Like many children of the 90s I grew up during the eXtreme sports craze. Events like the X-Games and shows like Rocket Power captured my attention and made me yearn to skate, surf, and be as eXtreme as possible! During the day I was lucky enough to skate and surf til my legs felt like jello, but I wanted to keep shredding when while playing video games at night. The early Tony Hawk games were godsends. While I now like the Skate series far more, the unrealistic Tony Hawk games filled my imagination with tricks and places to skate. They expanded my skating knowledge and drove me to learn the tricks I saw on screen.
The Tony Hawk games have two lesser known siblings, Shaun Palmer: Pro Snowboarder and Kelly Slater: Pro surfer. Let’s talk about the surfing game today.
The most important part of surfing is the wave. The wave dictates what kind of board you use, how you ride it, and what you can do. A wave is constantly
moving. It is like a quarter pipe that is surging forward looping and crashing over itself while expanding and contracting laterally. Now add a surfer on top of it and it can get kinda complex. The developer did a very good job illustrating that not all waves are the same. At some locations the waves are massive and powerful and a surfer is at the mercy of the wave. The best example of this in game is the mavericks level. Just like in real life the game waves don’t barrel and are massive towers of grey water. Other places have softer, more playful waves that let the surfer do whatever they please. The game is broken up into levels that represent different beaches/breaks around the world. Each one does a great job capturing the look of the wave and the weather. The waves change in game as you ride them doing a good approximation of the evolving nature of a wave racing towards the beach.
So the waves rock, but what about sound? The music is fantastic. As expected from a Tony Hawk era Activision game, the soundtrack kicks ass and features lots of different songs that compliments surfing. The waves sound pretty good, but nothing to write more than a sentence about.
That brings me to the actual surfing and this is where the game falls a bit short. The game is obviously built off the skeleton of the Tony Hawk games. The move set and controls all feel very familiar to the Hawk games with many of the button inputs and tricks being identical. It isn’t horrible, but it definitely makes the game feel more arcade like than simulation. The other problem I have with the gameplay is the camera. The camera usually faces your surfer from afar as if from the perspective of someone watching on the beach. I would have preferred a closer behind the back view so that the player felt more connected to what was happening on the wave.
I loved this game as a kid, just like I loved the Tony Hawk games. However, now I wish we could get a surfing game that imitates the feel of surfing far more. The Skate games did this for skateboarding: while they are not a 100 percent simulation playing them felt a lot more like skating than the Hawk games did. Kelly Slater is a best surfing game I’ve played because it does an excellent job communicating the culture of surfing, but I still hope that we get a game that feels a lot more like surfing one day.