Although I've never actually snowboarded in my life, thanks to Amped 2 I can now get sick Canadian bacon air with the best of them—and I have the calluses to prove it. I have twinges that feel like the equivalent of shin splints along my arms, a lingering ache in both hands, and a red mark on the side of my left thumb from working the analog stick that controls the left/right movements and acceleration of the snowboarder. But the most curious callus is along the top side of my right thumb. It's from having to hook it underneath the right analog stick to carry out a successful grab.
The control scheme of Amped 2 is an attempt to represent as closely as possible the feel, the touch, and the style of snowboarding within the confines of using an external device operated only with the hands. Pressing down the A button causes the snowboarder to crouch. Releasing this button also releases the snowboarder into the air. While airborne, the left analog stick controls the axis of the boarder and initiates flips and spins. The right analog stick performs grabs, as though the stick itself were running along the board guiding the boarder's hand. Push the stick back, and the boarder grabs the tail of the board. And so on. And then there are the tweaks, operated by the L and R triggers. And if this weren't enough, the game awards style points for a gentle touch. Ramming down the triggers or sticks will get no style points, but a smooth and controlled motion will net huge point bonuses.
I had a love/hate relationship with this type of control, and I admit it took many hours of frustration and even swearing before any love started to enter into the picture at all. But despite my whining, the control scheme is hardly an ergonomic disaster (I do have a habit of clutching the controller too tightly anyway). My only strong complaint is that the A button and right analog stick are both essential parts of the tricking process even though they must somehow both be operated with the same thumb.
To be fair, most of the hate stemmed from the fact that Amped 2 is just a very hard game with a steep learning curve that cuts the player no slack whatsoever. It's essential to master all the intricacies of tricking since there's no racing element to fall back on. In fact, there are only a handful of competitive events at all, and they all involve outscoring opponents with tricks as opposed to being first across a finish line.
Amped 2 follows the career of a rider from rookie up into the professional ranks, with several mountains to explore and unlock. As in the game's predecessor, Amped, the rider advances in rank by completing various goals including high score challenges and media challenges achieved by tricking underneath the red blinking camera icons during the run.
Other tasks on the mountain include following a pro boarder down a run and trying to get the higher trick score, or trying to impress a sponsor who only likes specific kinds of tricks, or doing a Photoshoot run where the rider must not only achieve a certain minimum trick score, but manage to do it while passing through series of yellow rings.
Eventually I reached a point, after having failed and restarted the same Photoshoot run at least thirty times, where I started to question whether this was worth my time at all. Do I restart and continue to fine-tune my run perhaps thirty more times until I'm finally able to complete the stage, or do I give up, turn off the Xbox, and never speak of Amped 2 again?
For my part, I hit "restart." Although I could understand why many people wouldn't. It was only because of perseverance combined with hours upon hours of practice that I came to understand and more importantly appreciate Amped 2. It's a game that aims to be realistic, physical, and hands-on. It's not a flight of fancy filled with sky-scrapers, pinball machine courses, or aesthetic vapour-trails flowing off the snowboard during aerial spins that would in real life cause the boarder's brain to come flying out through his nose.
If Amped 2 seems picky or exacting, it's because it's impossible, in real life, to get 20,000 feet of hang-time on a jump and perform ten tricks in that space of time. So in Amped 2 there are one or possibly two tricks in mid-air and the rest must be comboed together by linking rail-slides with aerials and butters (a ground trick where the boarder balances on either the front or back of the board). In real life, boarders can't land sideways and expect not to tip over, and Amped 2 diligently enforces this as well. There are also different grades of landing, from a perfect "stomped" landing to a rather good "sick" landing, to a shaky landing that docks major trick points. Suck it up.
Amped 2 rejects spectacle in favour of the sort of satisfaction that results from a slow culmination of small triumphs—a video unlocked here, a trickbook completed there. In the end, though, it's because of this very process that Amped 2 fails to evoke the butterflies-in-the-stomach level of excitement that I get from playing the very best video games.