Up until 2003, publisher Aspyr was purely in the business of porting popular PC titles to the Macintosh platform. These days, it's gotten into the business of porting successful console games over to both of these platforms, and Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is the third game thus far to receive such a treatment. Kelly Slater already had its moment in the sun a little over a year ago on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, but Aspyr's solid PC port of the game, which features some cleaned up visuals, keeps things fresh.
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, thus making the game a breeze to pick up for any experienced "pro skater." This practically goes without saying, but you will absolutely need a gamepad to play Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer on the PC--preferably something with at least eight buttons. And, though the game does base its trick system on the one found in the Tony Hawk games, there are some nuances specific to surfing that make the game's tutorial a necessary step.
Once you're up to speed, the surfers in Kelly Slater can be pretty versatile. When you're on the face of a wave, you can perform snaps, stalls, and slides. If you want to go vertical, simply carve up and down the wave to gain momentum, and then launch by using the jump button. When you're in the air, you can perform a variety of grab and flip tricks by using the grab or flip buttons in concert with a direction on the D pad. 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 trick 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 PC.
All this action comes into play in the career mode, which represents the core of the game. Though Tony Hawk's Underground features a more fully developed story mode, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer invests in a little backstory to help get the ball rolling, and it gives you pretty good context for your globe-trotting antics. As one of the 10 playable professional surfers in the game, you embark on an epic boat trip that has you searching the globe for the perfect wave, thus giving the game a sort of Endless Summer feel. 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 windsurfers, jumping over a pier, or breaking up pieces of an ice floe. There are also photo challenges, where you'll have to pull off high-scoring tricks at the exact moment that the surf photographer takes his shot. The icon challenges, which first appeared in Kelly Slater's original incarnation but have since shown up in other Activision action sports titles, present you with the task of performing a certain number of specific tricks in a single two-minute run. The icon challenges can be good fun, and, since you'll be presented with virtually every type of trick, they're helpful in honing and expanding your skills. Successfully completing these different challenges unlocks 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 and offers enough variety to keep you engaged. Additionally, the constant lure of unlocking new tricks and boards keeps you coming back.
The game features other single-player modes as well. There's the standard free surf mode, in which you can just go and goof around on the water without a time limit. The handicap mode lets you play with adjusted stats, thus making things easier on the novice player and more challenging for the pro. There is also a mode that lets you participate in the icon challenges found in the career mode but without all the excess baggage of the career mode.
If there's more than one wanna-be surfer around, Kelly Slater has some decent multiplayer options as well. The head-to-head mode is a standard split-screen competition for points. The push mode puts an interesting twist on the head-to-head formula--as you perform tricks, the line that separates the two screens will move, giving your surfer more real estate on the screen and thus making it harder for your opponent to see what he or she is doing. The first player to take full control of the screen, or the player with control of the most screen when time runs out, wins. Finally, the time attack mode is a turn-based multiplayer mode. The more points you score during your run, the less time the next player will have during his or her run. The multiplayer modes and the auxiliary single-player modes don't have the longevity of the career mode. They are a satisfying diversion, though the game's reliance on split-screen and its lack of LAN or Internet support make these modes somewhat less attractive.
The graphical presentation in Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is solid, and Aspyr has actually bumped up the graphical fidelity in porting the game to the PC. The drawback to this improved resolution is that it almost makes the game look too clean and leaves it feeling kind of sterile. The surfers themselves look good, with sharp, clean models and a large variety of refined trick animations. The water looked good in the original console versions of Kelly Slater, but it's been significantly improved for the PC port. The waves look and move quite naturally, and there are some nice little touches--like the way light will pass through the top of a wave--that really make it believable. The placement of the camera, relative to your surfer, feels closer than it should be, which can occasionally make it difficult to figure out your position on the wave. Thankfully, the game also features a rear camera view of the action, which can help resolve most of the problems you might experience with the primary camera. The only other real complaint that can be lodged against Kelly Slater's graphics is the slightly repetitive nature of the levels, which give you a basic feel for the different locations by providing background textures, water color, and wave shape but rarely show off enough of the environment to make any one locale terribly memorable.
As you might expect, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer features a soundtrack that's brimming with licensed music. Instead of the usual rap, rock, pop, and punk suspects that seem to turn up in every board sports video game, the music featured in Kelly Slater ebbs toward laid-back international sounds. This lends the game a more tribal, spiritual feel that seems much more fitting of the sport (as well as to the game's distinct style) than the twitchy three-chord noise that is generically associated with board sports. The environmental sound in Kelly Slater tends to be pretty subdued, but it's still effective. The roar of the ocean fills in most of the background noise, though the other surfers and water sport enthusiasts you encounter in the water can be quite vocal as well.
Despite the game's age and the relatively specialized nature of the sport, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer works. The inclusion of network support for the multiplayer games would've been welcome additions, but Aspyr has still done a commendable job of bringing the game to the PC by simply producing a clean port. Though it's not as versatile or accessible as your land-based action sports games, Kelly Slater does the subject matter right by including responsive control, consistently good visuals, and a distinct sense of style.