Looking over the console's software library, the last thing the Xbox needs right now is a snowboarding game. With three entries already on the market just three months after its release, it's not an exaggeration to state that the genre has already become crowded. But Konami has apparently decided there is always room for one more and has released the next installment in its X-Games franchise for Microsoft's new console. Falling in line with the results of previous PlayStation 2 games ported to the Xbox, ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 demonstrates that an average game ported to a more powerful console is still an average game.
As far as snowboarding games go, ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 has a veritable avalanche of gameplay options. The two primary gameplay modes are the X-Games mode and the snowboarder mode. The snowboarder mode attempts to imitate what it's like to be a real snowboarder who's trying to make it to the X-Games. You'll begin in a small town with a few resorts to choose from and slowly begin entering competitions--trying to build your reputation or charisma. As your charisma builds, you can take part in photo shoots; gain sponsors for boards, goggles, bindings, and more; and enter more demanding competitions until you reach the pinnacle of the sport--The X-Games. There are five different events to enter, including slope style, where you must accumulate as many trick points as possible; snowboarder X, where you take a run down the hill with several other competitors hoping to finish first; super pipe, which lets you attack a massive half-pipe; big air, which gives you a chance to pull off as burly a trick as possible; and the self-explanatory free ride. As you complete runs, gain new sponsors, and buy new equipment, your ratings gradually increase. At the outset, using your created character can be extremely frustrating. He or she won't be able to turn sharply, jump high, or go fast. You have to learn to play within the limitations of your character, and this can become immensely frustrating at times. Making things all the more difficult, your boarder has a health meter for each run. If his or her health runs out, the run will abruptly end with a trip to the infirmary. You begin the snowboarder mode with 1,000 credits to buy gear, but the majority of your money will be spent on hospital bills in the early going. While the snowboarder mode is extraordinarily deep and realistic, most players will be frustrated by the relatively slow rate at which their rider gains attributes. After most runs, there will be an increase of only a few decimal points for each of the nine character attributes. You can enter the gym and boost your attributes by a full point or two, but working out also costs valuable cash.
The X-Games mode is much more accessible to the average player, thanks to a healthy selection of real professional snowboarders to choose from, including Peter Line, Travis Parker, Todd Richards, Rio Tahara, JP Walker, Barrett Christy, Shannon Dunn, and many more. As you might guess, the exceptional attributes of the professional riders makes playing the game much easier. In the X-Games mode, you may choose which events you want to compete in, and after a qualifying run, you can immediately jump into X-Games competition. For the average player, the X-Games mode will likely receive the majority of playtime, but that's not to say that it's easy. Last year's game received a lot of criticism for being too difficult, and Konami has halfheartedly addressed these concerns. The biggest change from last year's game is that it's much easier to keep your speed while going down the hill. Managing your heel and toe edges is no longer an exercise in frustration, which makes it much easier to line up for kickers or rails. However, pulling tricks is an entirely different story.
The A button is used to ollie, the analog stick is used to turn and prewind tricks, the X and B buttons perform grabs, and the Y button performs grinds. Launching off kickers and grabbing the board are easy enough, but performing multiple flips and spins is more difficult than it should be. Performing flips is challenging because it's nearly impossible to perform just one or two flips. Getting the timing down to make sure you don't overrotate is nigh impossible and results in many bailed tricks. The spin mechanism works all right unless you attempt to increase the combo modifier by performing multiple spins. To do this, you must hold the left shoulder button while tapping the left analog stick in the direction of the desired rotation at the same time. Besides being painful to execute, it's hard to perform this move with any consistency. Considering it's the primary way to multiply combos, this is a major issue. If you have friends to play with, ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding also includes a dual mode for up to two players. Every event included in the single-player modes can be played in the dual mode as well, which adds longevity to the game.
The PlayStation 2 version of Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 is a bit sterile where graphics are concerned, and the Xbox version has received few appreciable improvements. The gameplay-hampering frame rates that plague the PlayStation 2 version have been cleaned up, and the game now runs smoothly--even in two-player split-screen mode. Another "improvement" over the PlayStation 2 version is self-shadowing of the riders. However, the effect is done completely wrong. Instead of a rider's arms casting a shadow on the rest of his body, you can see the shadow on the rider's back. It makes no sense whatsoever, and one can only wonder how the feature was allowed to be included in the final release. The remainder of the graphics have been virtually untouched, resulting in a game that, when compared to other Xbox games, fails to impress from a visual perspective. The character models lack detail, and the terrain textures are repeated constantly throughout the game's 20 courses. Making things even more mundane, the same rails, kickers, and obstacles populate each course making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between courses in the Alps, Scandinavia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Colorado, or Alaska as the game advertises.
The frame rates may have been increased for the Xbox release of Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002, but the sense of speed is still missing. Small touches like a bump-mapped snow surface that are included in other snowboarding games on the Xbox are completely absent, and the facial animations and textures that were passable on the PlayStation 2 hardware stand out like a sore thumb when compared to other games for Microsoft's machine. Fogging is used in several courses to hide draw-in, and in the split-screen multiplayer mode, the fogging is so bad that riders just 50 virtual feet in front of you simply disappear. Trick animations are predominantly smooth, and the special tricks where riders may remove their feet from the bindings are eye-opening, but these can't save ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 from wallowing in graphical mediocrity. The improved frame rates have a positive impact on the gameplay, but the basic-yet-authentic look of the game will appeal only to those who demand nothing less than stark realism from their snowboarding games.
Audio is a big part of any extreme sports game, and Konami has done a good job of selecting pertinent bands for the soundtrack. In addition to modern groups such as 311, The Offspring, Money Mark, and Jurassic 5, Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 includes tracks by old-school punk groups such as The Damned and The Vandals. While it's hard to fault the track selection for the game, more tracks would be a welcome addition, as there are few and the game lacks the ability to play user-created soundtracks from the system's hard drive. The sound effects do the job with no frills--there's a healthy selection of sounds for the board sliding across a variety of surfaces, but there's little else in the way of ambient sound effects. The Xbox version of Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 includes a menu full of viewable snowboarding videos that the PlayStation 2 version did not include. They serve as a diversion and should be a significant factor when deciding whether to rent the game.
ESPN Winter X-Games Snowboarding 2002 is an average port of an average PlayStation 2 game. Even the most ardent snowboarder will find it difficult to like the snail's pace at which the snowboarder mode unfolds, and the confounding controls make it almost impossible to enjoy the rest of the game. Players with short attention spans should stay far away from this game, but those who are dedicated to finding the most realistic snowboarding simulation on the market should give this and Amped a rent to see which game appeals to them more.