Stoked is what you get if you strip away all of the superfluous features that serve as a distraction in other snowboarding games and offer some pure boarding action. There isn't a poorly constructed backstory to make you care about your rider, there are no super moves to unlock, and certainly no coins to collect as you glide down these open mountains. Its unrelenting focus on performing wicked flips and wild spins means that it has nothing to hide behind if the gameplay falters, but the diversity of your tricks and the euphoria of landing a particularly difficult move make this an often exhilarating experience. There are some moments when the landing physics do not behave as they should, and the first few hours that serve as an extended tutorial tend to drag, but once you begin your career in earnest, Stoked is a fast, satisfying snowboarding game that fills the void for digital boarders left in the cold with past games.
Your first task is to select a gender, race, and nationality for your soon-to-be snowboarding champion. Your options are limited, though, because you can't actually tweak your facial features, but at least you won't have to stare at your ugly mug during actual gameplay. Once you get on the slopes, you control your body with the left stick and the board with the right. Flicking the right stick up makes you jump and, once in the air, you perform various grabs by moving the right stick in conjunction with the triggers. Depending on the direction in which you're holding the analog stick and which trigger you're using, you can pull off dozens of real-life moves. The biggest problem is landing a jump. Most of the time, landing requires only that you line up your board to the ground, but sometimes you will inexplicably wipe out for seemingly no reason. Although the diversity of tricks is certainly welcoming, it can be difficult to pull off an exact move during the heat of competition before you fully come to grips with your massive repertoire. The learning curve is steep for people not already immersed in snowboarding culture, but the action in Stoked feels realistic and, most importantly, fun.
After going through a brief tutorial, you are free to explore any of the massive mountains at your leisure. Though this sounds like a great idea, the lack of any clear objectives out of the gate leads to an unfocused experience. The open-world mountains are all too sparse, with huge gaps between ramps and grindable objects, which makes it boring to explore them without any goal. Each side of the mountain has 10 events that you can enter, but these feel meaningless as well. You are told that you need 66 fame points to get your professional license, but given that it takes hours to accrue that much popularity, the beginning of the game drags before things get interesting.
Thankfully, the pace picks up once you earn that arbitrary number of points. Once you become famous, sponsors will court you to wear their products, and media members will set up elaborate runs so they can get footage of you performing a fancy spin or just eating snow. Most events boil down to performing a specific trick off of a certain point on the map or trying to get a high score, but the huge assortment of moves at your disposal, and the devious ways in which these runs are laid out, make for some thrilling and often painful-looking snowboarding. Events can be immediately restarted if you make a mistake, so failure serves as only a minor delay before you dust yourself off and try again. It's immensely rewarding to pass a challenge that seemed preposterously difficult at first, but the smooth progression ensures that you will slowly build up your skills as you become more famous, so even the most challenging events can be overcome with a little practice.
There is a huge difference in the pacing from the first few hours, in which earning the required number of fame points seems to drag on forever, and the rest of the game, when sponsors and media members are constantly fighting for your attention. After every few successful runs, new events are unlocked, giving you a seemingly never-ending string of new challenges to take part in. This brisk pace is thrilling and rewarding, constantly presenting you with new locations to snowboard and new gear. Even though the tangible rewards are small--a new board or a picture in a magazine being the biggest prizes--the fact that you so quickly earn these prizes makes it satisfying to play Stoked in short bursts, though it's easy to be sucked in for hours once the sponsors start banging on your door.
The multiplayer mode builds on the foundation created by the single-player experience. Although you won't have a steady stream of rewards to urge you on, you can use all of your practice time on the slopes to give your buddies a virtual whitewash. In Trick, you have to land a move of your choice and then your friends will have to land it as well. If they falter, they get a letter and have to carry the shame of failure with them. Bring It is a score challenge. It isn't very inventive, but it is fun trying to rack up a ridiculous number of points or just slam into your friend so he's stuck at a disastrously low number. The most imaginative mode is called The Ground Is Lava. Here, you'll have to stay off of the snow for as long as possible. Small hops won't cut it, either; you'll have to find a ramp to get massive air or grindable objects so you don't set your board on fire. The eight-player competition is a worthy complement to the exciting single-player mode.
Stoked is light on the frills but makes up for it with its tight, focused gameplay. The early moments move along at a snail's pace, but once you become a professional, new rewards and challenges are constantly being thrown your way. The five included mountains are all based on real-world locales, which adds to the authenticity of the already realistic experience, and the variable weather not only looks pretty but impacts the gameplay as well. With a stronger start and more-consistent physics, this would have been a special snowboarding game. Even with its slight problems, this is a blast, and considering that this wealth of content is going for a bargain price, it's an easy choice for boarders looking for a virtual outlet for their shredding fantasies.