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Skater Reviews: Cool Boarders 2 (PSX)

I cover all kinds of skateboarding topics, but over the winter, I’ve been reviewing some snowboarding games. Some people recommended Cool Boarders 2, so I thought I’d give it a try. I know some of the later games around the PS2 era weren’t very well received, but a lot of people seemed to like this one. It came out way back in 1997, predating any skateboarding game on the system. So it’s a pretty early 3D game, and one of the first 3D games with tricks in it. Is there any way this is still playable today? Surprisingly, it is.

The first thing you’ll notice is the graphics. They aren’t great. But for people like me who grew up with 2D games and remember this jump to 3D being a huge impressive thing, they have a bit of charm. Sure, there are gaps between polygons sometimes, and the animation isn’t always spot on, but you can easily tell what everything is and it never really causes any problems. The trees are really good for the time. In a lot of games then, they would just be one flat plane that always faces the camera. Here, they look a little better, which is good because you’ll be seeing them up close and personal a lot of the time. I also really like the texture work here, especially in this level with the cottages. It might not be impressive, but it’s pleasant enough to look at. The graphic design on the menus is pretty rough though. But it takes me back to the 90s and it fits.

And let’s talk about the controls. They’re pretty simple, but they might take a little getting used to these days since they’re a little out of date.

You steer with the d-pad and you can hit square to carve and turn a little sharper, but that slows you down. You can hold up to unweight and ride over bumpy terrain a little smoother. There aren’t a lot of times you’ll need to use that. Holding down makes you crouch, which is the best way to gain speed. Usually you might think that holding down would make you slow down or stop, but that’s not how it works here. You jump with x. Hold it down and release to jump. You can wind up while crouched too, since you lose steering while crouched. It’s a little weird though. In modern games like Infinite Air, you only wind up a little bit. A second at most. But with Cool Boarders you can basically wind up indefinitely and spin more the longer you hold it. In a race if you see a jump coming up, you might be lucky to pull off a 360, but on these Big Air events, you can wind up pretty much from the gate and spin like a pinwheel. There are spins, flips and off axis stuff. It calls them all Misty flips. The problem with these is that you can’t really stop yourself when you’re done flipping, so you have to wind up the right amount. Every attempt counts, so it’s pretty dangerous. I’ll talk about this more in a bit.

You can do grabs with different shoulder buttons and directions. It’s kind of hard to memorize all of these because there isn’t much of a system here. It seems like the controls are kind of random. You’ll do a lot of straight airs on accident because you tried a button combination that does nothing. So I just memorized a couple tricks and did them over and over, like tailgrabs, which are down down R2. You’ll see these hint screens when the game is loading, so it’s always trying to help out, but it still feels like they could have done this better. The game penalizes you for repeating tricks, but that only really matters in the half pipe.

The triangle button will switch to first person, which is pretty much useless. But it’s kind of fun to do it during Big Air.

Speaking of Big Air, let’s talk about the events. There’s free ride, which is just race practice mode, then competition, half pipe, and big air. Let’s start with Big Air.

It’s just one jump, and you’re scored in all these different categories, like speed, distance, grab… and fakie. Pro tip: doing tricks fakie is pretty much free points. So on every run, just hit L1 or R1 right away to switch around. You’ll go a little slower, so you’ll score lower in a couple of categories, but you can’t get fakie points in regular stance, so there’s really no downside to doing it every time.

The only other issue is figuring out how to land straight. Right after you switch around, you can start winding up, but you are scored on your landing, so you have to be careful. Unlike pretty much every other game, there isn’t much you can do to affect your landing once you’re in the air. The only advice I can give you is to pick a landmark and start winding up in that spot every time. Maybe right when the plane of the ground jumps to the next angle or something like that. The different locations will all need their own spot to do that, but it’s worth playing this mode for a while to get it down. You’ll see why in a minute. The spins are thankfully pretty forgiving of landing at an angle, but the flips not so much. So I tended to avoid them most of the time. On certain jumps it was too easy to over flip and if you don’t wind up as much, it ends up being a less impressive trick.

If you want practice, you can also try out the Trick Master mode, which is a good idea that doesn’t seem to work. You get this endless lineup of jumps, and it tells you a trick to do. Eventually, it stops telling you the control, unless you bail the trick. It’s trying to get you to memorize all the tricks. But the thing is – I did this indy nosebone over and over, and it just never counted it. The trick looks right, and I’m hitting the buttons it asks me to… I couldn’t get any further than this. So that’s too bad.

The next event is the half pipe. Because of the really long wind up times, the flat bottom on this ramp is gigantic . It looks a little weird, but it plays all right. The one weird thing is that you’ll sometimes hang up on the coping… but you have no control over how you ollie, so it’s tough to plan around.

The half pipe mode isn’t a ton of fun and I didn’t play it very much. Landing tricks is hard enough on the Big Air ramp even with practice but getting the timing right on spins and flips is harder in the half pipe because your speed will change from wall to wall. A lot of times it feels like a dice roll whether you’ll land or not. It’s basically just a bonus mode anyway because you never ride a half pipe in the competition mode. It’s interesting though – reviews from this time raved over how amazing and fun the half pipe mode was. It was a fun and interesting new idea at the time. It’s crazy to think that this became instantly outdated when Tony Hawk came out a couple years later.

Ok, let’s finally talk about the main mode of the game. So this is the competition mode. You alternate between Big Air events and races, going through 9 rounds and accumulating points. If you fall too low in the rankings, you’ll get a game over screen.

When I first started playing this game, I just kept screwing it up, and I saw that game over screen a lot. I figured I could jump right in and figure it out, but I couldn’t beat a single event. After 2 or 3 rounds, I’d just get a game over. I read through the manual, did some practice rounds, but I never really got the hang of it. I had to read through some strategy guides online, and I realized the character I picked, Jinn, was only for expert players. I switched to a character more friendly to beginners and I started having a little more success.

Another thing I had to learn was the different board styles. This is actually pretty interesting. There are freestyle boards, all-around boards, and alpine boards. The freestyle boards will help with tricks, but they aren’t as fast or as good at carving. The alpine boards are faster, but they’re really slow while riding fakie, they’re bad at turns, and they aren’t good for tricks either. So if you’re having trouble with one type of event, you can kind of give yourself a little boost by picking one or the other. And each category has a few variations as well so you can fine tune your preferences more.

There’s really no good reason to pick an Alpine board, because the Big Air event is really important. You have 2 rounds that you have to complete, and your totals are added up. It doesn’t throw out your low score, so there’s no room for error. When you finish, your starting position in the race is determined based on your ranking.

But this isn’t like a pole position in a car race, where you’re only a few car lengths further back. It puts you on a timer and you start really late if you scored badly. If you bail a trick and then start in last place, you’ll be 20 seconds behind 1st place, and it’s basically impossible to come back from that.

So with that in mind, it makes a lot more sense to use a trick board and place well in the starting position. Even if you’re slow and you lose a place or two, it’s a lot better than starting last and racing really well and gaining a few spots.

Let’s talk about the actual races. You steer around some obstacles and there are 5 jumps in each stage. You can do tricks here, and it keeps track of them, but it’s basically just a high score thing. It’s not like you get boost or anything like that. In general, I would just do a straight grab. It’s kind of risky to do a spin trick because you might end up landing sideways. Sometimes you try to turn around and it just doesn’t want to start you riding fakie. You just have to kind of wiggle your way into position to start racing again. You can lose a lot of time here if you don’t do it right.

Aside from the ramps, there are different paths and even a few rails to grind. There’s a bit of depth to these levels. You can spend time figuring out the ideal path, but it’s not like this is Gran Turismo here. You don’t need to spend weeks getting your racing line right or anything.

There’s some good variety to the style of the levels, but there are some crappy ones in there too. Like this one. It almost seems like they went out of their way to make it annoying. There are a ton of trees peppered throughout the mountain, and it’s really easy to get caught in and bounce around the forest like a pinball. It’s stressful, but not in a fun way. It just feels like you get lucky if you just so happen to get through it cleanly. And you have to! The computer racers crash every now and then, but if you want a chance at winning this race, you just have to memorize where they all are and try to figure out a path. But don’t use the same path as someone else! You’ll just get knocked into a tree and get stuck bouncing back and forth.

But that’s not the worst part. There’s this completely stupidly hard curve right here. It’s a really narrow ledge, and it’s a tight turn. You can slow down a bit when you carve, but you can’t actually slow down and take the turn careful. You pretty much have no choice but to blast through it full speed ahead and probably fall off the side a dozen times. It resets you pretty quickly, and luckily all the other racers will plummet to their death a few times too. That’s just bad design. If you can’t get through it cleanly and it doesn’t really matter, then why bother making it so hard?

Luckily, most of them aren’t bad, and you can have a lot of fun racing through. There are frustrating moments, like these logs you have to jump over, but it’s just one tough part, and then you’re back to a normal race.

So you finish your race, then go back to the next Big Air. Over and over. You rack up points throughout the race. When you beat all 9 rounds, you’ll unlock mirror mode, where you can play the flipped levels. It’s a good bonus to keep the game fresh later.

It’s nice that they give you something because this mode is really hard. You pretty much have to do everything perfectly first try. If you mess up a Big Air, you then start late in the next race, and next thing you know, you’ve got a game over and you have to start over from the first event. It’s a lot like a classic arcade game, but you can’t feed it more quarters to keep going. This is the kind of game that I would have loved back in the day. There’s no need to save your progress (even though you can), you can just pop the game in whenever you want and do a few runs. Your stats don’t get better as you beat levels or anything like that, so it’s the ultimate pick up and play snowboarding game. At least 20 years ago in 97. By today’s standards, this is a little weird, and almost makes it seem pointless. Why bother going through all that work if I can just play all the levels from the beginning in free ride mode? But at the time, this was pretty common, and it makes sense if you can get back into that 90s mindset. You’re not trying to progress in the game, you’re trying to kill some time before your parents kick you off the family TV so they can watch Fraser.

Another thing you can do when you’re done with the game is design your own board. It’s a cool option, but it’s basically impossible to do anything good. I made a Rad Rat deck and then rode it around a bit. It looks terrible from a distance and drawing pixel by pixel with a dozen colors really doesn’t open you up to a lot of great options. But it’s there.

So is this game worth playing today? Honestly, there’s nothing here that isn’t done better somewhere else, like in the excellent Infinite Air. The physics are more accurate, the animation is better, and there’s a lot more depth.

But to me, there’s the nostalgia factor of games from this time. The charming, chunky graphics, the controls, and the simplicity just give it a feel that you can’t really get today. There aren’t 8 different kinds of experience points you’re trying to get while unlocking trophies and you don’t have to buy any new levels as DLC. You get the whole game you paid for and you can enjoy it however you want, and it’s challenging enough to keep you coming back.

Plus it’s only a couple bucks for an original copy. Or 6 bucks if you want to download it as a PSOne classic on Playstation Network. It’s good enough to kill a day or two at least.

What did you think of Cool Boarders 2? And what about the rest of the series? I think I played some of them very briefly back in the day, but I don’t have a lot of experience with the series. So which one should I do next? Let me know in the comments.

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