on the face of a wave, you can use the B, X, and Y buttons to perform a snaps, stalls, and slides. If you want to go vertical, simply pump up and down the wave to gain momentum and then launch using the A button. When you're in the air, you can perform grab and flip tricks using the B and X buttons. Some of the tensest action to be had in Kelly Slater is in the tube. By holding down on the D pad, you can slide right into the barrel, at which point a vertical balance meter will appear. You'll gain points just by staying on your board while you're in the tube, but you can also perform an assortment of tricks while you're in there, such as dragging your hand against the roof of the tube or lying down on your board.
Linking together a series of consecutive tricks has been one of the core mechanics of extreme sports games since the beginning, and Kelly Slater facilitates this on the water with clever use of its special meter. When the meter is empty, you can only link together tricks that are on the same section of the wave--face tricks can be linked with other face tricks, tube tricks with other tube tricks, and so on. But when your special meter is full, you'll not only be able to perform special tricks, but you'll also be able to link tricks performed on different parts of the wave together for outrageously high scores. While the mechanics in Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer aren't incredibly original, they're smooth and responsive, and the game makes good use of them, creating what is easily the deepest surfing experience to be had on a console.
All this action comes into play in the career mode, the core of the game. Most extreme sports games tend to go light on the storytelling, usually letting you fill in the blanks as to why your skater is thrashing a natural history museum or a Mexican bullring or what have you. Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, however, invests in a little back story to help get the ball rolling. As one of the 10 playable professional surfers in the game, you embark on an epic boat trip, searching the globe for the perfect wave, giving the game a sort of Endless Summer feel to it. The pretense of the boat trip is really a minor touch, but it's handled so consistently that it helps give the game a distinct personality.
As you travel from beach to beach, you'll be charged with a half dozen or so challenges at each stop. These include standard score challenges and location-specific challenges, like spraying a windsurfer or jumping over a pier. Also, in photo challenges, you'll have to pull off high-scoring tricks right at the moment the surf photographer takes his shot. But the icon challenges are the most unique challenge in Kelly Slater, giving you the task of performing a certain number of tricks, which are designated by a scrolling a list of moves on the right-hand side of the screen. Successfully completing these different challenges will unlock new beaches, equipment, special moves, and challenges at existing locations. You'll also participate in competition levels, where the goal is to simply have a better run on the water than your opponents. The career mode is generally good fun, with enough variety to keep you engaged and the constant lure of new tricks and boards to keep you coming back.