When you think of the snowboarding genre, it's hard not to think of the long-running Cool Boarders series. Arguably the best snowboarding games around, they gave PlayStation owners top-notch action on the slopes. Now the Cool Boarders series has made its way to the Dreamcast in the form of Rippin' Riders, as 989 Studios owns the U.S. rights to the Cool Boarders name. As with the first Cool Boarders on the PlayStation, Rippin' Riders leaves the door open for further improvement.
As with any snowboarding game, Rippin' Riders lets you take your pick from a varied group of athletes, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. From there you choose the board you want to use, the course you'd like to rip up, and the outfit you'd like to wear, if you want an alternate outfit. Once on the snow, the game focuses on the high-adrenaline racing and trick system you'd expect from a Cool Boarders game. There are two different modes: the free-ride mode, where you race down a mountain and perform tricks at various trick gates to boost your score, and the super-pipe mode, where you fly down a huge half-pipe and use big trick combos to score as many points as possible.
The graphics in Rippin' Riders look as good as you would expect on the Dreamcast. The rider models all have their own distinct look, and they appear extremely human in the replay mode, where their faces are visible. The track backgrounds are extremely creative and expansive. When you're in an open space, you can literally see everything in front of you. Pop-up takes form in a small amount of fog, which actually helps bring the track into view with a nice combination of subtlety and reality. To the game's credit, you don't simply race down snowy hills; you'll blaze through snowed-in amusement parks, through icy caves, past herds of stray sheep, under the skeletons of long-extinct dinosaurs, and over the rooftops of Swiss chalet-style houses. Unfortunately, there's a good amount of slowdown throughout the game, primarily in the replay mode, where it would appear your snowboarder is trolling along at 15 miles per hour. And while the two-player mode does a good job of keeping the frame rate of the single-player mode, you'll notice that important graphic details, such as your snow trail, have been left out. The sound is pretty standard for a Cool Boarders game. Techno, house, and mild hip-hop rock the soundtrack, while the overjazzed announcer shouts ridiculous phrases like, "Let's bust some fat air!" Your rider will congratulate himself when he lands a trick and will berate himself when he doesn't. The clips themselves are pretty hokey, with the exception of Bob, the Rastafarian, who says stuff like, "Ah, you chose the Rasta-man didn't ya?" The sound effects are standard snowboarding fare: An icy scraping sound is used when you're on the straightaway and a nice snow-crunching sound comes forth when you delve into the powder.
Rippin' Riders controls a lot differently from the last PlayStation Cool Boarders, Cool Boarders 4. Instead of timing a jump meter, Rippin' Riders lets you hold down the jump button for as long as you like. The longer you hold the jump button, the faster your rider will rotate when he goes airborne. Unfortunately, you can't steer your boarder while you hold down the jump button, so to execute any sort of complex trick, you'll have to line yourself up with the jump as best you can and then hope for the best. And because the trick areas are usually narrow and peppered with useless signage for you to run into, lining yourself up from a distance great enough to power up any sort of good rotation becomes almost impossible. Once you've started charging your jump, you cannot simply cancel it and correct your course, which forces you to jump at the most inappropriate of times if you aren't precisely on course. Aside from the amount of time you've charged your jump, you have no midair control of your rotation, leaving landing a spinning trick more up to chance than actual skill. And while you can bust all sorts of crazy tricks for points in the super-pipe mode, you can only get points for tricks at specified trick areas in the free-ride mode. Any tricks you bust along the way will instead add a few seconds to your time extension when you pass through a checkpoint. Also, like in many snowboarding games, the trick-points system seems to be a little unbalanced. Indeed, the hardest tricks to land in the game award you very few points, making them almost worthless to attempt. The Johan Flip only awards you 250 points per rotation and is almost impossible to land and takes forever to charge up for, while the Method Grab is easy and can be done at almost any time for a cool 150 points. Unfortunately, this fills the game with the same few tricks being performed over and over again, as it's almost not worth it to attempt variety. Aside from the difficult control, Rippin' Riders plays a lot like other snowboarding games. You can use the up and down buttons to shift your weight on the board, the left and right buttons to corner, and the shoulder buttons to switch stances. In addition, you can hold down a button to ice a corner - in essence making your turn tighter and slowing you down. Also, you can destroy certain obstacles by throwing your hands up in front of you. Indeed, huge lead pipes and even giant fallen stalactites are completely shattered by the might of your guard stance. Unfortunately, there are no opportunities for grinds in Rippin' Riders. There are no rails to slide on, and even if you find a ledge, the game won't let you grind it. Still, the tricks that are available to you are cool enough to make up for the lack of a more complete system.
Rippin' Riders lets you select from seven initial characters and two hidden ones, each with its own look, snowboarding style, and alternate outfits. There are five initial free-ride tracks you have to unlock in succession and two hidden free-ride tracks that require you to beat certain high scores to get them. Beat the super pipe, and you'll unlock the much better extra-super pipe. Unfortunately, that's it. With a total of nine tracks, the game is extremely short. Once you've mastered the downhill tracks, you probably won't want to do anything other than play the extra-super pipe over and over. But even that track wears thin rather quickly.
They say the first impression is the most important one, and as the first snowboarding game to appear on the Dreamcast, Rippin' Riders leaves you wondering exactly how the snowboarding genre will go on Sega's machine. Rippin' Riders does look and sound very nice but has major issues in the control department and feels incomplete. The first effort by the Cool Boarders team is indeed a valiant and acceptable one - but we can only hope that like the PlayStation series, future games will improve and refine the Rippin' Riders experience.