In Shaun White Skateboarding, you restore joy and freethinking to an oppressed and conformist world. One of the game’s great ironies is that you do so by uncovering Stride Gum billboards in a city abounding with Wendy’s fast-food restaurants. Blatant product placement is nothing new in skating games, but it sure sticks out when your entire purpose is to break free from a manufactured society. But the irony doesn’t end there, as the game’s latter half isn’t really a skateboarding game at all, but is rather a puzzle platformer in which you spend large amounts of time figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, this shift in priorities comes at the expense of fun. When it focuses on skateboarding, the game is unspectacular but good fun; when it veers off the rails, it becomes slow and tedious.
The tyrannical organization called The Ministry has removed all the color and soul from your beloved city. Ministry propaganda is everywhere, and the citizens wander about like mindless drones. Even worse? Shaun White is one of the few skilled enough to stand up to this regime, but he’s been taken prisoner in one of the most elaborate constructs ever to house a menace to society. It’s up to you and your helpers to free the minds of the populace and set Shaun loose. Is the plot kooky? Oh yes. Is it entertaining? Sometimes. There is some charm in the ridiculousness, mostly in the form of characters that guide you through the story mode. A squealing lady’s man with long tresses and a gift for melodrama may come across as a caricature, but he’s comical at least, as is an excitable skater who drops a few choice bits of profanity. (A few lines of dialogue may have you wondering how this game managed to skate by with a T rating.) The biggest problem with the story is that it doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes it comes across as tongue-in-cheek camp; other times, it strikes a serious tone, as if trying to sell you on this ridiculous setup. Thus, it settles on a slightly uncomfortable middle ground that isn’t realistic enough to inspire a connection to the world–or to Shaun, who functions only as an abstract plot device–or outrageous enough to wholeheartedly commit to its subject matter or visual style as fully as Jet Grind Radio, a game that did much more with a similar premise.