UEP it. UEP it good. - Review By Subskin
I'm an old school video game junkie. I love the classic plotless games that demanded split-second timing instead of the pressing buttons in the right order for a twenty-seven hit combo. Don't get me wrong - I love Soul Calibur, NFL 2K, and Metal Gear Solid. But give me old school games like Missile Command and Frogger for pure beer commercial fun.
That's why I loved Cool Boarders 2 for the Playstation. There was absolutely no plot, very few controls to learn, and a whole lot of challenge. UEP Systems carried the same idea to the Dreamcast in the form of Cool Boarders Burrrn! Now Sega has released it in the U.S. with the not-so-sueable-for-copyright title Rippin' Riders. George W. Bush's college experience aside, it's time to hit the powder.
Something that is often overlooked in video games is the interface. A poor interface can really encumber a game - especially on CD based systems, where loading up poorly written menus can waste valuable slacking time. Rippin' Riders' menu system is big, colorful, and intuitive. It's nice to pick up a game for the first time and understand exactly what each option does. Rippin' Riders menus include all the info you need to get started, and not enough extra graphics to waste CD loading time.
Rippin' Riders has a great soundtrack, so turn up them speakers.
Rippin' Riders has the best video game music since Streets of Rage for the Genesis (old school game references are just flyin' today). Each character has his or her own taste in music, and they all fit the mood perfectly. I've often complained that video game companies put the same song in every game - it's like hearing Dokken on repeat. Not so with Rippin' Riders, where the characters listen to five or six styles of techno (trance, hip-hop, you name it) plus reggae. I honestly cannot remember hearing reggae in any game, but I flipped out when I picked Bob and got something like an ambient Marley remix.
Controlling Bob and the other Rippin' Riders is nearly identical to Cool Boarders 2. The analog stick or digital pad works for leaning, including turning. The other buttons let you jump, grab the head of the board, grab the tail, kick out your legs, or spin around. There are standard moves, such as spinning 360° or a method air. Additionally, each character has "special moves" which are accomplished by a few quick button taps. The controls are pretty loose and take some getting used to, but we'll get to that in "The Bad."
The graphics in Rippin' Riders are above average for the Dreamcast, but light years beyond 1080° Snowboarding or Cool Boarders 4. The characters' faces are vividly mapped, and each character sports two unique costumes. Ken rides down the slopes with an acoustic guitar on his back, and Monica slides on some Daisy Dukes for a change of pace. While the wide camera angle prevents you from getting much of a look at your Rider, it's easy to spot the detail even from afar.
The levels are absolutely stunning - "Extra Super Half-pipe" (somebody didn't spend long enough translating it from Japanese) takes place in an amusement park. As you jump up from the lip, you can see people screaming by on the Viking ship ride. On the "Emerald Forest" map you rush through trees that are more detailed than the characters in Goldeneye 64!
In super half-pipe, it's all about the tricks.
The level design is also superb. Ever wondered what it would be like to snowboard across the rooftops of London? Try "Urban Striker," where you weave around Big Ben as you hop down roofs and into alleys. Another course has you boarding down the interstate to get from run to run. While the courses do have shortcuts, for the most part you just find a choice of routes. This, combined with the fact that the courses are each very long, leaves me satisfied with the six courses I've unlocked so far.
Unlocking was the key to the single-player portion of Cool Boarders 2, and it is again in Rippin' Riders. You begin the game with only one downhill course and one half-pipe, seven playable characters, and two costumes per character. Each time you beat one course you add another. Each time you beat the final course with a character you get a new playable character (including Gray the alien from Cool Boarders 2). You can also get new snowboards by accomplishing certain tasks, such as getting the highest score for "Tricks" on all maps.
Doing well enough to unlock new game items is challenging, but in the best possible way. When a game is too difficult and has you doing the same exact thing repeatedly for hours, it's too frustrating to enjoy. When a game is too easy, it's too boring to pay attention. Rippin' Riders rides the line between the two perfectly. It may take some practice to beat each map, but you will succeed. More importantly, you'll have a blast the entire time.
Once you unlock an item you can also choose it in two-player mode. Multi-player provides a few options. In "Trickboost" for example, you get trick points for every move you pull off. After you've built up a few points, you can use them for a kind of nitro boost by leaning forward. My fiancée gets more jealous of the way I look at Sophitia than the way I look at Denise Richards - she cannot stand video games. After five minutes with Rippin' Riders she was hooked. Direct quote from her: "Haha, I win. You suck! I love this Dreamcast!"
The graphics may be good, but they are not consistently 60 frames per second. At times the system slows down to probably 10-15 fps. Get in a large open area with a lot of obstacles, and the slick graphics turn into a homemade cartoon. This is especially evident in the two-player mode. The fps slowdown does not interfere with gameplay, but it is detrimental to the visuals.
The graphics are cool (go figure, considering it's a snowboarding game and all), but the frame rate is inconsistent.
About the gameplay itself: I told you before, the controls are loose. That means when you press left, it takes your boarder a few seconds before his inertia shifts at all. This is realistic; riding a snowboard isn't like running. However, there is no warning system when a turn is coming up. Sometimes you take a 90° turn through a six-foot wide corridor only twenty feet after it comes into view. This is absolutely impossible if you don't have the courses memorized in advance.
Also, tricks are performed by pressing combinations of buttons (for example, down + B is a tail grab). These maneuvers take practice, something Cool Boarders 2 allowed with its "Practice" track. Rippin' Riders has no practice mode, a serious detriment to the game's learning curve. It's easy to ride in Rippin' Riders, but it would be nice to practice a 360° Melancholy on an isolated course before doing it in downtown London.
Two player mode is great, if only there were more gameplay modes...
The lack of gameplay modes is my biggest complaint against Rippin' Riders. There are no computer-controlled characters; it's just you racing against time and possibly player 2. It would be nice to have some competition besides the checkpoint timer. There is also no "Jump" mode, which was one of my favorite contests in Cool Boarders 2. Instead, you only do tricks in the middle of the pre-existing courses. Without a jump mode, there is no all-around competition like there was in Cool Boarders 2. Basically, you can ride the half-pipes, play the courses alone, or race a friend. I'm just really wishing they would have put in the extra effort and included some additional ways to ride.
The Final Word
I told you I like old school games; Rippin' Riders fits that tradition perfectly. Although the options are limited, it's nice to play a game built on speed and performance rather than solving some Incan temple puzzle. In my fiancée's words: "Even though I'm a girl I can still play it."
Developer: UEP Systems
Highs: Simple, fun game with great graphics and low learning curve.
Lows: Lack of gameplay modes, frame rate drops.
Other: 1-2 Players, VMU Compatible (for saving), Jump Pack Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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