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These Board Games Won't Leave You Bored

'SSX Tricky,' 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3' and 'TransWorld Surf' share elements but sport their own very likable personalities.

January 24, 2002|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In real life, of course, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing are distinct sports that happen to share a rebellious culture.

But in the make-believe of video games, in which repetitive button pushing replaces physical strength and grace, the three sports often have been indistinguishable.

Move around with the joy pad.

Perform tricks with various button combinations.

Mix and match outfits.

Be cool.

Three recent titles--"SSX Tricky," "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3" and "TransWorld Surf"--demonstrate that even when games share fundamental play elements they can have their own very likable personalities.

"TransWorld Surf" for Microsoft's Xbox is the first surfing game that actually is fun to play. Until now, surfing games have been overly complex and literal pains in the wrist that required madly tapping buttons to simulate paddling in front of a wave.

Come on. The physical act of surfing and playing a video game have virtually nothing in common. "TransWorld Surf" recognizes this. So instead of focusing on catching the wave, the game challenges players to exploit the wave with any number of cool tricks.

Getting up on the board is a snap and staying up is not all that difficult--even on hazardous waves. But what fun is that? "TransWorld Surf" is all about image, baby. Looking good on the wave is what counts. For instance, players must complete a virtual photo shoot before they can begin to compete on a specific beach. That means pulling off tricks for the camera.

Although players drive the game forward, the real stars of "TransWorld Surf" are its waves. They actually look and behave like water, a feat allowed by the graphic power of Xbox. Waves swell and undulate gracefully as players paddle out from the shore.

They are a joy to ride--and players can dart up and down the face of the wave and drive into the pipe as it begins to roll. The flawless camera work follows players closely and never gets in the way.

And true to the ethos of gentle surfers, players must monitor their karma as they splash about. Hit marine life, splash another surfer, steal a wave and karma goes down. Players who run down their karma may find themselves unwelcome on some beaches.

But "TransWorld Surf" does a great job of welcoming a range of players.

"SSX Tricky"

The sequel to the popular "SSX" snowboard game is less accessible but oozes attitude from every pixel. That may make it popular with a certain segment of game players, but it's just as likely to alienate those old enough to remember a time before the Olsen twins.

It's easily solvable, though. Turn down the music volume. But be sure to keep the voices volume up, at least for the first few runs. Like many recent games, "SSX Tricky" for Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2, features the voices of recognizable Hollywood stars--from David Arquette and Billy Zane to Lucy Liu and Oliver Platt.

As its name suggests, "SSX Tricky" is all about tricks. Sure, there's an option to race straight down the mountain, but that loses appeal pretty quickly. Replay value lies in mastering stunts at high speed and high altitude. It's all ridiculously overblown. And great fun.

The mountains of "SSX Tricky" slip along without a hitch. There are discernible differences in control as players glide over powder and ice and corduroy. Unlike "TransWorld Surf," which allows considerable movement within the playing environment, "SSX Tricky" focuses action on the courses. That's fine because they stretch out for what feels like miles.

"Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3"

As nice as they are, neither "TransWorld Surf" nor "SSX Tricky" matches the long-term value of the third installment in Tony Hawk's exceptional skateboard series. "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3" for GameCube and PS2 sharpens all the best elements of the first two versions and presents them in the kind of crisp detail possible only with the latest consoles.

There is virtually nothing to dislike about "Pro Skater 3." As with the second installment, one of the nicest features is the ability to design skate parks that can be saved and played on a friend's machine.

But the built-in arenas are nothing to sniff at. From factories to airports to the Great White North, the environments crackle with life, which makes them more realistic than their predecessors and more interesting to play. Even non-skaters can find plenty to do.

Skateboarding may not be a crime.

Something this addictive ought to be.

*

The Skinny

"TransWorld Surf"

Genre: Surfing

Platform: Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube

Price: $50

Publisher: Infogrames

ESRB* rating: Teen

The good: Realistic waves

The bad: Very little

Bottom line: Best surfing game so far

*

"SSX Tricky"

Genre: Snowboarding

Platform: Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2

Price: $50

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB rating: Teen

The good: Lots of tricks

The bad: One size does not fit all

Bottom line: Plenty of variety

*

"Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3"

Genre: Skateboarding

Platform: Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2

Price: $50

Publisher: Activision

ESRB rating: Teen

The good: Beautiful

The bad: Nothing

Bottom line: A dream

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times. He can be reached at aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

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