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1080° Avalanche (GameCube) artwork

1080° Avalanche (GameCube) review

"As a result, your relationship with a new level goes as follows: first you start playing and almost invariably lose by a large margin, then you start to memorize things and lose by only a hair (your boarder may even appear to have won, even though he or she didn't), then you'll effortlessly win almost every race as you fully memorize the obstacles. The challenge in the game is derived almost completely from the player's lack of familiarity with a given course."

There is a section of 1080ş Avalanche where you're racing down the mountain while the snow whistles beneath your board, animals dash to either side, trees tower from rock outcroppings to either side, and the soundtrack beats out a moderately enjoyable bit of punk/rock music. It's at moments like this when you pause the game, lean back in your couch, and thank your lucky stars you made the purchase (or rental, as the case may be). Unfortunately, such moments are far too rare. A snowboarding game with a lot of promise, 1080ş Avalanche regrettably fails to live up to that promise. The result is a disc most gamers will eventually decide they'd rather avoid.

It doesn't start out that way, of course. Turn on the power, sit through the introductory screens, then grin as the sound of a helicopter rises from the speaker to your left. Yes, this game has surround sound, and it's utilized quite well. Whether you're admiring the sound as the game begins, or smiling at how spunky the girl boarders sound, or gritting your teeth while your chosen character slides through an operating sawmill, you'll have a hard time denying that the game has atmosphere.

It also has a licensed soundtrack, believe it or not. Though few would expect such a bold move from a Nintendo second party, NST managed to secure a rather good selection of tunes from a band called Cauterize. Most of the different races are accompanied by a different selection, and I was surprised by how much they affect the feel of the race. One punky song might easily get your adrenaline flowing as you careen down the mountainside, while a slow-paced selection later on makes things feel mellow as the boarders flounder in deep powder.

Speaking of the powder, it alternates between breath-taking and sleep-inducing. When a race starts, more often than not, you're greeted by a cloudy sort of glimpse at the trail ahead. It's hard to see things very well, which I found to be a disappointment. The feel of crisp, clean snow never quite gels here in the way it does in the rival boarding game, SSX 3.

Once you get moving, though, things look better. I was actually quite impressed by the way snow seems to have been passed over by other boarders. Follow in the wake of your competitor and he'll leave a nice, smooth trail of packed snow for you to follow. It's visible from a fair distance, and other paths zig-zagging across it if there are multiple opponents on the scene (and there almost always are, even if you're just in a one vs. one match-up against the computer).

Visuals aren't just limited to the texture of the snow, either; you'll race through a good selection of areas that decorate the mountain, from the sawmill I already mentioned to small lodges, caverns, and canyons. The texture work here is impressive. It's hard not to enjoy each new track and the hazards they present, such as a collapsing bridge or an avalanche.

Yes, it is possible to trigger avalanches in this game. No, it's not so delightful as it may seem. The required elements are a big explosion, a horrifically loud noise, or some damage to the structure that holds up large mounds of packed snow. For novice players, it's likely that when you encounter an avalanche, it'll be thanks to the computer opponent ahead, and you'll be fighting to avoid burial. If you happen to be in the lead and trigger one on purpose, it can be a good way to slow down the competition. However, it's hard to maintain a safe lead.

And why is that? Because the game sucks. Sorry, my bias is showing. What the rational reviewer in me meant to say is that the controls suck. From the minute you zip off the starting line, it's clear that the sloppy controls are an element that will plague you for the game's duration. While your opponent happily zigs and zags down the trail ahead, you'll start at a snail's pace that persists for several seconds, by which point the competitor is only a blip on your mountain radar. Get a little better and you'll realize a hopping start is the way to go, but jumping in this game is a headache.

Getting airborne works about like you'd expect, with a few hitches. Hold the 'A' button and your jump meter will charge. Once it does so, quickly release it to make a small jump. If you instead keep the button pressed, your meter will drop away and you'll have to charge up all over again. Because of this, it's not possible to have a jump waiting in the wings. You'll have to memorize the courses and know when to start charging. The first few runs are frustrating for this very reason. While the computer opponent knows just where to jump to hit all the rails, you'll be thudding down staircases or against rocks. While he slides up special tracks and into bonus areas, you'll pull a Sunny Bono and get intimate with tree trunks. For the uninitiated, a series of mistimed bunny hops is almost always the result, followed by a terrible lack of balance.

That lack of balance is an even bigger flaw than the jumping itself. Skid through a mound of soft snow and your boarder will begin to teeter as if on the edge of a precipice. A meter will start to fill, above which you'll see an icon of a spinning knob. At this point, you must quickly rotate the control stick in the direction indicated to right your balance. While this is occurring, your boarder will slow to a snail's crawl, and you won't be able to properly maneuver. More often than not, you'll right yourself, only to find that you managed to snowboard your way into a crevice. Then you'll spend a few more seconds getting out of that tight spot before you can resume your trip down the mountain.

While all this is going on, your computer opponent is moving at only a moderate rate. If you make an error-free ride down the mountain, it's not terribly difficult to win. As a result, your relationship with a new level goes as follows: first you start playing and almost invariably lose by a large margin, then you start to memorize things and lose by only a hair (your boarder may even appear to have won, even though he or she didn't), then you'll effortlessly win almost every race as you fully memorize the obstacles. The challenge in the game is derived almost completely from the player's lack of familiarity with a given course.

Any other difficulties really do come down to the play control. It's not even possible to select a difficulty level, per se. Instead, you just choose from harder courses. The only real selection of any consequence is that of your boarder. There are around five or six of them, some girls, some guys. Their stats vary slightly, but not so much that you'd notice. About the only reason to pick one character over the other is so that you have an attractive face to look at for the loads between levels.

Speaking of loading times, they're really not that bad. You won't have to wait more than a few seconds once you make selections, and then you'll be cut loose to tear down the mountainside. Pre-game menus are quite attractive, from the simplistic title screen to the edgy character and board selection process.

What those menus hide, however, is a surprising lack of depth. There are only a few modes to speak of. One is the match mode that you play against a computer, another is the time trial area (where you can also try collecting several out-of-the-way coins to unlock stuff), and another is a versus mode. You can play against a friend the old-fashioned way, or get a LAN set-up going. Either way, the game's mechanics mean not a whole lot of casual gamers will care to join you.

The final mode I should mention is the 'trick attack' mode. While this is certainly a good idea that could have added some longevity to a shallow title, it fails to intrigue because landing tricks is so difficult. Either you'll be frustrated by how poorly your boarder jumps, or you'll expend the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to master that, only to find that the trick system is terribly shallow. Get in the air for long and you'll find your options are limited to only a few grabs and spins. Even if you do master those, it feels hollow compared to the diversity offered in games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 or SSX 3.

All things considered, 1080ş Avalanche really is difficult to recommend. Even people who liked the original seem disappointed by the updated version. Meanwhile, the good people over at Electronic Arts have released SSX 3 on all consoles, to rave reviews in almost every case. If you like snowboarding and Nintendo-published sports titles are what it takes to make you happy, go with 1080ş Avalanche. Otherwise, join the happy majority that went elsewhere.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 22, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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