After Tony Hawk's Pro Skater brought so much attention to the entire subgenre of extreme sports games, it's no surprise that other companies have tried to cash in on its popularity. Some developers have attempted to create skateboarding games similar to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and others have tried to create games that play like Tony Hawk but involve a different extreme sport. Mattel's Championship Surfer falls into this latter category, as it attempts to integrate the intuitive trick-performing system of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with the sport of surfing. While this may seem like a viable idea, in the end, Championship Surfer doesn't pull it off well enough.
Visually, Championship Surfer is fairly good, though the water itself looks a little unrealistic. There are no reflections and no transparency effects, so the ocean looks like one giant blue texture. However, the wave effects are convincing. You'll see mist spraying out as the tube of the wave crashes down, and you can actually see the water drawn into the wave. Unfortunately, the developers at Krome Studios didn't put as much effort into the 3D surfers. The eight selectable characters are represented by just one color-swapped character. Even the one female surfer, Rochelle Ballard, looks the same as all the male surfers in the game but with a short wetsuit and different hair color. However, secondary objects floating in the water - including mines, crates, swimmers, and photographers - are surprisingly detailed and immediately identifiable so you don't run into them while cutting up the wave. But rain, lightning, and other weather effects are so subtle that you'll hardly even notice them during gameplay.
Championship Surfer has seven modes of play, but none offer any real incentive to keep you playing the game past the first few beaches. The championship mode lets you enter into a tournament where you compete in a designated heat against another surfer. To progress to the next round, you must reach a specified point total by performing different tricks. If you win the tournament, you get the highest score total and you get to see a brief trophy award ceremony. Playing through the championship mode can be fun at first, if you haven't unlocked the additional beaches in any other mode - but if other beaches are already available to you, then participating in the championship isn't quite as entertaining.
In the arcade mode, you select a surfer and progress through the beaches in the game by achieving a certain point total for each beach. The major differences between the arcade mode and the championship mode are that in the arcade mode you're not competing with other surfers, and you must deal with obstacles floating in the waves. Arcade mode can be very frustrating because none of Championship Surfer's camera angles are especially helpful in revealing what obstacles are in the way before it's too late.
There are two multiplayer modes in Championship Surfer, but there isn't any network or Internet support, so opponents must sit at the same computer. The first multiplayer mode, Rumble, is probably the most enjoyable in the game because of the sheer number of items and power-ups available. You and three other players can surf on the same wave at the same time, with the main objective being to knock the other players off their boards and increase your point total at the same time. To help you out, various items are spread across the wave that do varying amounts of damage or cause the surfers to become more susceptible to attack. The king-of-the-waves mode lets you compete against seven other players in a tournament similar to the one in Championship Surfer's championship mode. Both modes can be quite enjoyable because they're the only two that offer any real incentive to keep playing - that incentive being to beat the person sitting next to you.
Championship Surfer is one of those games that you play for a few hours to learn the tricks and to try out the different modes. But after that, there isn't enough variety to give it any real lasting value. Executing the game's 40 tricks is harder than it should be since your exact position on the wave plays a much too important role in determining which tricks you can perform at that moment. If you're not familiar with the real-life sport, you'll have an especially hard time executing more than just the simplest board tricks. Other than unlocking the various beaches - which aren't all that different from each other anyway - there's no particular reason to keep playing the game, because there are no features or additional options to look forward to. In the end, Championship Surfer just isn't a very entertaining game.