Carve Snowboarding

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Sports
Developer: Chuhai Labs
Release Date: May 27, 2021

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PC VR Review - 'Carve Snowboarding'

by Andreas Salmen on July 1, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Carve Snowboarding lets you experience snowboarding in VR with beautiful landscapes and intense courses!

Nostalgia is a great marketing tool. When Carve Snowboarding was announced in Oculus's first game showcase as the only entirely new announcement, the company made it clear that the creator of the N64 classic, 1080° Snowboarding, was involved. I adored 1080° Snowboarding, but more importantly, participating in winter sports hasn't been possible during COVID times. What better way is there to compensate for that, if not by strapping a portable screen to your head and mimicking some insanely dangerous downhill snowboard tricks? We've taken Carve Snowboard for a spin on the Oculus Quest 2 and were surprised with the thoroughly solid execution, but it still has some kinks to iron out in the coming months.

Carve Snowboarding has more in common with 1080° Snowboarding or even SSX than just the name and creator. It's very much an arcade experience that approximates rather than simulates. I cannot think of another decent skiing or snowboarding game in VR. This is likely a testament to how difficult it is to get it right on a platform where only the head and hands are trackable while still considering motion sickness. Carve Snowboarding tackles these hurdles with relative ease and, while it's not perfect, it creates a strong experience.

You begin in a wooden lodge that serves as a hub between races, and you have some gear and a dog to pet. It's decently interactive and lets you rummage through your unlocked gear and soundtrack, but otherwise, you probably won't spend much time in the hub and would rather head out.

Carve Snowboarding includes six tracks that each contain nine collectibles and eight medals, equally divided into speed and freestyle challenges. There is no story mode or anything that ties together the experience. You start with the first available track, and once you get your first medal, the second track unlocks. The next tracks take four or six medals to unlock, each of which must be earned in the previous course. It's a very straightforward and linear progression system that may not look like a lot of content, but unlocking everything will take several hours. Carve Snowboarding is not an easy game, especially in the first couple of hours.

When on the track, you're able to choose the snowboard of your choice. Boards have five-star ratings in several categories, such as freestyle, landing, soft or hard snow to indicate how well the board is suited to different terrain. While the main track usually has hard snow, some areas and shortcuts are covered in soft powder, so depending on the route you take through a level, a different board may provide different outcomes.

Once you've selected a board, the downhill ride begins. Your body faces sideways, as if you're standing on an actual snowboard, and you'll hold one hand in front and the other hand toward the back of your body. As long as you are facing down the track, you'll gain speed and move forward, and your hands can nudge and steer you in either direction. Pulling the arms completely to your side will make you stop entirely. It's a smart and intuitive control scheme that is easy to get the hang of, but it's easy to master, especially on winding courses when you're gaining a lot of speed. Once you do, it feels natural and satisfying to zip through the bends and scenery or even duck under the occasional low obstacle.

Carve Snowboarding provides an excellent sense of speed without becoming unnecessarily nauseating. There are vignette options for comfort if you need them, but for me, the game felt very playable without them — with one small exception. When wiping out, the game covers your view with snow, which is better than a wipeout but can feel disorientating. There were several instances when I collided with obstacles (e.g., rocks), even though I had steered clear of them; a few times, I got stuck and was unable to dislodge myself without restarting the entire course. I also had a few challenges with tracking the hand that I held behind the headset, sometimes causing that hand to drift and influence my steering in not-so-nice ways. After you've learned the control scheme and the branching course layout, it feels satisfying to speed down a course. A good way to do so is to ride down the tracks and their possible paths at least once and combine it with gathering collectibles while you're at it. Collectibles are either new snowboards, new gloves (entirely cosmetic), or new songs to play at the hub.

That's only one side of the game, and freestyle challenges are the other. Each track is full of ramps and grinding opportunities to earn freestyle points if you combine them with any tricks. Lifting your hands makes you jump, using the "hold" button on either controller causes that hand to grip the board on one of eight grip points (one at either end and three along both sides), and using the trigger button on either controller rotates you in the direction of that hand. That's essentially all you must know, but mastering the system is tough for several reasons. The game never explains how to do specific tricks. There is no glossary to look up move names, so you'll need to google them outside of the game — an unnecessary interruption.

Another frequent issue was accurately grabbing the board. Since your hands control the direction of the board at all times, grabbing a specific part of the board occasionally felt impossible, as I would rather move the board in a direction rather than grab it where I wanted to. This became easier over time as I figured out how much I could move my hands to grab certain parts of the board without changing course, but it never felt like I was fully in control, and it never resolved itself completely. After a few hours, I was performing more complex tricks with higher scores, so as long as I wasn't trying to perform a specific move, I was able to string together some satisfying grinds and tricks. There is room for improvement, but it works rather well and feels great most of the time, whether you're trying tricks or simply getting to the finish line.

From a technical perspective, Carve Snowboarding is decent. It's running natively on the Quest 2, so there are some obvious restrictions. The visuals look a tad cartoony and bland at times, and some of the textures are blurry. Overall, the game is sharp, and one could even consider them to be nostalgic visuals, since they can be reminiscent of classic N64 games. It runs pretty solidly except for a few frame rate drops that can cause a brief stutter during races. The game could've used some headroom in terms of raw computing power, but perhaps a future PC VR release could unlock more potential.

Otherwise, Carve Snowboarding's variety of six tracks will keep you busy, since it'll take time to get enough of a handle on the control scheme to unlock all of the tracks. There are leaderboards, and you can race against ghosts, but I'd love to see more content in the future, like a half-pipe for tricks or actual online multiplayer downhill races. It is reasonably priced for what it offers, and it does a lot of things well, so it's a worthy purchase at $19.99.

Carve Snowboarding is a very fun winter sports arcade title. Its intuitive yet challenging controls are not perfect but provide a great bit of fun across a small variety of tracks. While it's not packed to the brim with content and has a few shortcomings, it does a great job of translating the sense of racing down a track with a snowboard to VR. Snowboard fans and those who loved games like 1080° Snowboarding or SSX will get a lot of fun out of this title.

Score: 7.4/10

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