reviews\ Oct 10, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer - GC - Review

Some sports occupy time, some sports are mere hobbies, and on a rare occasion, a sport becomes an all-consuming passion.  This is most evident in golf, where middle-aged men sacrifice fashion sense and family-time for the love of the links.  Slightly less evident in the populous, but even more obsessive, is the tight circle of wave-crazy surfers worldwide.  The passion displayed by these boarders is unparalleled.  “Live to surf, surf to live” as the saying goes, and Activision’s Kelly Slater Pro Surfer does a marvelous job to get the point across. 


Kelly Slater Pro Surfer wastes no time in hammering this obsession in.  The intro to KSPS is the best I have seen in any video game in a long time.  Amidst incredibly fitting ambient music and fantastic video of famous surfers and enormous waves, World Champion surfer Kelly Slater, who narrates the entire game, talks about surfing as is if it is an affliction, an inescapable disease that consumes both mind and body.  “After the first wave, you’re hooked” the cover boy says, and that pretty much applies to the game itself.  I’ve always wanted to give surfing a shot, and if it weren’t for my recurring shoulder dislocations and insurmountable fear of sharks, I’d probably be living out of the back of a Woody in Mexico somewhere.  Thanks to the good people at Activision and Treyarch, I can keep my limbs in their sockets and leave the Jaws feedings to others. 


The mode that really keeps KSPS above water is Career Mode.  This single-player mode is the key to unlocking hidden surfers, surf spots, and boards.  The basic setup is very similar to the Tony Hawk series (which Treyarch also worked on).  Players pick one of several playable surfers and progress through levels by completing various objectives.  Along the way, your stats will get boosts and new beaches and boards will become available.  KSPS does a much better job of linking levels together than Tony Hawk with its Endless Summer-type voyage of discovery story. 


Career Mode takes surfers all over the world, from the tutorial wavepool in Japan, to the massive waves of Mavericks in California, to the frigid seas of the Antarctic.  Each surf spot has its own objectives and throughout the game surfers will be asked to complete goals by scoring a minimum amount of points in competition, performing extra tasks like smashing polar ice caps or jumping over piers, and even pulling off tricks at just the right time in hopes of landing a cover photo for surfing magazines. 


KSPS is all about tricks, and is comparable to half-pipe runs in skating or snowboarding.  Tricks can be performed on the face of the wave, as aerials off the top of waves, or directly in the barrel of a wave.  Tons of tricks are available, and are fairly easy to pull off using a combination of the control stick and the B, Y, or X buttons.  As tricks are performed perfectly and abundantly, a special meter increases allowing super tricks like the Superman, Back-flips, and Christ Airs to be executed for big points.  The best way to score points is by linking tricks together, and throwing together 20 or more tricks together isn’t out of reach. 


There is a multi-player mode, but it isn’t really necessary.  Push mode places two surfers against each other simultaneously with a vertical line splitting the screen in two.  As more tricks are performed successfully, the horizontal line moves towards the edge of the screen.  The goal is to monopolize the entire screen before your opponent does.  Head-to-head mode is a simple contest to score more points, and Time Attack gives each surfer a certain amount of time to pull of as many tricks as possible. 


One of the best elements of the game is the presentation.  Everything is put together extremely well, with no down time, boring level introductions, or yawn-worthy commentaries.  Each level is introduced by Slater, who knows every single detail of each surfing spot, and accompanied by fantastic surf video that really gives the game a heap of personality that seems to be lacking in most video games.  The game contains several extras such as surfer intros, beach intros, and even a 30-minute surf video!  KSPS is one of those rare games that really transports gamers away.


One of the pride and joys of the surfing community is the beauty of their arenas, and the graphics of KSPS do Mother Nature justice.  The waves and sky look absolutely stellar, and little details like icebergs, distant ocean liners, and storm clouds add just the right touch to give each surf spot its own character.  The surfers, although not the greatest looking 3D models, move extremely lifelike and really look good on the water. 


The most pleasant surprise I found in KSPS was the sound.  The soundtrack, with names like UK down tempo hip-hoppers Rae and Christian, international afro-beat artists Truby Trio, and professional surfer and musician Jack Johnson make KSPS a sheer delight to the ears.  The waves sound like they’re right on top of you and the deafening roar inside the tube is amazing.  Add to that ambient sounds like thunder, aquatic birds, and the soothing call of the humpback whale and you have a game that places just as much emphasis on your ears as your eyes.


KSPS is a well presented game, a surf DVD, and a great CD all in one.  Surfers should get particularly stoked on the game, but even those who have never wet their feet in the ocean will find KSPS an enjoyable ride. 


Kelly Slater Pro Surfer is rated E for Everyone.



Gameplay: 8

Even though the game can be perceived as doing the same thing over and over again, the tight controls and sheer enjoyment will have you back on your board in no time.


Graphics: 9

The waves and the environment look like video.


Sound: 10

More than twenty awesome tracks complete the soundtrack, Slater’s narration is dead-on, and the environmental sounds are incredible.  Absolutely perfect. 


Difficulty: Medium

Definitely one of those “easy to pick up, difficult to master” games.


Concept: 8.5

The first surfing game available for the GameCube is the only surfing game it needs.  KSPS transports you to another place.


Multiplayer: 6

Not nearly as fun as the single-player modes, but the Push mode is intriguing.


Overall: 8.8

KSPS is the perfect example of how great presentation and amazing audio can really contribute to a gaming experience.  A must for wave jockeys, but even those who are land-locked will find themselves on a mini-vacation when playing. 


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