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Return to the Snow

It's not as sweet as 'SSX,' but 'Cool Boarders 2001' has plenty of moves to thrill snowboarding fans.

July 05, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

After so many iterations, it would seem natural for the "Cool Boarders" franchise to pretty much play itself out. Honestly, it's a snowboarding game. How much is there to change from one version to the next?

"Cool Boarders 2001" for Sony PlayStation 2 shows just how much with a game that moves like butter and plays like a dream. Yet despite all that, "Cool Boarders 2001" is not the best snowboarding title on PS2. That honor remains firmly with "SSX," a game that beat "Cool Boarders 2001" to market by several months and still manages to offer more fun.

Of course, all this is a matter of degrees. "Cool Boarders 2001" is still a very, very nice game with lots of interesting features and almost nothing to complain about. Unlike "SSX," "Cool Boarders 2001" is a straightforward, relatively serious test of snowboarding skill.

Players test their mettle in six events--downhill gates, downhill checkpoint, half pipe, jump contests, all-out racing and a board park with tons of obstacles off which to perform all manner of tricks. Plus, there's the opportunity to unlock other challenges.

The fastest way to get the hang of "Cool Boarders 2001" is to jump in and start playing. The instruction manual explains how to perform tricks--from an Indy Nosebone to a Stalefish Tweak--by using various combinations of buttons and control stick directions.

But as in real snow sports, the only way to get good is to go out and practice. Wiping out in "Cool Boarders 2001" doesn't hurt nearly as much as it does on real snow, but the pre-programmed cries of the digital boarders still make it unpleasant.

The game allows players to test out a limited number of courses, events and characters right away. After that, players have to win their individual events before "Cool Boarders 2001" opens up other options.

It builds a challenge into the game, but some of these events are really difficult. When you spend $50 on a game, it would be nice to have access to more courses initially. Yes, yes, it's all about earning the right to play advanced levels, but people who drop half a Benjamin on a video game ought to have the right to play whatever levels they want, whenever they want.

Not that I particularly minded spending time on the beautiful terrain. The tracks are superbly drawn and snake down some dreadfully steep and twisted slopes. Just about every half-buried tree is a potential pipe on which to grind and many of the peaked roofs of warming huts can be turned into jumps, giving the game a wonderful interactivity.

Each event demands significantly different skills. In some of the speed courses, players scream down the mountain and blast through gates. Tricks are optional. But they are essential in the half-pipe and board-park competitions. Having just the right touch on the controls means the difference between a graceful acrobatic stunt and getting your pants full of virtual snow.

One beef with the courses, though: They are defined so narrowly that players often find themselves going out of bounds. As any snow monkey knows, the best stuff lies off the beaten-down corduroy. It would have been nice to be able to go farther off the marked courses and explore a little more of the mountain.

Despite that, "Cool Boarders 2001" offers perfectly fine snowboarding action. Fans of the franchise and snowboard fanatics should definitely take a look. But casual players who already have "SSX" should be happy that they already own the king of PS2's mountain.

'Army Men Advance'

It's darn near impossible to keep track of all the various "Army Men" games. Publisher 3DO keeps churning out chapter after chapter in the saga of green versus tan. Some absolutely rock. Others, well, don't.

"Army Men Advance" for Game Boy Advance falls somewhere in between.

The top-down shooter follows the exploits of Sarge and Vikki as they battle Plastro and his tan army, bent on world domination. Each mission involves a lot of running and shooting but also livens up the action with other objectives--from finding secrets to blowing up tan army materiel.

Visually, the game is simple but clean. Many of the tan army goons are not all that smart, though. Because the game scrolls between blocks of scenery, it's possible to catch a glimpse of some tan army soldier on patrol, duck back to the adjacent frame and then rush the poor guy before he knows what's going on.

What the tan army lacks in brains it makes up for in numbers. Players can count on routinely getting swarmed by half a dozen or so tan army soldiers.

Overall, "Army Men Advance" is a pleasant enough little mind-number. Don't count on it for more than that.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

The Skinny

"Cool Boarders 2001"

Genre: Snowboarding

Price: $50

Platform: Sony PlayStation 2

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America

ESRB* rating: Everyone

The good: Beautiful tracks

The bad: Narrow courses

Bottom line: Fine, but not as good as "SSX"

*

"Army Men Advance"

Genre: Shooter

Price: $40

Platform: Game Boy Advance

Publisher: 3DO

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Varied missions

The bad: Dumb enemies

Bottom line: Pleasant enough

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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