Review: 1080° Avalanche (GCN)

Dude, where's my snowboard?

With its December 2003 GCN release, 1080° Avalanche faced a quandary which mirrored the mixed up personality of the board sport it represented. Development had to decide between following the previous 'extreme to the max' approach of SSX 3, or to continue in the vein of its N64 predecessor 1080° Snowboarding, which strived for greater realism. Just as surfers, skaters and snowboarders today will debate about the purpose of their passion, dismissing extreme brashness and even sports connotations in favour of music, culture and lifestyle affiliations, 1080°Avalanche would only succeed by aspiring for its own individuality.

The challenge was twofold. A mere month before its release saw huge competition for gamer's savings in the form of GCN SSX 3 and Tony Hawk's Underground, both quality titles. A problematic development cycle, which involved a changing of hands from Left Field to Nintendo Software Technology Corporation (NSTC), and a muted response to showings at E3 and ECTS meant that the pressure was on for the game to perform.

NSTC responded brilliantly, releasing a title which was its own game and perfectly pitched: neither as realistic as N64 1080° Snowboarding or as extreme as SSX3. It was traditional in design: options of Match Race (Vs 1 on 1), gate slalom challenge, trick attack and time trial were the exact same game types lifted from the N64 title. It did not have the vast open mountain, career mode, detailed upgrades (including clothing) and wacky commentary of SSX 3. Instead NSTC decided to keep the menu choices traditional, focus the individual course design and tighten the content to Nintendo's high standards.

At its heart 1080° Avalanche is a one-on-one versus racer. However, this time it incorporates two new additions which are beneficial to the gameplay. First of all it has a blue power bar, which is boosted by extravagant trickery and clean, well-timed L shoulder button presses, allowing the rider to tuck and absorb the landing from a huge drop. A fully charged bar creates a glow around the player, focuses their speed and makes them less vulnerable when charging through reckless skiers and competitive snowboarders. Secondly, it incorporates Tony Hawk-style lock-on balanced grinds, which also build power, but most importantly work hand in hand with L tucking and analogue leaning forward to escalate the speed.

Tricks are more consequential than N64 1080°, they are integral to success and NSTC has wisely opened up the controls to make tricks more accessible for the player. Spinning out a 720° rotation and styling it with an indy nosebone grab is a much more realistic proposition this time around. It provides gamers with the option to max out a risky, low kicker ramp tail grab backflip, with the justice that if you slam on your face it is your own fault. Mixing this with tight stand up carving into sharp corners, particularly on solid ice and avoiding speed-hindering deep powder, reveals a game with excellent implementation of physics. The trick attack's perfectly formed big air ramp and half pipe are a great place to practise inputs for tricks.

Player selection also follows the N64 game closely with all characters being roughly equal, yet each standing out in one particular area. Ricky Winterborn (high jumps), Akari Hayami (great turning), Kemen Vazquez (top speed), Rob Haywood (strong balance) all return to the slopes. It is Kensuke Kimachi and Dion Blaster who are missing from N64, replaced by Tara Hunter (great acceleration).

However, through a steadfast following of the N64 title's structure, 1080° Avalanche also needed to address issues of that game's relative lack of content. It does this most successfully by the incorporation of a coin search for time trials. Five segments of a coin are tucked away in hard to reach course areas and NSTC has been ingenious at opening up time-saving shortcut placements, for those willing to invest practice in the time trials. Comparisons to the Mario Kart games, in which a controlled number of risk and reward shortcuts differentiate experienced players, are completely valid, and chaining grind rails and gaps to grinds is an awesome way to encourage skilled players. Coins can also be spent on better boards and you will be motivated to invest in a high speed '8-Bit Soul' complete with Luigi deck graphics, especially as the increase in performance helps tackle the ramp in difficulty on the seven match race, extreme challenge. Further unlockables occur through natural game progression, with basic alternative costumes and NES retro controller boards amongst other incentives.

Graphically 1080° Avalanche has aged beautifully; what is most striking is the way in which the courses are fine-tuned and distinguishable from each other. Any 1080° Avalanche players would be able to accurately describe Sid's Night Midi's purple tinged night time glow, cabin room lights, road leaping jump ramps, restaurant crashing and grind blocks/rails down huge wide steps. That is without even mentioning the grand Mario ice sculpture, spot lights and a multi-storey car park tight carve section, which harks back to Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade skating in Police Academy 4.

The rest of the game is visually sophisticated through attention to detail: snowflakes drip down the screen and blizzards disperse into crystal clear viewpoints, deeper powder will incrementally build on riders' clothing and the game is subtle in presenting nature's wilderness and its juxtaposition with the intrusion of man. The course Treble Tussle begins with galloping deer and the calm of the fresh top mountain snow, eagles glide and nature is at peace until the raucous rattling of a smoke-bellowing train rudely disturbs the quiet. Examples like this are prevalent throughout and you will encounter as many scurrying squirrels as you will dodge car crashes, reckless snowmobiles, goofy skiers and fellow snowboarders. The visuals have scale too, with the final Frozen Melee level Wit’s Thicket being multi-tiered, with a number of different height levels to navigate. An advanced player will teeter on the very highest level route and be rewarded as the camera pulls back to display a tiny snowboarder and jaw-dropping landscape.

Special mention must also go to the music track by Squibb titled 'Don’t Stop Now'. This mellow sung beauty is perfectly fitting for the massively atmospheric Treble Tussle. However, the Squibb song is merely the best of the unlicensed tracks, the actual established rockers provided quality sounds too. Pop punkers Cauterize blitz through the game's demo opener and theme tune in 'Choke' and Seether’s 'Fine Again' is a choice selection of alternative rock for the final credits. The highlight of it all is the two songs provided by Boysetsfire, the Newark melodic hardcore band whose easily distinguished chugging riffs and powerful vocals are the dominant song craftsmen in this game. The game has a mere eight licensed tracks, but they have been well selected and standout from the game's unlicensed tunes.

Final mention must go to the tagline: the 'Avalanche' sub-heading is not a gimmick, it is a truly fun addition to the genre. The game often has environmental triggers, including cave-ins, collapsing architecture and rock slides. However, the final challenge after completing each match race is a one-on-one between the rider and nature. This involves dropping out of a helicopter and charging down a mountain to escape the rushing avalanche before it envelops the player. The visuals dramatically respond to this: the entire screen shakes and a danger meter teeters on the edge of failure. Fortunately, the three lives credit system is replaced by unlimited continues for these sections, allowing the player to simply enjoy the chaos. It is in these setpieces that 1080° Avalanche firmly establishes its main sense of identity within the snowboarding genre.


NSTC gripped tightly to 1080° Avalanche's wayward development and created a title that surpassed expectations. They forged a game with its own approach to the genre, sitting between the realism of 1080° Snowboarding on N64 and the extravagance of SSX 3. It stuck to the N64 foundations, still focusing on speed and one-on-one versus racing, yet the tight, creative course design, gameplay-changing shortcuts and coin-collecting time trials combined to present a polished GCN game. Intuitive controls made tricks accessible and encouraged gamers to take risks to build the empowering boost bar. Visually gorgeous, the attention to detail glistens in progressive scan (no 16:9 widescreen in this game) and Wii owners will be pleasantly surprised upon loading up this title.

As long as you are happy without SSX Blur-type motion controls, this is a title which encapsulates the wonders of a backwards compatible Wii. A short, but quality selection of licensed bands combines with similar attention spent on sound effects, which provide an aural treat. The chaotic avalanche escape dynamics make 1080° Avalanche its very own individual. Snowboard game fans will be sure to exclaim "dope, dude!" and "sick, man!" just like an excitable Ricky Winterborn once they experience the fun contained within this disc.

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