of my favorite games from the late, great Atari Lynx was California
Games. This was the best version of any of Epyx's sports games,
offering extreme sports before they became "extreme" sports.
The best of the lot was surfing, which allowed you to swim a surfboard
across an ever-tumbling wave, cutting turns and performing stunts,
all the while looking cool. The animation of the water was amazingly
fluid, and the thrill of spinning 360's over the waves was untouched.
the Gameboy Advance really needs are more of the fast arcade-style
games that made the Lynx so cool. I was thinking of this as I started
up Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer. I missed the game when it
debuted on the consoles, so I can't say how accurately it captures
the feel of surfing, or if its 3D environments recreate that old
California Games thrill. But on the Advance, Kelly
Slater delivers. It delivers magnificently.
consider the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series to be among the
finest videogames ever made, with its brilliant mix of action, sport,
stunt work; the game was a witches brew of different genres, distilled
into the perfect depiction of skate culture. This formula, for some
reason, hasn't worked as well with other sports; other games may
capture the control scheme or the scoring system, but not the spirit.
You don't understand what its like to snowboard, or ride a bike.
You only know you're playing Tony Hawk in a new suit.
fine, but where's the connection? Where's the spirit? Kelly
Slater has that spirit, that spark that feels familiar and
is yet unique. This may be the first game since Tony Hawk
to get everything perfectly right.
through the game, you are introduced to the wealth of tricks, turns,
spins, and waves found in surfing. I have to admit that I expected
the same wall of water, but I was wrong; the many different beaches
carry their own feel and style. On some beaches, the waves are tall
and wide, others shallow and swift. Waves crash left-to-right or
right-to-left, in daytime and sunset. Surfing in each beach requires
different skills; what works at Trestles won't work at Mundaka;
if anything, your progress relies on the depth of your skills. You
will only win championships if you keep learning.
temptation is certainly there to dismiss Kelly Slater as
one unending half-pipe, but this is just ignorance. Those willing
to invest the time will discover a wealth of skills and techniques;
how easy is it to dismiss those surfer bums without spending a minute
in their shoes? These boys and girls are smarter than you think.
Just like skateboarding, you have to learn a whole new vocabulary
- carves, snaps, slides, arials, rotations, grabs, floaters. One
of this game's absolutely essential functions is the tutorial mode,
where you must learn how to perform all these wonderful maneuvers.
And these skills will come into play as you progress. In addition
to the tournaments, there are challenges on every beach: score a
set amount of points, perform a series of tricks, pull off specific
Gen Studios was put in charge of the Advance version of Kelly
Slater, and they have poured amazing results out of the hardware.
Gameboy Advance is often derided as a portable Super Nintendo, but
I think that's unfair. Its power to render 3D polygons is limited,
but its ability to paint two-dimensional landscapes is arguably
without peer. Observe the beautiful motion of the waves, the effect
of sunlight reflecting on the oceans, the way the waves crash as
they finally hit land (here, a time limit makes sense). As fluid
as California Games on the Lynx was, those graphics suddenly
seem outdated, terribly outdated by comparison. This may be the
best depiction of water I've seen in a videogame. The modern consoles
make much about their ability to render water, but it still isn't
perfect; you still feel like you're looking at Jell-O instead of
water. 3D worlds may be hip, but hip only goes so far.
Slater shows that, in the right hands, there is life in the
two-dimensional videogame, and that polygons and sprites can mix
(the surfers are smoothly rendered in polygons). It also shows the
fun to be had in fast-paced, arcade thrills and the never-ending
quest for that high score. This style didn't have to go away because
the Playstation showed up. Great videogames don't have to be dictated
by marketing; they can define for themselves what's hip.