GameCentral reviews the spiritual sequel to N64 classic 1080° Snowboarding, in the form of a new Oculus Quest exclusive VR game.
Much has changed in the world of video games in the last few decades, not only in terms of technology but which genres of game have or have not remained in fashion. Go back 25 years and you couldn’t move for ‘extreme’ sports games. Usually they were racers, which have themselves seen a general decrease in popularity over the years, but they included snowboarding games, skateboarding, and everything from BMX riding to mountain climbing.
Arguably the most acclaimed snowboarding game was 1080° Snowboarding on the N64, which after a lacklustre sequel on the GameCube was never heard from again. But then Nintendo seems to have lost interest in all its extreme racers, including the much-celebrated Wave Race and Excitebike. As frequently happens, a spiritual sequel has appeared to take the place of a sequel, with the twist being that Carve Snowboarding is an Oculus Quest exclusive.
Developer Chuhai Labs is based in Japan but headed by English programmer Giles Goddard, who was key to the development of many early 3D titles for Nintendo, including 1080° Snowboarding. Despite the very different technology at play the similarities are obvious, but even though that includes some of the same flaws the overall experience is one of the best VR sports games around.
General wisdom suggests that fast movement in a VR game inevitability increases the chance of feeling nauseous while playing but it’s really not as simple as that. With the right precautions talented developers can ensure there’s little to no problem, so that even when you’re doing loop-the-loops in something like Ace Combat 7 you can still keep your lunch in your stomach.
Snowboarding is less of a problem in that you’re always travelling in the same general direction but given the speed you’re going, and the nature of the control system, this is definitely not the first game you’d want to try if you’re a VR novice.
1080° Snowboarding was always praised for its tactile controls, which managed to create a great sense of physicality despite everything being handled by a single analogue stick. In reality though snowboarding is a very physically demanding sports, where your whole body is used to control balance and direction. Given the advanced motion sensing of VR games that’s a good fit, although there is the limitation that the controllers know exactly where your hands are, but not your legs.
The games controls work very well within these restrictions though, essentially switching things round so that your hands are mimicking the sort of movements your legs and feet would be making in real life. As such, your leading hand controls the front of the board and your other the back of the board. There are no buttons for any of the basic movement, as you lift up both hands at once to jump, but that means this is not a game you can expected to do well at by simply sitting on the sofa.
Although the basics are straightforward enough things do get more complicated when you start to try stunts, which involve grabbing specific points on the board and using the trigger button to spin. There’s also an optional advanced mode that lets you tilt the board by angling your wrists, for when you feel you’ve got the hang of things.
There’s no attempt at a story or any kind of characterisation and so stages are split simply between Time Attack and Freestyle modes, with the latter giving you two minutes to amass the highest score possible. There are only six courses too, although that’s more than it sounds as each one is filled with hidden paths and collectables. Also, they’re really hard. Perhaps less so if you’re a skilled snowboarder in real life but the average player is likely to find the game a difficult but rewarding challenge.
1080° Snowboarding didn’t have a story mode either, and this doesn’t necessarily need that, but it does come across as a little clinical at times. The closest thing to a personality is the little snow cabin you get to hang out in, where’s a dog by the fireplace and a mixtape to be made in the curiously old-fashioned sound system. It doesn’t really help the problem that everything feels a bit bare bones though, with leaderboards instead of proper multiplayer and even then only for Time Attack.
We would say that releasing a snowboarding game just as summer finally kicks into gear is odd but it’s actually impressive how completely the setting consumes you when playing in VR. There’s a sort of seasonal whiplash when removing the headset, where you almost begin to question which reality is the real one.
Carve Snowboarding certainly does speak to the power of VR but there’s no arguing that it’s a little light on content. The price does reflect that though and with Nintendo unlikely to ever commission a new 1080° Snowboarding this is both the next best thing and a successful use of VR to make something that’s more than just a sequel, spiritual or otherwise.
Carve Snowboarding VR review summary
In Short: An intense and enjoyably physical extreme sports game that’s short on content but not on thrills.
Pros: Clever control scheme that mirrors the real-world sport but remains accessible for all. Only six courses but they’re filled with secrets and short cuts. Great sense of speed.
Cons: Only two game modes and no multiplayer. Controls and motions are only for VR veterans. Game lacks personality.
Formats: Oculus Quest
Publisher: Chuhai Labs
Developer: Chuhai Labs
Release Date: 27th May 2021
Age Rating: 3
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