There are approaching 20 games that support Wii MotionPlus, Nintendo's precision-enhancing add-on. But none of them, I'd wager, do so quite as disappointingly as Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage, the sequel to last year's fun Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip.
The only feature to make use of it is the new create-a-trick mode, which, according to the back of the box, is all "thanks to the MotionPlus". It's a perfectly usable and accessible way of customising your tricks, but why can't MotionPlus be used in events? It seems silly that it's not, when you can design tricks with it, tricks that can be used to replace established tricks already included in the game. What we have here, puzzlingly, is a tool we can use to create, but not to play with our creations.
One of the first ports of call when reviewing sequels is to check out what's new. In World Stage case, this was an incredibly difficult job: without full MotionPlus support, it's essentially the same game as last year's effort. The Trick Machine is home to the Cosmos Brothers - sci-fi Buzz Lightyear lookalikes who ride Hover Boards (eat your heart out Marty McFly). They act as crash test dummies that fly off of ramps for your editing pleasure. The first step is to add rotation, then a grab, then make sure you land properly. Once done, you can add an icon and name it. It's a basic editing tool, but one most will actually be able to use. I was particularly proud of PAP, a trick that involved a full forward 360 while holding the board with both hands. I doubt, however, that Shaun White would think much of it.
The Trick Machine, it seems, is all that's genuinely new. On the snow the controls are once again simple, but almost exactly the same; the Saturday morning cartoon graphics are no better, but still give an impressive sense of speed; and the career mode is as bare-bones as before, but breezy fun.
To board, you point the Remote forward and twist it left or right to turn. Holding down the A button makes you go faster, and B slows you down. The game's so simple, that leaping onto ledges to grind is automatic. Similarly, the trick system is basic. Just before you hit ramps, flicking the Remote up causes your boarder to crouch then launch off of it, allowing for plenty of air time during which the Remote can be twisted and shaken to trigger different tricks in combination with presses of the A and B buttons. All that's left is for you to make sure you're aligned properly before you land.
There's a smidgen of strategy. Before each event you're asked to select a friend from the crew. It's an important decision, because each friend offers a unique special ability that can be used when your Respect (sigh) Meter is full. Each boarder has a different respect power. Gordon, for example, gives you a speed boost. Smart friend selection is often required when you get to the pro events; a speed boost comes in handy during the straight up races.
Advanced play, however, is more about chaining tricks. If you land correctly (a tough skill to master), the points multiplier kicks in. If you perform another trick within eight seconds, you'll keep the multiplier active. It's harder than it sounds - sometimes there isn't much to trick off, especially in the race-driven events. It's normally not a problem in the trick based events though, where half pipes and rails are plentiful. World Stage isn't a sim, but it poses a gnarly challenge.
So, how does the game feel to play? From my review of Road Trip: "You will, more often than not, trigger the trick you actually want to do (but not always). There is still a feeling that your boarder doesn't do exactly what you want him/her to do exactly when you want them to do it, but as far as Wii games that rely on waving the Wii Remote about go, it's a solid effort, and will please more than it frustrates." Disappointingly, all this once again applies; full MotionPlus support would have made it better.
You can, however, play every event with the Wii Balance Board, as before. But, as before, it's harder to play the game this way. Maybe it's me, but I find shifting my weight on the Board a more imprecise process than twisting the Wii Remote, itself somewhat cumbersome. More nimble gamers might find it an easier ride. I do not.
Bar the create-a-trick feature, only the hub and the career have seen noticeable improvements. This time the hub is set in an airport, presumably from which the 13 boarders jet off to the various events around the world (what a life it must be!). Your ultimate goal is to qualify for the World Stage event and prove that your crew is "da best in da world" (sigh), starting from rank 100. To climb the ladder you need to win events, but only one event can be entered per in-game week, a mechanic that artificially slows down your progress. It won't take long, however, for you to break into the top five and qualify for the World Stage. I did it in a day, and I'm rubbish.
The single-player is bare bones. There's hardly anything too it. The only motivation, really, to go back and repeat any of the events once you've finished top of the podium is to unlock new gear, get achievements and improve your score for the online leaderboards.
The four-player multiplayer's much better. There's a Mario Kart-esque cup play mode, free play mode and a hot seat mode in which each player takes a turn rally style. Multiplayer's good fun and a viable alternative to some of Nintendo's superb first party games for when you've got non-gaming friends sitting twiddling their thumbs on your living room couch. And the best thing about it is that there's no dead time: all of your progress you achieve together as a crew carries over to the campaign career.
And, if you're after a game that shows off what the Wii's truly capable of when developers put their minds to it, there are few better than World Stage. Ubisoft Montreal has again favoured a cartoon, caricature art style, but you'll be no less impressed. The frame rate's solid, the tracks look great and, when you're going at top speed, you can almost feel the wind blowing in your face. It sound's good, too. Board on snow has that convincing crunch noise, and the soundtrack includes some true rock classics, although not enough to prevent noticeable repetition. The only problem is, and this is representative of the entire game, the graphics aren't improved. Perhaps last year's Shaun White pushed the Wii as far as it can go. Perhaps not.
The complete lack of newness doesn't make World Stage's kid-centred, "hey dude!" arcade racing bad. Like its predecessor, World Stage is one of the best multiplayer racers on Nintendo's family-friendly console. But you can't escape the feeling that it's a lazy effort. The lack of full MotionPlus support might have been excused had the game offered more, but as it is, it can't be ignored. Young budding snowboarders will likely find much to enjoy, but for everyone else, only the party-focused multiplayer is of worth. Our boards are crossed that Motion Plus is less of an afterthought in the next Shaun White.