1080° Avalanche and SSX 3 are in direct competition with each other this holiday season. Which one should you place your bet on? Get the first part of the answer here.
Initial impressions are quite positive. The intro-sequence looks stunning and captures the essence of what 1080° Avalanche is all about: an intense, action-packed racing experience over cottage rooftops, into crystal-blue caves and underground tunnels, under collapsing bridges and falling rocks and even through a small restaurant. High speeds and insane tricks are the order of the day, and the action is beautifully complemented by a song from Cauterize, which constitutes just one out of 38 great tracks in the game. The sequence ends with a tantalising glimpse of the most pleasing aspect of the entire game: the avalanches.
Already at this point, you get the impression that NST has not only taken the series to new heights but also in another direction. The hardcore realism that characterised the N64 installment has been dumbed down to provide a far more arcade-like feel. Landing doesn’t require the same pin-point accuracy, and steering is generally made easier. The sheer amount of moving obstacles reflects this change as well. Oncoming cars, amateur skiers, and wild animals are just some of the obstacles that require lightning quick reactions to get past.
The game structure feels very familiar, though. The main mode is Match Race, which is divided into four sets of levels that increase in difficulty. You compete against a CPU-controlled boarder, and whoever gets to the finishing line first is declared the winner. It’s basic racing philosphy, really, spiced up with a rewarding trick system. Performing tricks won’t do any good in terms of speed boosts, but will fill up your so-called power meter. When it’s full, your boarder will start to flash, meaning that you can now knock over your opponent simply by ramming in to him. Furthermore, if you’re stumbling, your boarder will perform a miraculous and exaggerated move and (somehow) end up on his feet without losing any speed. The idea of rewarding players who take the risk of making multiple tricks during the race is nicely implemented and adds further depth to the gameplay.
The way the tricks are carried out is flawed, though. Racking up lots points can be achieved by means of a few button-mashing techniques. Hold the R button and rotate the control stick to spin while hammering away at the grab buttons is the best solution. In this way, you can quickly master the Half-Pipe and Big Air modes without really being challenged. Timing your jump properly and ending your trick maneuvres in time to ensure a safe landing still require some practise, though.
The last level of every match race is a race against time – without a competitor. You are alone. Suddenly, the music fades away, and a cut-scene reveals a gigantic avalanche. More and more snow builds up around you, obscuring your view dramatically, while limiting controls. At the same time, trees break in half and fall over, houses collapse, and windows shatter, while boulders are crashing down. It’s intense, and everything looks convincing thanks, in large part, to a brilliant physics engine.
These avalanche levels provide tons of challenge, since just one mistake is often enough to quench all hope of completion. Knowing the level layout becomes an essential tool in this regard. All levels have multiple routes to the finishing line, some of which act as significant shortcuts. Furthermore, in order to avoid some of the aforementioned obstacles, you have to learn precisely when these things appear as well as their movement patterns. Sadly, these feel quite scripted. For example, deer will always run towards you at a specific, pre-determined point in a level. If the events occured in a more random fashion, they would provide more variation and, ultimately, a longer-lasting game.
And that is exactly what the game needs: a boost in lastability. All levels can be unlocked within a couple of hours. There are additional costumes and boards to be won, but these offer little incentive to keep playing (although one of the secret boards is shaped like an NES controller and even comes equipped with old NES sound effects when it touches the ground).
It’s still an enjoyable ride while it lasts, though, and fans of the original don’t have to think twice about investing in Avalanche, even though NST has taken a more arcade-like approach. Likewise, if you liked Wave Race: Blue Storm, another NST-developed game with a similar game structure and challenge level, you really can’t go wrong with this one. It’s fast and furious, action-packed and intense, and has few significant flaws.