Amped 3 (Xbox 360) review
"You'll also find yourself hired by a Canadian sock-puppet to hunt down a yeti. After being filled in by your odd employer (who uses a sock puppet of his very own to characterise the yeti!) you'll have to chase the abominable snowman down a particularly treacherous slope, outscoring him as he pulls mad tricks on his own snowboard to secure his capture. He'll backflip off an icy ramp and land precariously on a rail which he'll grind down, popping off stunts as he goes. Do the same or be shown up by the missing link! "
There was something very worrying about Amped 3. For one, the once-serious snowboard sim switched hands and found itself no longer under the control of Microsoft, but 2K Games, who's first point of call was to burn the conventional playbook previous instalments had stuck to. Their first promise was to make a game that refused to take itself seriously, featuring such oddities as a two-player mini-game where a dual set of sleders are tethered together and thrown down a hill. The member with the most injuries at the end of the run wins. It was promised that this attitude would coat every aspect of the game - and here lay the biggest concern.
The threat presented by zany plotlines in extreme sports games need no look no further than the stumbling joke that was Tony Hawks Underground 2 to see how badly such a ploy can backfire. In THUG2, a reasonably solid franchise was buried beneath a slew of sophomoric toilet-humour and ego-expanding cameos. To my relief, Amped 3 avoids this by not being so much juvenile as it is completely off-the-wall insane -- any game that introduces your protagonist clad in a bright pink bunny suit is desperate to not be taken seriously.
Because of this, progressing through the story-driven section of Amped is something special. Not necessarily because of the challenges that are presented to you -- although the more standout tasks are works of insane genius -- but the way the story unfolds is a cheeky slap in the face to conventualism. It would have been easy to tap into the hugely powerful 360's hardware and come up with intertwining cut scenes of immense beauty, but the path walked bravely by Amped 3 manages to place the game in a league of it's own.
Complete the coveted Easter Egg Cup and you're treated to a a cut-and-paste animation cartoon in the style of South Park in which 'boarding chum J-Dawg breaks into an impromptu rap about how he's going to make it big, complete with cardboard cut-out girls in ski-gear, a host of moody pros as back-up singers and the bling-mobile on extra-springy hydraulics. All you need do to unlock this is chase down a swarm of chocolate eggs as they are rolled down a snowy slope, trying to beat rival skiers and snowboarders to capture the most tasty treats before the time runs out.
To train for such an event, group misfit and part-time ninja, WienerBoy, unveils his winter wonderland WienerLand [©], daring you and your squad to pick your way through the challenging gaps, ramps and rails to reach the end. To demonstrate exactly what you need to do, you are introduced to a stop-motion production played out by action figures that depict your cast cunningly as they slither down a cardboard model of your arena. These segments are unapologetically low-budget but totally unique and brilliant. That's just the tip of the iceberg!
You'll also find yourself hired by a Canadian sock-puppet to hunt down a yeti. After being filled in by your odd employer (who uses a sock puppet of his very own to characterise the yeti!) you'll have to chase the abominable snowman down a particularly treacherous slope, outscoring him as he pulls mad tricks on his own snowboard to secure his capture. He'll backflip off an icy ramp and land precariously on a rail which he'll grind down, popping off stunts as he goes. Do the same or be shown up by the missing link! Later, you find a group of jumpsuit-clad thugs who are up to no good that you need to chase down on a snowmobile, your objectives regularly updated by anime cut-scenes which pepper your pursuit as you gun around an abandoned night-time resort, trying to keep your targets in sight but never straying close enough that they notice you.
There are very few types of media that haven't been resurrected to further along Amped 3's unique personality. Snippets of 8-bit classics remade to fit in you and you posse frame the game's chapters, and even RPG staple Final Fantasy VII isn't safe from a
overdue parody tribute. Zombies, ninjas, comic books, animated sketches on a hippy 'boarder's notepad, goggly eyes and lipstick painted on hands to resemble mutated faces, a talking pig's head for a sponsor -- it never lets up! And it never lets itself get old by recycling the same thing over and over. There's always something new, some unexpected spectacle just around the next corner. So much so that reaching the fantastic conclusion is very much a bittersweet sensation.
But fear not! Amped 3 doesn't rely on being a smoking cauldron of insanity; it merely uses it to highlight a comfortable and easily-mastered engine that will keep a player happy long after the wacky escapades are completed.
As the story progresses, you unlock different snow-stocked mountains all crammed with stages and goals for you to compete in and enjoy. Media Call-Outs challenge you to beat stock scores using only a certain bit of trickery, be it rail grinding, aerial spins or grab tricks; Sell-Outs see you try and impress sponsors to snag some swag while the Magic Circle events bid you to plough through a series of circles while trying to rack up insane points. There's dozens of challenge modes awaiting you, inviting you to slalom though gates on a snowmobile or break as many of your bones as possible by jettisoning off a high-speed armchair as it's rocketed off the side of a cliff. Each task you complete grants you respect points which can be used to unlock further areas, advance the plot along or just grant you mad bragging rights. As well as this, you can win extra clothes for your custom-built protagonist, unlock new music tracks or tricks and even upgrade your stats.
But it's the personality and the charm that will take a stranglehold on your attention and never let go.
Amped 3 avoids the traps that lesser games have fallen into by not taking itself seriously and presenting its players with a laugh-out-loud experience that never shows any sign of dispersing. On the most powerful console currently known to man, boasting a library of photo-realistic games, it's the one featuring live-action sock puppets that contains the most heart.
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