Avatar Snowboarding and A Snowy Slalom

Winter is upon us, and with it comes a strange fixation with some members of the population to freeze their butts off and throw themselves down a mountain.  It sounds like something primitives would do to virgins to appease their Gods, but no, it’s actually considered a recreational sport.  Weirdly, it also translates well to video games.  The first ever sporting game I played was 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64, and I was completely addicted to it for a while.  Its Gamecube counterpart?  Not so much.  However, I never did get into SSX, and winter sports games haven’t sniffed my consoles in well over a decade.  Can a couple of XBLIGs win me back?

No.

But one came close.

The guy on the right is demonstrating the position known as “about to get slaughtered by Indie Gamer Chick.”

Avatar Snowboarding is first, and it might be the worst Xbox Live Indie Game of the year.  I’m having trouble deciding if being utterly pointless and boring is worse than being Sententia.  At least Sententia has a goal and a plot.  Avatar Snowboarding basically puts you in a randomly generated sandbox of a stage and says “okay, move around.”  That’s it.  Yea, stages have an “exit” but there’s no real reward for getting to it.  There’s also no interesting scenery or outlandish things to jump off of.  Just a sterile field of snow, a few trees, and invisible walls to brain yourself to death on.  What’s really remarkable is the game allows you to fly through the air and gain speed using an infinite amount of turbo boost, and it’s STILL the most boring video game I’ve ever played in my entire life, and that’s not hyperbole.  Games don’t NEED to have goals.  Flight Adventure 2 had no point outside “here’s a plane, fly it, try not to crash!”  But it still managed to be compelling.  Avatar Snowboarding is dull to the point of being excruciating.

Pretty lifeless, huh?  Video credit to Aaron the Splazer

A Snowy Slalom is a much better experience.  It’s still not quite Leaderboard material, but compared to Avatar Snowboarding, it’s game of the year material.  Here, you traverse 32 pre-made hills, or enjoy randomly generated ones.  The controls are more responsive, the gameplay is streamlined, and there’s an actual point to it.  Plus, the sense of speed you generate at times is awesome.

Snowy Slalom comes from the developer of the Merball Tournament, a game that had a neat concept but felt more like an unfinished prototype.  Unfortunately, Slalom retains that not-quite-done feel at times.  Everything worked fine until around the 8th course, at which point making sharp turns routinely led to me getting stuck in the scenery and being forced to restart.  Other times, I would just hit the walls and lose all my speed, causing time to run out.  Often, there’s not strong enough indication of when you’re going to have to turn on a course, causing you to have to trial-and-error your way down a slope multiple times to get it right.  This is reason #842 why video skiing is superior to real skiing.  Because trial and error in real skiing means “see that tree with Sonny Bono’s blood all over it?  Yea, try not to die on it.”

I’m having flashbacks to Cool Boarders. Which is weird, because that’s not a skiing game.

Ultimately, I’m not putting A Snowy Slalom on the leaderboard because it’s just not fun.  It does represent a step in the right direction for a new developer who is easing his way into game development, but the ultimate goal of a video game is to be entertaining, and Slalom just isn’t.  It’s dull to look at and not all that amusing to play.  I certainly didn’t hate it, and at times I was blown away by how the game moved at lightning speed, but I wouldn’t want to play it again.  I’m happy it exists, because it’s proof that developers can get better.  I went back and tried Merball Tournament again, then played A Snowy Slalom.  You can see progress being made.  Manuel, don’t give up.  Stick with it.  And since I’m in such a loving mood, I’ll tell the Avatar Snowboarding team “hey, look on the bright side!  You can’t possibly do worse!”

Avatar Snowboarding was developed by Squimball Studios (I so want to play a game called Squimball)

A Snowy Slalom was developed by Tarh Ik

80 Microsoft Points each haven’t seen this much white powder since they got back from Hollywood in the making of this review.

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