Your penguin (or chicken) of choice hits a huge breaker rolling along the left or right side of the screen, and you can use this as a platform to build up speed and pull-off astonishing tricks. Ride the crest, and you can leap off to perform spins, grabs and all kinds of show-stopping stunts through combinations of the left analogue stick and the X and B buttons. You can also slalom between icebergs and rocks or use some as rails to grind on, while pulling off freestyle spins and rolls using the right analogue stick.
Each ‘wave’ doles out several awards for different achievements. You can win trophies for passing through gates or by breaking specific score thresholds. The trick to the former is speed: by pulling off successful stunts you build up a boost gauge, and by activating boost you can make it through gates before the tide cuts them off. However, if you’re after a high score the trick is to fill the gauge right to the top, at which point you can activate a ‘stoked’ mode. Hit the top of the wave, whack the Y button, and it all goes slow-mo, allowing you to pull of particularly spectacular stunts and gather vast quantities of points within a matter of seconds.
Combine stoked mode with the multiplier bonuses floating around on the ocean, and it’s really not that tricky to look like a champ. What’s more, some waves also turn periodically into tubes. Hit stoked mode here (the bar actually fills up automatically) and you can spin around inside the wave by hitting button combinations as prompted.
The surprising thing is how fluid and accomplished the actual gameplay is. Play Surf’s Up and it’s actually quite hard not to have fun. Your kids will love it, because they can pick up and play it without having too many problems, and you’ll love it because, with only a modicum of skill, you can still fill up the guage and make it look like you’re an absolute stunt king. I’m terrible at tricks in SSX and Tony Hawks, but play Surf’s Up and I’m like the Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi in Point Break.
With plenty of scenery to work with or avoid on each stage, different routes you can take and multiple challenges per wave, there’s plenty of reason to replay each several times in a row, and even the music is pretty good. I doubt Elbow had a penguin surfing game in mind when they wrote the majestic Forget Myself, but it works surprisingly well on the soundtrack. For a while, Surf’s Up was my surprise winner of the summer. Or so I thought…