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Sunny Garcia Surfing (PS2) Review

Background Info

Unlike snowboarding, skateboarding, and BMX games, surfing games have yet to blossom. Until recently, T&C Surf Designs and California Games were the most memorable games to feature surfing, and they were released more than a decade ago. With this year's release of Sunny Garcia Surfing (SGS) for the PS2 and TransWorld Surf for the Xbox, followed by Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer and a PS2 port of TransWorld Surf in 2002, surfing games may finally catch a wave of success. Ubi Soft's SGS is the follow-up to Championship Surfer--which appeared on the PlayStation, PC, and Dreamcast--and the second surfing game for the PS2. It may not do for surfing games what Tony Hawk's Pro Skater did for skateboarding games, but it is a competent sequel.

Presentation/Graphics : 75
Apart from good-looking waves and pleasing weather effects, SGS's graphics are bland. There is not much here that could not have been done on the Dreamcast, as the polygon models are unimpressive and the backgrounds are dull and lifeless. Still, SGS has smooth animation, a steady frame-rate, and zero slowdown during the single-player modes.

As with most action-sports games, SGS opens with an exciting video that showcases the moves of the professional surfers in the game. The in-game graphics obviously pale in comparison, but the virtual waves are rather lifelike. Each wave looks, flows, and breaks uniquely, just like in real life. Waves reflect sunlight, contain roaring barrels, and spray particles of water. Unfortunately, the water in SGS is not as dazzling as the water in some of the latest water-based games on the PS2, such as Splashdown and Wave Rally. The surfers are composed of a fair amount of polygons and animate smoothly on the waves. Texture quality is decent, with each professional surfer having sharp, though clumsy, facial textures and a variety of colorful outfits and surfboards. Of course, several surfboard companies have littered the game with logos, adding a touch of realism.

The 12 exotic beaches are well varied and feature unique waves, weather effects, and color palettes. Graphical glitches are kept to a minimum, giving each beach a clean look. However, beyond the dull, static backgrounds and various objects that float around in Arcade mode, there is not much in the way of eye candy. Varied camera angles--most of which are unplayable--controllable replays, and flashy celebrations do little to enhance the look of the game.

Presentation/Audio : 60
While SGS has some decent ocean sounds and a few catchy music tracks--which eventually grate on the nerves--its audio presentation is lackluster. The sounds of your rider ripping through waves are fair enough and contain some variety, but the sounds that play during wipeouts are monotonous and repetitive. In addition, the brief guitar riffs that play after you do combos or big tricks are weak. Even crashing waves lack punch, sounding more like splashes in a kiddy pool or hot tub than in an immense ocean. Powerful thunderstorms and occasional ambient background noises add a bit of ambiance.

Once again, another surfing game hits the market devoid of any Dick Dale (a.k.a. the King of the Surf Guitar) tunes. Instead, you get 10 mostly generic pop-punk tracks from groups such as MxPx, Sprung Monkey, and Digger. Ten music tracks mean repetition sets in quickly, and with no option to customize the playlist, you will likely disable the music after a few hours of play. Overall, the music is neither horrible nor memorable, but it is annoyingly repetitive nonetheless.

Interface/Options : 75
SGS's menus, although plain, are simple to navigate and quick to load. Load times throughout the game are short, and even saving/loading is painless. The game features standard options, like control configuration and sound adjustment, but, sadly, not much else. You cannot create your own surfer, design or decorate surfboards, or adjust surfers' stats. What you can do, however, is choose among several surfboards and outfits for each of the 12 surfers in the game. Naturally, you must unlock extra outfits and surfboards, since each surfer begins with only one outfit and two surfboards.

The initial lineup of professional surfers includes Sunny Garcia, Shane Beschen, Cory Lopez, Shea Lopez (older brother of Corey Lopez), Rochelle Ballard, Jason Collins, Tim Reyes, and Nathan Carrol. You can unlock four extra surfers, including a few fictitious ones. The game rates each surfer in the areas of Height, Weight, Balance, Power, Style, Flexibility, and Fitness. Surfboards also have individual stats, with the categories including Speed, Response, and Trick. Besides varying stat levels, the surfboards have unique heights, widths, and tail shapes. Choosing a suitable board for each beach is important because weather condition and wave size vary greatly among the beaches. Luckily, you can check the condition of the weather and the size of the waves before selecting a board.

Controls are well laid out and easy to adjust to after catching a few practice waves in Freesurf mode. Paddling involves pressing the Circle button (the faster you press, the faster you paddle) and using the left analog stick or digital pad to adjust direction. You can press the Square button to sit up and skip a wave, or press the Triangle button to do a duck dive. Once you see a wave you like, you press the X button to stand on the board and take off. Wave-riding controls consist of a Snap button, a Hop/Launch button, and a Slash/Tail Slide button. The D-pad or left analog stick controls your direction and speed, and pressing back lets you stall. L2 and R2 perform grabs and are the foundation buttons for air tricks. Finally, with the Select button, you can alternate among the six camera views.

During the Freesurf and Time Attack modes, you can access the game's trick tutorial, called Surf School. Here, you can learn how to do each of the game's 54 tricks. Unfortunately, Surf School features diagrams of the tricks rather than interactive instructions ( la Tony Hawk 3 and SSX Tricky), and it quickly flashes the button commands for each trick. For those unfamiliar with surfing, the manual does a good job covering the basics, from stance to wave structure. It also lists the button commands of the air tricks and gives background information on the professional surfers in the game.

Gameplay : 76
A vital element of any surfing game is how realistically the waves swell, flow, and break. After all, surfing revolves around waves, so a surfing game will live or die based on the quality of its waves. For SGS, the game's Australian developer, Krome Studios, created a solid wave engine, using what it calls WTS (Wave Technology System) 3.0 Simulation to model the waves. What this basically means is the waves are varied and behave realistically. Indeed, you must become one with the waves to master the game.

Other elements that are especially important in a surfing game are tight control and smooth character movement. Thankfully, SGS has both. The tight controls and the surfers' smooth movements give you precise control over the surfing. Trick execution is dependent on your position on the wave and your surfer's stance rather than mindless button mashing. You can do backside and frontside tricks and can bust combos by doing three Huge, Massive, or Sick moves in succession. Trick value decreases each time you repeat a trick on the same wave, making it important to mix in fresh tricks to score big. The longer you tweak air tricks, the more points you will earn, though you will bail if you fail to release the trick before landing. Although SGS lacks crazy Tony Hawk-like special maneuvers, it does have its share of high-flying stunts. Yet, the biggest problem with the game's trick system is it lacks depth and variety. You will master the tricks in no time and long for a deeper, more complex combo/linking system. Moreover, the available camera views place the camera either too close to your surfer--making it nearly impossible to pull tricks cleanly--or too far away, diminishing the impact of big tricks.

Most gamers should be familiar with the gameplay modes included in SGS, as they are standard fare. The single-player modes are Championship, Arcade, Time Attack, and Freesurf. Two-player modes include Rumble and King of the Waves, with multiplayer versions of Championship and Arcade available as well. There is also a Challenge mode, which consists of four unique challenges that test your surfing skills, rewarding you with bonus beaches and surfers upon completion. To open challenges in Challenge mode, you must beat Championship and Arcade mode under Amateur and Pro difficulties. Initially, only the Beginner and Amateur difficulties are available in each mode; you must beat a mode's Amateur level to unlock its Pro difficulty.

Championship mode, the game's main mode, is all about competitive surfing. To win a competition and move onto the next beach, you must top the score listed at the bottom of the screen during each of the three heats: preliminaries, semifinals, and finals. You can only catch a limited number of waves and must beat the score within a time limit. Fortunately, you can adjust both the wave count and the time limit. During each heat, the game keeps track of your highest scores, totaling them at the end of your set and awarding you with a final score for the heat.

The remaining single-player modes are not as deep or as entertaining as Championship mode. Arcade mode forces you to meet a high score under a time limit and litters the waves with hazardous objects, such as buoys, bombs, and mermaids. Whenever you hit an object, you will bail and damage your surfboard. Avoiding obstacles is more of a chore than it should be because most of the camera angles hinder your view of the approaching hazards. Next is the boring Time Attack mode, which simply challenges you to do as many of the tricks it calls out within a 30-minute time limit. Lastly, Freesurf is an untimed mode that lets you fine-tune your surfing and surf for as long as you like.

Beyond the multiplayer versions of the Championship and Arcade modes, both of which let up to eight players compete alternately, SGS has two simultaneous multiplayer modes: Rumble and King of the Waves. Rumble mode drops two players on the screen and scatters various power-ups on the water. The object of Rumble is to knock out the other player, using "helper" power-ups (shields, invincibility, etc.) to gain abilities while avoiding deadly "attack" power-ups, such as bombs and lightning. King of the Waves mode lets up to eight players compete across several beaches and vie for the "King of the Waves" title. This multiplayer mode features split-screen action, letting two players compete simultaneously.

Replay Value : 70
Although SGS has a good amount of modes and extras, it does not have the addictive qualities or the amount of trick creativity and freedom of other action-sports titles. Thus, unlike the Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra games, SGS becomes dull after less than a week of play. Only surfing fanatics will enjoy playing through the Championship mode continuously, while most casual gamers will quickly tire of the Arcade mode. SGS's multiplayer games are a bit of fun, particularly the Rumble mode, but both THPS 3 and Dave Mirra 2 offer a far more enjoyable multiplayer experience on the PS2.

Overall : 71
Sunny Garcia Surfing is not a huge improvement over Championship Surfer, but it is certainly much better than the PS2's other surfing game, the horrid Surfing H30. If you are a fan of surfing and only own a PS2, SGS will hold you over until a better surfing title arrives on the system--although you should rent it first to see if it grows on you. Everyone else should skip this one and invest in a more well-rounded action-sports title.

By: Cliff O'Neill 11/30/01

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