You are probably thinking this: Shaun White is a skateboarder? Apparently so. Here's what his official blog said on July 28: "coming off of a serious ankle tweak that left him sidelined for the better part of two months, [Shaun is] amped to drop into the Staples Center and see where four wheels will take him." By 'four wheels' he means skateboard and not Land Rover, for the record.
Here's what I also gleamed off Wikipedia, using my sensational journalistic powers of deduction: Shaun White won silver in the Skateboard Vert competition in July 2010's X Games 16, and is the only person to ever compete (and win gold) in both Summer and Winter X Games. So, yes, Shaun White is a skateboarder. But if you're little more than a slightly overweight twenty-something who sits around and plays video games all day, you'll just know him as the dude who put his name on that slightly duff snowboarding game a couple of years back. But that was then and this is now, and 2010's Shaun White video game has enough going for it to look positively bodacious. Oh, and skateboards.
I imagine skating around the city of New Harmony - the fictional city Shaun White Skateboarding frames itself around - is exactly how the titular curly-locked, two-time Olympic gold medallist Shaun White sees the real world: plumes of life and deep colour spiralling outward whenever he lands a sweet trick or aces the perfect grind. The game is unashamedly taking a few leaves from the book of EA's Skate series, but it's pulping them into a brighter, bolder skateboard deck that's probably got flame decals splattered all over it.
There are some things that will always be a given in skating games, such as a tweenie emo soundtrack, extensive customisation options and more plaid than you could fit into your local branch of Topman. But Shaun White Skateboarding stands out from the rest of the floppy-haired crowd by never taking itself seriously. Case in point: you can grind across thin air. Bold green rails make up parts of the terrain, and when you jump onto these starting points they snake outwards into twisting, winding constructions that can easily take you from street level to rooftops without the development team having to fuss about with making such a thing architecturally possible.
The game calls this Shaping, and it's a delightfully preposterous idea that's also quite confusing to watch in action until you've gone through the game's gentle tutorial sequence. Within a couple of hours you're Shaping pipes, verts and even the environment itself, the world twisting and contorting around your skater as you accidentally miss a railing and land on your bum. Shaun White Skateboarding embraces its reality-bending physics and features, and revels in its blazing path of colour seeping into the world behind you.
Ramping up and completely indulging in the anti-establishment trappings of the first two Skate games - now the de facto skating series after Tony Hawk: RIDE slipped off its board and veered into a hedge - New Harmony's default aesthetic is washed out greys, desaturated environments and zombie-like pedestrians shuffling around to perform tedious tasks (probably like filing tax returns and ensuring administrative forms are filled out in triplicate) in a bleak, mottled and lifeless Orwellian nightmare. Thank God there are all those pipes, rails and jumps littered about the place.
This greyscale dystopia is all down to the work of the nefarious Ministry, who all hate fun and also provide the game's excellent loading screens - providing nuggets of information such as "manuals can hurt you", "change is bad" and "colours: they're bad for you!" as you flick from area to area. The saviour is, of course, you; a random citizen freeing people with the power of skate after inheriting Shaun White's magnificent, and probably slightly magical, skateboard. Perform tricks and splashes of colour return to the city and its people, with all the mindless automatons becoming jazzy fun lovers, transforming from dull blue faces to grinning noggins flush with colour, clad in Hawaiian shirts and driving bright purple cars.
Your character is being mentored by the suited, booted and enigmatic Jonah, a man who looks like Alastair Darling might if he spent his evening chilling out in the company of students. He speaks enigmatic riddles in posh tones, instructing you of skating powers and the backstory of how New Harmony's aesthetic has been transformed from chilled out paradise to sterile shopping mall. He's about as far away from the typical skating mentor as it can get, though if he's not available as a post-game bonus character then I will almost definitely cry.
Shaun's development team has clearly been inspired by Skate's FlickIt control scheme, too, although there have been a few tweaks made along the way. Hitting a button causes you to jump, for instance, which makes grinds effortless - but if you want to trick then you've got to pull the stick in various directions. Your bread and butter Ollie is still down and then up, thankfully.
But there's a clear impetus on making Skate's challenging controls more extravagant and way more accessible to the average player: rails are easier to hit, jumps are easier to trick over and it's far more probable that you'll be able to get about the place without breaking both your legs every thirty seconds.
Tricks have to be unlocked with XP, which is earned by doing tasks set to you by the game's cast of characters: rescue Bob (owner of the local skate shop, probable stoner) from the clutches of the Ministry, unlocking his store in the process, and you'll score enough cash to purchase the Hand Flip, Varial Kickflip and Laser Flip. You can also perform a selection of tweaks and grabs, as well as hold down R2 to modify your basic tricks into more extravagant (though far more dangerous) combo boosters and point scorers.
As is the way with the genre, it's all about achieving it with style. The game takes it a step further by introducing the Flow meter: dull yellows can be enlivened with a basic level 1 flow, for instance, but mottled blues can only be jazzed up by getting your combo meter high enough to reach level 2. Keep combos ticking by performing endless chains of boring Ollies and you'll get there in the end, but genuine gratification comes from manoeuvring and navigating obstacles, criss-crossing benches, grinding railings and leaping from rooftops with a gorgeous, smooth and uninterrupted action.
For the most part it works well - jumps have enough spring, grinds handle well and there's even a nice spinning meter so you can pirouette around in the air without much concern. Movement speed feels a touch slow in this preview build, though, and no matter how much I tried to accelerate my skater always had a bit too much of a hard time when it came to getting up half-pipes.
There's never the opportunity to build up as much momentum as in Skate, either, leaving the game currently devoid of its own version of the amazing and terrifying bits where the camera goes blurry and you can hear the wind whooshing past. It means you're less likely to trip on the pavement and go cartwheeling into a wall, but taking away some of the danger also removes some of the gratification from the times you do manage to get it right.
Shaun White Skateboarding is obviously trying to claw out the middle ground between Skate's genre-shifting realism and Tony Hawk's over-the-top glory days. It stays challenging while always remaining accessible, and while it lacks some of Skate's more advanced features it compensates by throwing in a ridiculously charming campaign mode and never, ever compromising on its sense of fun. There's enough promise in the opening sequence to make you forget Shaun White Snowboarding ever happened and, if the game can scale its over-the-top propensities with a player's advancing skill over the course of its 15-hour campaign, it'll be on the right track to becoming one of the most daft, ridiculous and entertaining examples of the genre.
Shaun White Skateboarding is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii on October 1.