While WayForward is busy cooking up the latest instalment in the wonderful Shantae franchise, fans are sure to get a little bit impatient for more of that half-genie action. Although the original is available now on the 3DS Virtual Console, we’ve also recently been treated to something completely different in the form of the studio's very first Game Boy Color release. Xtreme Sports certainly marks a milestone, but is it worthy of remembrance in its own right?
There are five sports included in the title, all grouped under a competition set up by the vaguely ominous ‘Xtreme Cola Company’. Best friends Fin and Guppi are among the athletes invited to compete in an island-wide tournament, giving players the chance to test their skills in an extensive story mode with some very minor RPG elements. Think Mario Tennis and you’ll have the right idea, as you’ll mostly just walk around the island to challenge rivals and earn medals to unlock new areas. It’s a neat little system that helps expand on what could equally have been a standard sports title, adding a touch of adventure into the mix.
Even if sports games aren’t your thing, at least the events on offer here are non-traditional, with enough variety to interest the gnarly and the bogus alike. We have Skateboarding, Surfing, Street Luge, Inline Skating and Skyboarding, each with a variety of stages and difficulty levels to constantly mix things up. They’re all singular experiences, meaning that you won’t ever race or directly compete against your rivals. Rather, you’ll aim to beat their record on a certain track, challenging their speed, high score and the number of flags collected along the way. One challenger may have raced to the end of a skate course in under a minute, for example, neglecting to score any points at all and forcing you to do the same if you want to be even faster. This invites the player to adapt their tactics and look at courses differently, making the most out of each aspect of their performance.
Thankfully all of the events control very well indeed, and outside of story mode they can be played at any time by selecting ‘Practice’. You’ll get the chance to train during the main game as well, but we feel it’s worth putting time into learning the ropes before fully diving in. The story-mode explanations aren’t quite up to the task, so it’s really a matter of testing out the controls for yourself and getting a grip on some increasingly complex courses. You’ll need to learn how to gather arrow pickups while Skyboarding to assemble your own stunt combinations, or how to pull off a double jump while Skating to reach higher areas; that’s just for starters. Xtreme Sports makes full use of the Game Boy’s limited range of buttons, not to mention the collectable Twitchy Shakes which further boost your abilities. It all seems pretty overwhelming at first, but this adds up to a ridiculously satisfying pay-off when you manage to complete a difficult run with flying colours.
Save for Street Luge — which is played from a top down perspective — everything moves on a flat, 2D plane which keeps things on the right side of simple while allowing for some colourful environments to be included alongside multiple track layouts. Everything moves at a blistering pace, meaning that one mistake can potentially ruin an entire run. It’s less a realistic simulator and more so a fast, arcade-style fight for points. You’ll go from skyboarding through the clouds to diving into the mouth of an active volcano, you’re just that rad. Jarringly, traversing the island outside of events is just too slow-paced. The player character strolls along without a care in the world, so moving from one side of the island to another is kind of a chore. Further areas are unlocked with medals, anywhere from 30 to 300, but you won’t know exactly how much until you walk all the way over and ask the attendant. It’s a minor gripe, but can result in the overworld feeling a tad more unnecessary than it should on some occasions.
The visuals are fun and tropical, with detailed characters bringing that well-loved (and often scantily clad) WayForward style to every confrontation. A particularly fun touch is the slew of onlookers that will stand by the sidelines of most events, watching on in collective amazement or horror depending on your performance. The story develops, meanwhile, once you start meeting members of the Bone-Heads gang, a group of masked thugs who snuck onto the island without invitations just to cause some havoc. Sounds pretty Xtreme if you ask us, but they’ll also pose the most difficult challenge and serve to add a bit of intrigue to the basic plot.
It’s surprisingly fitting that the Xtreme Sports tournament is sponsored by a supercharged caffeinated soda, as playing the game can feel something like a sugar rush at times. The sports themselves are charged with energy, variety and depth, not to mention the fantastic visuals and challenging difficulty. The crash comes once you’re stuck sluggishly wandering around the island for a more manageable opponent or even the next area, and moments like that hamper what’s normally a frantic experience.
If you’re after something twitchy and unique then this is definitely a good choice, rewarding skill and offering a fun time whether you’re a sports fan or not.