Nor is that the only transformation. Amped 3 still has the old freestyle structure, leaving you free to roam in any area you’ve unlocked, but its major challenges are now tied together in a story. The story itself is a bit clichéd, but the same can’t be said for the way it’s presented, which is – for want of a better word – unusual. Running a lunatic gamut from pastiches of old 16-bit console games to notebook doodles, cod-mysticism, Dragon Ball Z style anime and mock-Soviet game shows featuring an audience of bearded hand-puppets, Amped 3 is downright weird. And it’s almost as if, once the cut-scenes took this style in, it steadily crept out to pollute the rest of the game: challenges might be garnished with a touch of sixties psychedelia, old-school RPG madness, or just some cute kittens who have left a trail of fluorescent litter to clean up. SSX On Tour had its animated notebook scrawl and heavy metal music, but there it seemed like a coating of attitude on a fairly familiar game. Here it feels part and parcel of the whole experience.
The bad news is that it’s real love it or hate it stuff. If you find the presentation hilarious, then you’re likely to love Amped 3 as a whole. If you think it’s lame, trying too hard or a stain on Amped’s realistic reputation, then repeated bouts of this zaniness are only likely to irritate. Personally, I found it hit and miss, but there were times when I laughed out loud at something stupid, and the game’s desperation to surprise and make me chortle slowly wore away at my cynicism – a game I’d marked down as an underachiever became a lovable underachiever, and that really is a huge difference.
Why underachiever? Well, Amped 2 worked better as a serious snowboarding sim, and in most respects SSX On Tour works better as a casual snowboarding game – it’s more focused, the racing/tricking mix offers more straightforward thrills, and its courses and trick sections are more artfully engineered to entertain. Amped 3 is looser, but then it’s also more relaxed – its freestyle maps give you more scope to just bum around, hang loose, pull off tricks and play to the crowd. In some ways, it reminds me of Grand Theft Auto or that old classic, Pilotwings 64, in that, while you want to work your way through the game, it’s also easy to while away some hours just enjoying its feel and its landscapes.
Not that the challenges themselves are ever dull. In some cases you’re just competing with a rival, scoring maximum points in the time available or slaloming through gates, but there are also times when you’ll find yourself deliberately crashing in an attempt to rack up the highest hospital bill imaginable, trailing masked goons up to no good, endeavouring to balance a downhill racing bathtub or performing ridiculous stunts as part of a peculiar product promotion exercise. There are even spots on a snowmobile or hang-glider. You can’t say Amped 3 doesn’t try hard enough.