Unlike other games before it which more or less meld the two different approaches into a single video game, Championship Surfer has a simulation style half and a more arcade-y mode with all manner of unnatural events. Thus, if you've been looking for a surfing simulation or a water-based Tony Hawk-like arcade experience, this may be your game. Championship Surfer offers a ton of play modes, but how well do they succeed? Let's look.
The waves are sharp but animate really nice.
I love Championship Surfer. Not in any kind of sick way -- the game is simply something new and extremely well done at that. Sure, it's not the first surfing game, but it's without a doubt the first good surfing game. The feeling of actually surfing is wonderful. No, I've never surfed a day in my life -- pasty white skin tells no lies -- but I just know that this is what real surfing feels like. Even the sounds of the rolling waves feel authentic. The waves carry a tremendous power and scoop up your surfer of choice. Balancing on the waves as you ride along with the momentum of the water is wonderful and fluid. It just feels right which is a testament to the physics engine. Testify to the physics engine! Testify! Well, you will once you get the game.
Of course, you don't just sit on your duff or other buttocks-like region of your body while riding a wave in to the shore. There are tricks to do and judges to impress, and you won't get anywhere without a bevy of fancy manuevers to show just how much free time your beach bum has to master said tricks. While the tricks are of the realistic variety (most being various turns and cuts into a wave), the surfers' jump height has been increased to make aerial tricks more exciting and easier to perform. One interesting aspect is that your surfer receives points based on how well the trick was performed. It's not just that you land tricks, but it's also how well you perform them. You can get more points if you further delay your take off for a "late take off," breaking a bit more for a better "stall," or perfectly pulling off a "grab rail roundhouse cutback" without wavering too much and falling into the ocean. The point tracking system is also included in the manual and shows the total points per trick as well repeated lowering point values for overused tricks.
You can even surf in a hurricane like a true idiot.
Despite the huge variety of stunts to control, I'm quite surprised how much I've actually enjoyed surfing for what it is. I would have surely thought it would be one of those sports that would appear too boring if it stayed to true to the sport it was trying to emulate (ie. bowling, fishing, anything that doesn't require a cup). You can enjoy the surfing game without frivolous gimmicks. The game is fun with a capital "T." However, if you think you would become bored with just surfing waves all the live long day, Krome Studios has put in quite a few different play modes, most of which are unlocked from the start. Besides the realistic championship mode in which you are judged by how many tricks you pull within the time limit, Championship Surfer also has arcade and multiplayer modes which toss reality right out the window, which is fine since reality isn't a tangible object and not capable of breaking glass.
The arcade mode has our fearless surfer (one of eight available) trying to perform tricks within a time limit. The difference is that now you must avoid sea mines, birds, sharks, driftwood, and even bomb dropping helicopters among other obstacles while meeting a predefined trick score. On the harder difficulty levels this can become very hectic and is a definite challenge to beat. The multiplayer mode is similar except that it removes the nastier obstacles and adds power-ups. Up to four people can surf on a single wave to try to get the highest trick score while avoiding the other surfers and finding ways to knock them off their boards. There is a "serious" split screen multiplayer mode, but the screen is so squashed that it looks a bit odd and is harder to see. Still, it's all fun and games, and the variety of modes is sure to please most everyone.