Snowboard like Shaun White... Virtually

Designed in collaboration with the famous Olympic and X-Games gold medalist, Ubisoft's "Shaun White Snowboarding" lets you tackle four huge mountains and either snowboard freestyle or by accepting challenges.

While the video game proves to be a fun digital diversion, especially when joined by friends over the Internet, it appears to have an identity crisis. On one hand, it aims to be a realistic snowboarding simulation, allowing you to carve, tuck and jump with authentic motion and physics, but it also lets you pull off over-the-top moves like performing rail tricks on the steel rope of a T-bar lift, jumping off the tops of chalets and being chased by avalanches.

As a result, seasoned gamers might liken "Shaun White Snowboarding" to a cross between EA's arcade-like "SSX" series and Microsoft Game Studios' more true-to-life "Amped" games. It works for the most part, but might leave some wishing the game makers decided to go one way or the other.

There isn't much of a story to "Shaun White Snowboarding," but the game stars you as an up-and-coming rider, and Shaun wants to see what you're made of.

You'll start the game customizing your male or female character's appearance before hitting the slopes in Park City, Utah, which offers some peak riding and many trees to avoid. Here you'll learn the basic maneuvers, such as shredding; midair moves, such as spins, flips and grabs; and rail tricks on fences and tree trunks. Controlling your rider usually involves the game controller's two analog sticks and trigger buttons (on the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 versions).

After you collect the large orange coins spread out on the mountain, you'll unlock various challenges. Divided into four difficulty levels, these competitions may include getting the high score by performing slick tricks, being first down the mountain, seeing who can catch the most air from jumps and touching as many targets as possible.

While the artificial intelligence is fairly savvy, these challenges are a lot more fun with other people online. After all, throwing a snowball at a computer-controlled opponent as it tries to pull a "Shifty" isn't quite the same thing.

If you prefer, you can also free ride down the mountains of Europe, Japan and Alaska (and a bonus hill if you buy the game at Target stores), which should each take you a good 10 minutes or so at a leisurely pace. When you reach the bottom you can take a ski lift or helicopter back to the top or other parts of the mountain (including many hidden areas to find).

You can also record your progress using the intuitive built-in video editor and share your slick tricks online for others to see and beat.

Available for seven platforms, "Shaun White Snowboarding" is powered by the gorgeous "Assassin's Creed" engine, which was also developed at Ubisoft's award-winning Montreal studio, resulting in realistic-looking animated characters and mountains.

The Nintendo Wii version of the game (subtitled "Road Trip") was developed to take advantage of the Wii Balance Board, the peripheral that resembles a white bathroom scale that shipped with the "Wii Fit" game. By standing on the Wii Balance Board, you can control your rider by moving your body around.

While not one of the year's best, "Shaun White Snowboarding" does a decent job straddling the line between arcade game and simulation — but be sure to invite friends along for the ride to get the most out of the game.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.

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