Shaun White Skateboarding is an original game, and not only because it's a skateboarding game promoted with the name of a famous snowboarder. It's the only current-gen skateboarding title which takes so many liberties with reality. This approach gives it an old-school feel in some ways, and makes it feel more like an arcade game than something competing with the likes of the Skate and Tony Hawk franchises.
The game combines a complex control scheme like that of Skate with a much more simple "Street trick" button, which lets the AI pick a random trick to perform. As you pull off tricks both simple and complex, the difficulty and how well you land the move affects a flow gauge at the bottom of the screen. Increasing flow allows the "street trick" button to select from a wider variety of actions, increasing the chance of more advanced techniques triggering, and giving even more flow.
The game opens with your character viewing the world in first-person perspective, looking at news reports about how the "villainous skateboarder" Shaun White has finally been captured.
This dystopian world is ruled by a group called the Ministry, and your character is presented in this introduction as a loyal follower. That is, of course, until you meet Shaun White. He hands over his skateboard, and suddenly you become a real person, instead of a stranger in a suit. This intro lets you customise your character's appearance, selecting from a variety of faces, shirts, pants and more, most of which unlock as you play.
As you land a trick, or grind along a rail, an "influence wave" (the size of which is determined by your flow level) spreads from your position, changing everything nearby. The streets and walls turn from drab grey to technicolour graffiti, similar to the way the world changes in Flower, which lends a cheerful, but childish air to the game's graphics. The people also change, from blue depressed-looking people in suits to other skaters and friendly people who cheer you on in your efforts.
As the game progresses, you can further alter certain areas by influencing things with high levels of flow. The gauge has up to three sections which unlock during the story, each of which allows more impressive changes to be made to the environment.
The first character you meet after your release from the Ministry's control is an old guy in a suit named Jonah, who has obvious parallels with Morpheus and the Agents from the Matrix films. His persistent use of the line "Free your mind" doesn't help him escape this impression, nor do the crazy "shaping" abilities he teaches you. Shaping lets you grind on rails which grow in front of you, change the shape of the ground, and even summon shapable rails out of thin air later in the game. These more outlandish abilities become necessary as they're unlocked, and make stringing together massive combos a lot less of a chore. The other members of the anti-Ministry group called the Rising are more flamboyant and exaggerated, probably aiming to give the game a sense of fun, but they tend to feel more childish instead, their over-the-top behaviour perhaps taken a few steps too far.
Each story mission you complete earns XP, as do certain in-game actions (usually also associated with a trophy/achievement). XP points can be spent at "Bob's Skate Shop" - various outlets of which open up when you spread high-level influence in the right locations. The higher-level abilities earn you more flow, making missions and challenges easier and helping to increase your influence.
The game's presentation is nothing spectacular, but it does the job. The character models are fairly standard for the current generation, with smooth animations and a good variety of tricks. What really holds up the game graphically is the art style, with shaping effects and sharp contrasts between influenced and Ministry-controlled areas. The soundscape is likewise only a small kickflip short of greatness. The sound of wheels on various surfaces is distinct when you ride from wood to concrete, and the handling changes along with the sound when you ride onto grass or sand. The music is heavy and loud, and even though some of it is outdated, it all fits the scene, even when it isn't part of the current generation's playlists.
There are a few criticisms that should be levelled against Shaun White, most of which are minor, but they add up. I noticed intermittent glitches in the way physics were applied, with my character occasionally grinding along a bench or rail in the opposite direction to where I expected, or rebounding off a crack in the pavement. There were also a handful of times where the shaping abilities produced strange and unpredictable effects. These moments weren't common, but they happened enough to be occasionally disconcerting, especially when performing the same action and seeing vastly different results.
The main point deserving a mention is the strangely inconsistent feel to the game. There's a serious and businesslike air to Jonah's character which seems out of place when matched against the rest of the Rising. This disparity between serious and childish elements of the story, which is mirrored in the gameplay and presentation, makes it hard to recommend whole-heartedly to either the hardcore or casual players.
The game is plenty of fun to play, which is, after all, the most important consideration, but there are a few issues keeping it from matching other titles in the genre. Not the least of these is the very innovation which makes it stand out. If you want something you can just pick up and play, it's worth a look, and if you want more control over the details of what you're doing, that's an option as well. The shaping system is an interesting addition to the game, and works well with the mechanics of the genre, but it detracts from the realism in a way which may frustrate much of the target audience.