Shaun White Snowboarding for the DS plays to the strengths of Nintendo's handheld, offering a control scheme that makes excellent use of the touch screen. When the game is at its best, you can get lost in the chilly rush of leaping, tricking, and grinding your way down the slopes. Unfortunately, the other aspects of the game don't always live up to the potential of the controls, but despite a few rough spots, this is still a mostly enjoyable portable snowboarding experience.
The controls here are easy to learn and easy to master. You start off with an outline of a snowboard on the touch screen. By holding the stylus on the lower part of the board, you'll go slower but have much tighter control of your turns. If you hold the tip of the stylus against the higher part of the board, you'll lean in, increasing your speed but limiting your turning ability. A quick flick down and then up will make you leap into the air, at which point you can perform tricks just by scratching in any direction. Those looking for a more technical snowboarding game may be disappointed by the wicked ease with which you can pull off insane tricks, but for those who don't mind seeing realism thrown to the wind, watching your rider wildly flip and spin in conjunction with the patterns you trace on the touch screen can be joyously liberating.
You can also do grabs and tweaks as you trick by pressing the control pad (or face buttons for lefties) and shoulder buttons, and as long as you stop twisting an instant before your board comes back into contact with the earth, you'll land safely and get an instant speed boost for your efforts. Grinding on rails is fun, too; doing so brings up a nifty little meter that sways to the left or right, indicating your balance. To maintain it, you'll need to compensate by swinging the tip of the stylus to the left or right of the board. In every respect, the controls feel natural and immediately accessible, so much so that you hardly need to think about them at all. They disappear into the experience and let you focus entirely on the action of speeding down the slopes.
To advance through the game's four mountains and eventually race against Shaun White himself at his own secret spot, you'll need to collect passes, and you do that by winning races and challenges. Races pit you against three AI riders, but as long as you stick to a decent racing line and pull off tricks now and then to keep up your speed, you'll never have a problem leaving them in your snowy dust. The simple act of riding and tricking your way down the mountain is fun in and of itself, but the consistent lack of difficulty saps the races of some excitement. Challenges are more varied and interesting, and you can try to complete as many available challenges in a single run as you'd like. They range from the straightforward and easy, such as trying to score a certain number of trick points in a pass down the mountain, to the more involved and challenging, such as tricking off of a specific landmark or collecting all of the letters in the name Shaun.
Unfortunately, Shaun White Snowboarding doesn't start with its best foot forward. The first mountain, in Park City, Utah, keeps things a bit too basic, with lots of long, slow straightaways and few opportunities for big air. The course is also covered in a white fog that limits your visibility, and when you're in the air, the flat white textures of the terrain can sometimes make it difficult to tell how far off of the ground you are and consequently how much time you have left to pull off tricks. Thankfully, the later three mountains don't suffer from the same visibility issues, and they have more varied color schemes that not only make them more visually interesting, but also make it much easier to gauge your distance from the ground while soaring. They're also more exciting to ride, with plenty of big jumps, tight curves, trees to slalom around, and halfpipes that let you perform trick after glorious trick.
There's no difference in the abilities of the selectable riders, but as you progress from mountain to mountain, you'll unlock new boards that offer slightly different bonuses in the areas of speed, tricks, and balance. However, the overwhelming factor in determining your board's performance is in the three decals you choose to slap on it before each event. As you race and challenge your way down the mountains, you'll occasionally collect decals, and each of the 42 available decals carries with it bonuses to one or more of the three performance categories. Keeping your eyes peeled for decals as you're speeding down the mountain is fun, and the ability to customize your board to suit an event is great, but the decal system is still pretty annoying in its implementation. For one thing, of the 42 possible decals that you can slap on your board, only five are displayed onscreen at any one time, and you've got to cycle through them all to find the best ones for your next event, which can slow you down when you're eager to just hop into the action. It's equally frustrating that you can't just customize one board for high-speed races and one for trick-heavy challenges. Any decals you apply to one board are automatically applied to all of your boards, and given that you'll be doing a lot of back-and-forth between races and challenges, you'll probably also be doing a lot of decal scanning and sticking before most events.
The visuals in Shaun White Snowboarding are a bit blocky, and you'll sometimes see some pop-in of distant mountain walls, but the animation is smooth throughout, and the backgrounds give each mountain a distinctly different sense of place. The sounds of your board carving up the mountain are fine, but they take a backseat to the music. The soundtrack includes songs by Incubus, Sweet, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, among others, and the tunes are great for rocking out on the slopes. Unfortunately, the songs are also severely truncated and often fade out just as they're about to get going. Even what is arguably the best song of all time, "Rock Box" by Run-DMC, gets old fast when you hear just the first 90 seconds over and over again.
You'll breeze through Shaun White's four mountains in about four hours or so. If you have friends who own the game, you can also play Race or Trick Point competitions for up to four players, and though these modes don't bring anything new to the table, they work well enough and can be fun for a bit. Shaun White Snowboarding for the DS is simple and easy, but its accessible control scheme also makes it enjoyable enough that you may find yourself coming back to it whenever you need a quick snowboarding fix on the go.