Now don't take this the wrong way, but Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage is casual to the bottom of its Billabong snow pants. So casual, in fact, it would be turned away from a pyjama party for not making the effort. It's one of the most laid back and effortless games around, exuding so much unruffled cool that Shaun White himself comes across like a rabid headless chicken - which is exactly why the first game was so much fun. Ubisoft knows this and has chosen not to fiddle too much with the mechanics of throwing yourself down a mountain with an ironing board strapped to your feet.
Instead Ubi Montreal has got the interior designers in. "Give the place a streamlined look," it said, maybe, "with nice big windows and plenty of space to dump all our snowboarding gear in. And you know what would be really cool? A vending machine." It's all resulted in Mr. White and his nonchalant pals setting up their new home in the roomier confines of an airport, which reflects World Stage's fuller international flavour. Of course, it's not as grim as living in an airport would be in reality; you don't have to contend with gangs of irate lads that have just missed their annual flight to Magaluf.
Travelling is World Stage's new fad. Instead of tearing down slopes and round half-pipes in all the usual (rather generic) locations, the snowboarding circus is relocated to city centres around the globe. London and Paris are two of the most recognisable stages, though given Paris is a largely flat city it's impressive how you begin one challenge there on a course level with the top of the Eiffel Tower. Mr White has some heavyweight connections in the scaffolding world, clearly.
So the eye-catching scenery is all very lovely, but it doesn't detract from the action on the snow (artificial or otherwise). In fact, it doesn't impact on the snowboarding at all - although Big Ben and the London Eye make for attractive backdrops, the action itself could be happening anywhere.
Location, Location, Snow-cation
It's a minor detail, though it does make it seem as though World Stage's much touted Big New Feature is a superficial one. Elsewhere, new features are less publicised but more important, like the Trick Editor, neatly hidden in the vending machine, which is Wii MotionPlus enabled. Here, as a tubby Bananaman-esque boarder, you can ditch one of your default tricks and replace it with one of your own creations. The odd thing is that while you create your trick using Wii MotionPlus, you can perform it on the slopes with the device disconnected. Still, dreaming up new ways to plummet into the ground is an interesting distraction and a lot of fun. Bonus points to Ubisoft for the comedy boarder too.
The structure of the game is a little muddy though, and it took some while before we had a clear idea of how to progress. You start off as beginner, naturally, and to reach intermediate level you must complete ranking events to increase your standing on the world scene. The thing is, it's hard to tell whether you're nailing events or not. A strange scoring system at the end gives you an idea of where you came, but you're often left wondering whether you should hit 'retry' just to be on the safe side. In fact this area of the game stands out as the one which provokes the most head scratching, and head scratching in all forms goes against the spirit of World Stage completely.
The snowboarding itself is a joy, more so with the Wii Remote than the Balance Board. Last month it seemed as though the Board was too loose in its control, and though that has been improved, tricks are still noticeably harder on the Board. You must kick down with your heel to launch your boarder off the lip of a jump, which the Balance Board doesn't like at all. It's hit and miss as to whether you get into the air this way, whereas the Remote method is much more reliable and intuitive. It seems as though more speed has been tuned into the game, so downhill chases and slaloms are especially exciting. The range of events is broad, with timed runs, points amassing jumps, races, half-pipe challenges and more highlighting the excellent sense of rhythm that runs through World Stage's snowboarding.
75 events make sure there's plenty to do, and the 'Rider's Friend' feature, where you call upon another rider's special ability (mass, grip, balance and so on) is a clever addition, effectively allowing you to select the right power-up for a race.
Very little has changed with the actual fundamentals of the game though. Scrape underneath that new jet-set wallpaper and this is basically last year's Shaun White - but don't go to too mad with the scraper, we think its new look suits it rather well.