Wakeboarding Unleashed: Featuring Shaun Murray
By: Matt C. on July 9, 2003
I know what you are thinking. Chances are, you're thinking that wakeboarding is a lame sport, so you shouldn't even give Wakeboarding Unleashed: Featuring Shaun Murray a try. Too bad for you, because Wakeboarding Unleashed is easily one of the best extreme sports title currently on the market. Surprised? Initially, so was I, as a video game about wakeboarding naturally does not produce the same excitement as snowboarding down a steep and untamed mountain or grinding a skateboard across the rooftop of a fictional college in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.
If you didn't know, the sport of wakeboarding involves attaching a wakeboard to the rider's feet as a speed boat pulls the boarder along via a sturdy rope. As the boat accelerates, the wake and waves that it creates enables the rider to catch air and perform tricks. It looks kinda fun if you see it in action.
Anyway, Tony Hawk veterans will feel right at home with Wakeboarding Unleashed, as it shares the same basic formula as the ever-popular skateboarding franchise (which is also published by Activision O2). For instance, while you are in the air, you can perform grab and invert tricks; and you can also perform rail tricks on countless surfaces in each stage. And don't forget about manuals and reverts, which are required to link tricks together to create massive combos. Needless to say, Tony Hawk 4 was a major inspiration for the developer, Shaba Games.
However, that certainly does not mean that Wakeboarding Unleashed refuses to bring anything new to the table. Instead of a standard time limit, WU has a "Groove Meter", which slowly starts to diminish as soon as you start your run. As soon as the meter runs empty, your current run is over. In order to keep it from going dry, you must continue to perform and land combos and tricks to fill the meter up again. Once you get really good with the game, you can actually have sessions that last up to seven minutes or longer!
The Groove Meter is great and all, but one of the most innovative gameplay features in Wakeboarding Unleashed is the ability to release the "boat rope" to explore and reach new areas. With the rope out of the way, the rider has a lot more freedom to go where ever he or she wishes. Of course, the boarder loses momentum without the boat to pull him or her along, so you must reattach with the rope again by pressing the L2 button to have the driver throw the line back to you -- asuming you are in range of the boat. Sure, it sounds silly and very unrealistic, but it actually adds A LOT to the game.
In the Career Mode, players select one of seven real-life wakeboarders of his or her choice (each with different attributes that offer room for upgrades and such) and they must complete objectives, challenges, and find gaps in each level. Some of the objectives and challenges are quite fun. For example, fairly early on in the game, you are required to rescue animals stranded due to a massive flood. There is a catch though -- you must drive the speed boat to carry them to safety. That's right; in some objectives, you gotta use the boat all on your own, which controls surprisingly well. While WU has its share of creative missions, other objectives and challenges lack originality and some are just slight variations of previous ones found in other levels. Boo!
Fortunately, Wakeboarding Unleashed offers one of the best two player modes ever found in an extreme sports game. For instance, in the co-op mode, one player drives the boat and the other controls the rider. Sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how much better it is to have a buddy driving the boat instead of the computer. In addition, there is plenty to do, as there are objectives for both players to complete.
For those of you who are a little more competitive, a split-screen mode is available for trick attack, H. O. R. S. E., and Tug-O-War games. Definitely not as fun as the co-op gameplay, but it's still nice to know that it is there.
Much of Wakeboarding Unleashed obviously takes place on the surface of water, so the visual look and feel of the H2O is very important. Fortunately, WU provides some of the most impressive looking water I have ever seen in a game. Not only do the waves look convincing, but the environment mapping is top-notch. Nearly everything, except the rider and the boat, are reflected realistically in the water.
The textures on buildings and structures above the surface of the water don't look quite as good, but the superb level design easily makes up for it. All 11 levels (2 of them are more like arenas) are typically large in size and each one has many areas to explore and plenty stuff to grind. As soon as I unlocked a new location, I would just ride around and take in all the sights like a tourist. One of my favorite locations is called Ocean World, and it is a theme park complete with working full sized roller coasters and other rides. The Hong Kong stage even has planes flying low to the ground and vehicles driving along the street adjacent to the river. Very cool.
To complete the package, Wakeboarding Unleashed has a very solid soundtrack, with songs from Van Halen, Blackfoot, The Flaming Lips, and other artists. Some of the music is a bit too old school for my tastes, but they fit the game well. And yes, you can edit the playlist by removing songs that you don't want to hear during the game.
Despite all the praise, Wakeboarding Unleashed has a few flaws. For starters, there is no way to create your own rider, which is very disappointing -- especially when many other extreme sports games have this feature. On top of that, the game becomes quite difficult during the later stages. Luckily, you don't have to finish every single objective or challenge in order to unlock new locations. Finally, some objectives are too repetitive or are just slight variations of other ones.
All in all, Wakeboarding Unleashed borrows heavily from other games in its genre, but this isn't exactly a bad thing due to some great level designs, the two player co-op mode, and the innovative "letting go of the rope" bit. If you enjoy games of this type, go ahead and purchase Wakeboarding Unleashed. You won't be disappointed.