Nintendo has returned to the mountain, but is it better than the competition?
1080° Snowboarding on the N64 was Nintendo's first jump into the new-fangled extreme sports arena, and they did a mighty good job with it. Now they're back with 1080° Avalanche, the anticipated GameCube version of the N64 hit.
First and foremost, 1080° looks beautiful. Although the scenery isn't super-realistic, it has a style of its own, and looks very pretty. The trees that line the courses look wonderful, all covered with snow. The structures that you'll occasionally run into range from ski lodges to beat-up shacks, all sprinkled with the white stuff. The avalanche challenge levels are really high up in the peaks, and one good look at the scenery will let you know that immediately.
Naturally, everywhere you look, there's going to be snow. Every time your boarder falls down, snow gets all over him. As you slide down the hill at speed, it slowly blows away. If it's snowing a lot, the snowflakes will slowly collect on you. Even when it isn’t snowing, it looks great, since your clothes ripple in the wind when you're going at top speed. Little details like these really make the game a visual bag of goodies.
Another awesome aspect of Avalanche is the game's audio. The licensed music in the game makes a huge difference that no in-house soundtrack could match. All the songs from bands like Cauterize, Finger Eleven, BOYSETSFIRE, Seether, and others fit the game perfectly. The music fades in and out at appropriate times as well, such as when you've gone off of a cliff-side jump and all you hear is the sound of being airborne. It's really neat.
Yet another excellent area of the game is in the controls. It works exactly like it did on the N64: Use the stick to control your rider, hold down A to charge and execute a jump, hold R and spin the stick to spin around, use B, X, and Y with the stick to execute grabs in the air, and use the L button to tuck for speed or grind on rails. Slowing down and turning sharply requires you to pull back on the control stick, which is necessary for navigating tight sections or finding shortcuts.
Also like the N64 version, the trick system is difficult to learn at first, but once you have it down and learn the do's and don'ts, you can impress the ladies with your mad trick skills. For instance, you don’t want to over-rotate a spin and land sideways, killing all of your speed. There is also a combo system of sorts in the game, which has you time your grabs to stay in the air longer. These skills and more will be necessary if you want to get high scores in the game's trick attack modes.
So, 1080° Avalanche looks beautiful, sounds awesome, and has excellent controls. It's really a shame that the rest of the game isn't up to snuff with these three areas, because even though the game is great fun, there are a few things that could have made it a lot better.
The game is set up just like it was on the N64. You pick a character and a board, and then go on a series of one-on-one match races down a short run. If you beat the rider, you move on to the next race, if not, you lose a life and try again. If you run out of lives before you make it to the avalanche challenge, you fail. At first, this is fine, but as you get to the tougher difficulties, you'll realize that all you're really doing is a time trial with a ghost that you need to beat. The computer opponent really does the same thing every time and only deviates when you interfere with them.
This is made more obvious when you start to look at 1080°'s multiplayer options. You can race against three other human players in multiplayer, making for races that include four boarders, which shows just how much fun it is to have four people on the mountain at the same time. Why the single player game couldn't do this? In the hardest difficulties on single player, if you make just one mistake at the top of a run, there's no way you're going to win. It would have been nice to race for second place against someone else instead of just going down the course or pausing and choosing retry from the menu.
If you can manage to beat all the time trial gho... erm, computer opponents in a match race set, you can go to the avalanche challenge race. This is also a match race of sorts, but you're not racing against someone else. It's you versus the mountain, and you need to get to the bottom before the pile of snow and rocks barreling down the hill behind you buries you alive. This mode is simply insane. As the avalanche gets closer to you, a meter at the top will grow more red, the rumble will get louder and louder, and the screen will begin to shake violently. In fact, if the snowball is right on your tail, the screen will shake so badly that it's almost impossible to see where you're going. That can be really frustrating, because you'll run right into a tree or rock that you would have normally seen if the display wasn't shaking so badly. It hinders the mode a little bit, but it's something you can live with, given the fact that there's a giant avalanche behind you.
If you beat the challenge, you'll unlock the next difficulty. However, there is one rather annoying aspect about this. If you want to do the challenge again, you have two options: either go through the match races again or use a password the game gives you to access it directly. Uh, hello? Passwords? We're in a point in game technology where that is absolutely unacceptable. If you want to show the avalanche to your friends you shouldn't need to put in a code to something you've already unlocked and beaten.
Aside from the match race, there are also time trial, gate challenge, and trick attack modes in 1080° Avalanche. The time trial is what you'd expect, but this mode also doubles as a collect-a-thon of sorts, where five pieces of a coin are scattered about, and you need to collect them all. Collecting coins from all the tracks will unlock better boards for the characters. The gate challenge has you running through gates and collecting time. Beating these will unlock secret boards, including the penguin and an NES controller. The trick attack has you tackle a half pipe, big air jump, and one (yes, just one) slope style course. It's disappointing that there's only one dedicated course to pulling off tricks, and that you can't go for high trick scores on race courses. All these modes do mix up the game plenty, but you'll still be spending most of your time in the multiplayer mode, which is much better than the single match race format.
Overall, it seems that developer NST kept just about everything that made the original 1080° Snowboarding on the N64 so great. Unfortunately, the gameplay mechanic that 1080° Avalanche uses, while still good, just doesn't hold up in today's times, especially considering the competition of EA's SSX3. If you want a good fun snowboarding title (and still need a code to register for the bonus Zelda disc), you won't regret picking this one up. It's just not the best snowboarding title out on the market today.