Stoked has some very simple goals: get you excited about snowboarding, let you have fun, and make you feel like you've accomplished something in your time with the game. With more development time and a bigger budget, Stoked could have become something special, but instead, the game alternates between being a thrilling snowboarding experience and a frustrating mess.
Stoked is a snowboarding game where your goal is essentially the same as in many sports games before it: Become famous. There's no story here, and you don't need to pretend to be anything more; you just do awesome things to get awesome sponsorships and become famous. The problem is that this isn't really obvious at the beginning. After a brief tutorial, you're just kind of let loose on the game's five mountains (not all of them are unlocked at the outset). Hidden in the menu system is an objective that gives you a goal of fame points, but the game doesn't tell you right off the bat how to earn fame; the game holds your hand long enough for you to learn how to walk, at which point it asks you to run.
This is largely due to an extremely harsh grading system for points in the game. As you'll quickly discover, the main route to earning fame points in the game is to complete challenges on the mountain or post "high score" single runs down the mountain from one of several helicopter drop points. (The game box claims that you can drop off the helicopter anywhere on the mountain, and this is true, but you have to complete most of a mountain's challenges before you earn your "pilot's license," which allows you to drop anywhere.) About half of these challenges require you to beat a certain score using only certain moves: butters, flips, grabs, slides and spins. Challenges often require you to beat a certain score using one or two types of these moves, and the bar is set quite high.
As you start off in the game, you will become frustrated, angry, and if you're like me, you'll let loose a wide and colorful range of profanities at the TV as you constantly fail challenges. While the point requests seem high, it requires near-perfection off a specified jump to attain the score. The tricks must be worth a generous sum of points, spins must be of a large number, flips should be at least of the double variety, and grabs must be held until a split second before you land. Your landing must also be perfect because a perfect landing is the single most important element to get points in Stoked. A bad landing can cut your score in half, while a perfect landing will net you a 1.5x score bonus.
At the beginning, I spent up to 45 minutes trying the same jump over and over again to reach the target score. Eventually, I realized that you're also allowed to do tricks before the main jump. You can build up points and up to a 3x combo doing small grabs and spins (if they're tricks you're allowed to do), so that you can get a bunch of points off the main jump. Once I had this figured out, progression became quick and painless, but I did feel as if I were cheating a little bit.
What I was doing there was working with one of the "styles" that the game presents. Stoked has two distinct styles you can use to ride: stylized tricks and hucking. Stylized tricks are about doing one trick amazingly well, while hucking looks pretty chaotic, but the goal is to do as many tricks as possible while in the air. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but mastering one results in new tricks being unlocked, and the point totals you get from these are usually worth it.
There are a couple of other kinds of challenges for you to tackle. The one you'll see the most of has you doing a series of very specific tricks and then "one-upping" the previous record holder by adding a trick of your own. These are initially easier for the new player to get his head around, but it's still frustrating due to the game not giving you a good idea of how to do the grabs or a quick way to reference the controller mapping. The title doesn't do a very good job of telling you how to do each trick, and it will only tell you about tricks you've already done in the past.
Ignoring stuff like grinds, there are over 30 grabs with unique names in Stoked, and when you reach these challenges, you're simply told, "First, do an Indy, then do a Japan air, and finish up with a stalefish." With nothing to tell you how to do these tricks, it gets frustrating in a hurry. Making it even worse are challenges where you have to go through several gates in quick succession and do specific tricks. The icing on the cake is the challenges, where you have to go against a real-life professional rider. Here, you're doing the specific tricks through gates, but you're also being graded. Beating one of these requires absolute perfection from the player, and by the time you've finished one, you'll either: a) hate the pro rider with the fury of an exploding sun, b) hate the game with equal force, or c) never want to hear the pro rider's name or put Stoked in your Xbox again. Because of how poorly the title tells you to perform specific tricks, I eventually resorted to keeping the manual next to me at all times so that I could pause and read about the tricks I was going to need to do for the next jump. Thankfully, those controls are fairly easy to pick up, as they take the same approach to the snowboarding genre that Skate brought to the skateboarding genre. The right stick is the board, the right trigger is your right hand, and the left trigger the left. This control method is pretty easy to pick up, and it generally works quite well.
It may sound like I really didn't like Stoked, but that would be very wrong. After the initial frustration, once you see how things work in Stoked, the title becomes pretty fun. Each mountain has several dozen challenges to work on, and that's not even touching the areas that involve the "pro rider" aspects of the game. While you may start off as an unheard-of chump on the mountains, as you get better, your objectives become more clear as the game will give you a fairly consistent amount of challenges and actual rewards. Unfortunately, even with the massive amount of content to ride through, much of it feels extremely similar. The challenges all start to blend into one another in a hurry, and freeriding down the mountain only presents a limited amount of "find your own fun."
As you go through Stoked, it becomes apparent that the majority of the budget was spent on the weather system. In Stoked, you have a flow of time similar to Grand Theft Auto, and changing weather conditions at all times make a fairly dramatic difference when you're riding the mountains. Riding after a storm will result in beautiful snow conditions, which makes it the perfect time to take on challenges that have a warning of "low snow." On the flip side, riding in a storm results in pretty low visibility. It's an incredibly well-done system, and it's a shame that the rest of the game can't quite keep up.
While the snow looks pretty good, everything else on the mountain leaves something to be desired and has a distinct budget feel to it — and that includes your character. There is extremely light customization, and the graphical appearance and animation are underwhelming. Even the physics system never quite feels right, which shows that Stoked isn't exactly a tour de force on the graphics front.
The audio fares significantly better, but it still comes across as an underwhelming experience. There's quite the wide variety to the soundtrack, with several playlists that you can turn on and off in the menus. The music is by artists you've never heard of, and with each playlist consisting of only three or four songs, you'll probably want to leave them all on so the songs don't overstay their welcome too quickly. Some songs fit the game better than others; as an example, one of the playlists is titled "Japanese video game," and the music is essentially what you would expect from a JRPG. It doesn't fit the game in any way, shape or form, but if you've ever wondered what it'd be like to do a triple front flip method off a cliff to the boss battle music of an RPG, this might be the game for you. The rest of the sounds aren't that impressive either. The sound effects are serviceable, the voice work ranges from painful ("Hey dude, you're totally better than me! NOT!") to tolerable, although the random bystanders love to make fun of my family. Oddly, you can customize the victory fanfare sound that plays every time you successfully complete something. The majority of these little sound clips are cheap-sounding rip-offs of famous sound clips, such as the James Bond theme. I settled for a tune called "Jump Start" that's a not-so-subtle rip-off of the main riff of "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crüe.
If it weren't for the fact that the online community for Stoked is extremely small, I'd think pretty highly of it. The game supports up to eight people at a time in a single match, and it reminds me a bit of Burnout Paradise. The mountain is open to you, challenges are still free to do, but you can call together all of the players at rally points to try new challenges, play a game of horse, or do a race. There isn't really any lag, and it's generally fun; it's just hard to find a game for eight people to play with.
Once you've learned to deal with its quirks, Stoked can be fun. It's a game with a very steep learning curve and a distinct lack of polish around the edges. While the first five hours will likely be an extremely frustrating experience with a lack of reward or direction, once you overcome the challenge of becoming a professional rider, things pick up greatly into a largely entertaining, if excessively repetitive, game. If you can get through the aggravating opening and look past the rough edges that run rampant in Stoked, you'll find a game with a ton of content and decent snowboarding to be had for a "budget" price. If nothing else, it's a better deal than Shaun White Snowboarding, if you're in the market for a snowboarding title.
More articles about Stoked