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Dark Summit (GameCube) artwork

Dark Summit (GameCube) review


"There's no way in hell that real-life snowboarders could be anywhere near as cool, as great, as generous or just as plain wonderful as Naya, the heroine of THQ's Dark Summit (DS). Come to think of it, nobody in the world could be as great as Naya, and I think somebody's got to stop her. Somebody's got to stop her before she wins the Nobel Peace Prize and becomes ruler of the planet or something, because people this fantastic just don't exist. She's a foxy, upbeat, giving, positive, enviro..."



There's no way in hell that real-life snowboarders could be anywhere near as cool, as great, as generous or just as plain wonderful as Naya, the heroine of THQ's Dark Summit (DS). Come to think of it, nobody in the world could be as great as Naya, and I think somebody's got to stop her. Somebody's got to stop her before she wins the Nobel Peace Prize and becomes ruler of the planet or something, because people this fantastic just don't exist. She's a foxy, upbeat, giving, positive, environmentally-minded chick - but with attitude, of course - boarding her way to the top. She's a big-jawed red-headed woman with a lush ripcord ponytail down her back that I would just fondle endlessly, and scream about! I'D SCREAM!..

DS is a fun and glamorous fantasy of what snowboarding might be like if it took place in the context of a mystery/ adventure. That's not as weird as it sounds if you recall the shenanigans in such films as xXx. And in the context of snowboarding and skateboarding games, DS is ready to shock you because it brings to the table a bona fide plot and missions, making it an action-adventure on snowboards! It's a plot cut from that classic cornball staple of movies in which the outsiders (youth culture) have to fight 'The Man' over some contested turf. You know the deal... the right to surf the local beach or to skate in the city plaza. In DS, the contested turf is snowy Mount Garrick, and it's the snowboarders who represent the progressive forces of youth while the skiers are the snotty old regime who don't want you on their mountain.

The story continues to bang an amazing number of themes on the head. The military have also closed the top of the mountain off (government cover-up). Could it be because of all that nuclear spillage (threat to the environment) or the strange lights in the sky? (ALIENS! FROM THE FUTURE!) That final garnish of plot is a freak twist that's worked wonders for unlikely videogames ever since its deployment in Ecco The Dolphin. So we've got a plot taking in the struggle of youth culture against The Man, environmental pollution, government conspiracies, and aliens! On snowboard! You're just waiting for some guy to come out of a pirate ship at any moment, waving his fist and crying, ''You meddling kids!''

When you start playing DS, Naya is a lowly snow grommet with the most basic snowboard who's only allowed to board down the lower slopes of Mount Garrick. She can earn points towards better equipment (faster, jumpier boards, and snazzier clothes) by pulling off zany stunts, and she can earn points towards lift passes to higher stretches of mountain by completing the challenges set her by her covert mole friend. Your ultimate goal is to unlock everything, board the whole mountain, steal bombs from The Man, solve the mystery of Mount Garrick and save the world. Yes, it's a pretty wild game.

PLOT + DIALOGUE: 8

The vocal spiels by your mystery contact who sends you on various missions are exceptional. They've got what I could only describe as the 'Rufus' factor from Bill and Ted films. That is, the authority of an older guy who still has the chops to mix it with a bunch of funky young kids. His rants about your successes and failures are very funny. Knock over some German creampuff named Hanz who was dissing you on the slopes and you'll get: ''Now he wants to be your friend! Funny how it works like that up here, isn't it?'' Then, when it counts, he'll stress how important it is that you secure that next bomb... for the sake of the world!

It's important that they got this very strange angle right, because DS's story, which aims to be funny and cheesy and suspenseful all at once, demands strong suspension of disbelief for total enjoyment, and the game achieves it.

DESIGN: 7

There are multiple paths down each course with many nooks and crannies, alternate routes involving different boarding skills, and an exceptional variety of terrain across a broad colour palette. Most imaginative are the high, winding rails which often allow you to snowboard your way right up into the sky, or over yawning canyons or 'pits of death'.

Mission variety is great fun and definitely not what I was expecting from this game. Having run over the aforementioned Hanz to improve your slope cred, you'll immediately need to outrun his irate sister. You'll also find yourself knocking down a quota of snowmen, outracing angry ski inspectors, escaping an avalanche, finding and jumping over six vats of ectoplasmic goop, or even racing to the loo after eating a spiked candy bar. Inbetween these funnier missions are the more typical 'perform five 540 degree spins', and some excruciatingly tough asks involving multiple combinations of leaping on and off rails and performing aerial stunts.

What's not so cool can be tracking down the missions themselves. The mission stations you need to locate shine beams of light skyward to help you spot them from a distance, and this is a great atmospheric touch as well, but it's still very easy to miss whole stations if you take a wrong fork, especially when you're down to the last couple of stations on a slope. With the huge level size (and obviously you can't snowboard backwards... gravity and all) there's far too much random boarding of the same slopes over and over looking for paths you missed. Your radar only shows nearby humans, making it mostly useless.

GAMEPLAY: 7

There's no real dying here, just stacking after tricks gone wrong, failing missions, and occasionally boarding into a 'fatal' crevasse and being dropped back on the slopes. I guess that means you can be a bit Naya-listic? Hahaha!..

Trick combinations are effected with strings of the A, B, X and Y buttons, and I still can't remember them all to date, not to mention the fact you may need to rotate the board manually at the same time with the d-pad to line up your landings correctly. Timing jumps for height (releasing the button at the very tip of a slope's peak) is a fine art, and the game will eventually have you grinding, jumping and tweaking your board's facing, and watching your landings, all at once. I found it took a very long time to gain any real mastery of the board because there are just so many elements to play with, although those who've played more skating games in the past may find it easier. Essentially, you grow to feel over time that you are achieving 360 degrees of control over your boarder, and that's a gnarly feeling.

On the other hand, gaining access to new special tricks is achieved not by practice, but by finding icons hidden around the slopes. Sure, that's a little unnatural, but I guess they wanted to have a mighty two kinds of pick-up available in the game, as opposed to a puny one (equipment point bonuses.)

GRAPHICS: 8

The racing game style layout of the courses and their visual design is really beautiful, and the dynamics of the way everything flows around you are excellently judged. Murky forests, forbidding canyons, ski ramps, glowing tunnels and precipitous ridges will fly past or beneath you in rapid succession. The atmosphere is completed by the arc of snowflakes, the spray of snow from Naya's own antics, and of course the other skiers and boarders who spend most of their time yelling at you. The 'alien' factor allows for some cool sights you wouldn't normally get in this genre, like lasers, forbidden zones, landmines and nuclear waste.

Knocking obstacles down doesn't vaporise them in DS. That junk will roll right on down the mountain with you, for miles and miles. And in turn that junk can hit other junk and start that rolling down the hill! The flow of debris can even be a strategic concern during some challenges, so this isn't all for show.

SONICS: 7

The constant churning of snow is enjoyable, and it's the main sound you'll hear. There's not a lot else in the physical sense that's remarkable, but it is all highly functional, especially the helpful ding that occurs when you correctly pull off a trick during a challenge.

For me, DS's fairly typical audio department gets a major lift from Naya's repertoire of entertaining comments on her own actions. They seem to express a combination of self-esteem and bewilderment, and she likes to deliver them after such experiences as faceplanting into a tree or falling down a two-hundred foot deep ice crevasse:

'Down but NOT out!'

'Right place, wrong time.'

'Can't keep me down!'

and my personal favourite,

'ConFUSION!'

Hoity-toity skiers, the evil Slow Patrol and The Chief frequently have angry words for Naya in turn, and icons of whoever's speaking at any time flash up on the screen. Many of their lines showcase the game's great sense of humour - ''Ignore anything strange! The cows are completely normal!'' - but they're often muffled. Programming the volume levels to fade with increased distance between you and whoever's hollering at you was a waste of time. And after five hours playtime, it's likely you'll be wishing you could switch off everyone else's larynxes anyway.

MUSIC: 7

It's the music which works as the main bed of atmosphere for DS. There are some nice mellow and chilly beats which successfully evoke the cool dude and dudette world of snowboarding (psht, like I'd know). Then there are some more threatening trance-like breakbeats and some pacier stuff which cranks up the tension during the challenges. I also like the doom-ridden piece that kicks in if you fail a challenge. It can actually make you believe that the world is really going to end just because Naya didn't perform all nine snowboard grabs in a row.

DS's main theme and menu music are pretty threatening and percussive as well, with cold ambient mountain winds blowing around in the background. Basically the soundtrack always emphasises the threatening elements of the game over the sporty ones, and I think this was a very smart choice. It keeps reminding you why DS feels so different to any other sporty game you're likely to compare it to.

CHALLENGE: 8
FIRST PLAY ADDICTION: 8


DS's main game definitely supplies steady challenge and longevity. The next task you're asked to overcome is always a measure or two beyond your current skills, so the learning curve is a major factor in addiction to the game. Many's the time you'll mash the button to 'Restart Challenge', desperately impatient to give the current task just one more shot before your thumb falls off. And if you're like me, you won't reach the end of the game and find that you're dominating. I was still learning new tricks (like how to properly steer my inter-rail jumps) during the course of the very last, significantly difficult mission.

REPLAYABILITY: 5

Here's where things fall apart somewhat. Beating the game for the first time (no mean feat) unlocks all the boarders who are ever going to be unlocked for the main game in one fell swoop. Frankly, it's too late for that. I would've preferred playing them on the way through, and at this point they can only be used to replay all the same missions from the start, and with no extra choice of board or costume either. To further increase my chagrin, the lady I'd most hoped would be unlocked for mission play - Rachel, who is Hanz's totally freaky goth sister, complete with anti-gravity plaits and black holes under her eyes - was NOT unlocked!

Regarding the two new chicks I did get, my mind was racing with one hope: 'I hope these young gels have cool new catch-phrases, catch-phrases as cool as Naya's.' So I quickly made the ladies pull off some sweet combos, and also stacked them repeatedly into trees, and I was not disappointed with what they had to say about things.

'I need to sharpen my pencil!'

'Pain 101!

If you noticed that I'm dwelling on the vocal schticks of two women as the focus of the game's replayability, you can probably also see why there might be a problem here.

You know where else I can see laziness in this department? On the character select screen. While Naya shifts her body weight around and adopts a few poses while you watch her, the newly unlocked characters all just stand there. You can't help but feel that some lazy-ass programmer didn't care enough. Or maybe he figured, 'Well, I don't shuffle around much when I'm standing still.'

MULTIPLAYER: 3

Split the screen down the middle, make everything particularly tiny, offer three paltry games (racing, knocking things over, half-pipe trick-off) with no choice of course, subject to obvious slow-down and dust with a light layer of snow, and you have the totally perfunctory, boring and uninspired multiplayer aspect of DS. Don't bother.

What's even more frustrating is that they offer all the coolest characters in the game only in the multiplayer! Like Felix! And Ranger Dick! And even... Rachel! ARGH!

In Summary...

A-NAYA-LATIN'!

-- Enormous, gorgeous and atmospheric levels
-- Excellent difficulty curve
-- Finding and beating challenges is super addictive
-- The mystery actually pulls you in
-- Unique style and feel in the annals of extreme sports games

CONFUSION!

-- Bouts of aimlessness when you can't find the next challenge
-- Other boarders only unlocked at game's end... WHY GOD, WHY?
-- Multiplayer sucks, just pretend it's not there
-- Why couldn't I be Rachel?

THE SUMMIT

DS is a steadfastly good, challenging game which makes you work at your skills. Even though the replay considerations are a mess, the world DS creates is so charming and seductive that for me, it's got a joy about it that can be savoured for its own sake. That is, even after you've beaten all the missions, it is genuinely enjoyable to just go snowboarding down the impressively enormous mountain courses, stringing together tricks if you feel like it and enjoying the atmosphere and the sights. This doesn't mean I can forgive a pathetic multiplayer mode or goof-ups with the extra characters, but I can forget about them quickly enough. For only my second GameCube title, Dark Summit has made me very happy.

AFTERTASTE

Ever on a quest for new language to play with in my everyday life, I've been trying to adopt 'Confusion!' as a curse. The result: Nobody understands me, and the women I'm trying to impress aren't laughing.

-- Dark Summit -- 7/10 --

Rating: 7/10

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)

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