Mixed Plate
How My Brother Taught Me to Surf--Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer video game review (1/03)

Me as Kelly in Teahupo'o

My brother Keith does not care for the ocean. To him a fish, an egg and a spoon would make a good breakfast rather than a good quiver. To top it off, he has poor eyesight and wouldn't be able to see oncoming waves without his glasses. But recently, Keith taught me how to surf...

...video-surf, that is.

Keith is a video game whiz. He has Nintendo, Playstation, and Xbox games galore. Keith even competed in a national Nintendo championship, placing in the top 20.

So when he came over to my place during the Christmas holiday, he jumped all over my Sony Playstation 2 console. Especially the new video game I got for Christmas--Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer.

The game is actually really cool. I have a small library of surf video games, including Surfing H3O and Transworld Surf. But none come close to Activision's new waveriding game.

Unlike the others, the Kelly Slater game is much easier to learn the basics. The graphics are quite realistic (splashing water is very hard to render accurately) and the surf spots are surprisingly similar to the waves they are supposed to be emulating (except for the Miyasaki wave pool, which is flat out wrong).

Anyway, before my brother came over, I fancied myself as pretty decent at the game, riding the waves the way a surfer might, focusing on positioning and carving. But when my brother got on it, the way he played was truly eye-opening for me.

Keith applied his understanding of the underlying "formula" of video games. He gained points to pass certain levels, learned joystick/button combos that made the cyber-surfers perform impossible aerial maneuvers, and found boards that maximized wave scoring potential.

In short, he shredded! Keith jumped the pier at Sebastian's, "Darkslided" at Mavericks, and even Alley-ooped at Pipeline. He unlocked many secret maneuvers in the few short hours he played the game.

Admittedly, his surfing style left much to be desired. The funniest was the kooky, "open-faced maneuvers" that he performed which got him to a certain power level so that he could then perform more advanced maneuvers. It was like he was doing "The Twist" on his surfboard (not unlike the way I surf on a shortboard probably). But by doing it this way, he was able to progress quickly, if not elegantly.

I was flabbergasted at his abilities. But then again, I should have known better. He's a gamester through and through. Whether it's controlling Pacman or Rayman or Andy Irons, Keith's got game.

As for me, well this is my mini-review and personal observations of Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer:

  • The preview video of some surf spots interleaves wrong spots (the whole Miyazaki pool is actually a Waveloch standing wave, maybe the one in Norway).
  • The shifting perspectives took me a while to get used to. I just wasn't comfortable with the "beach view," and turned the wrong way because of it.
  • There is way too much focus on aerial tricks to score points. Not surprising though since the game programming was probably at least partially based on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, also by Activision.
  • Tube rides are pretty righteous, although I tend to look at the balance meter rather than just enjoy the visuals (of course, that's what instant replay is for).
  • The vibrating control pad is unsettling at first (again, I don't play games too often).
  • Bodyboarders and windsurfers and floating tourists are used as target practice to score points (one of the Pipe bodyboarders looks suspiciously like Mike Stewart).
  • The characteristics of the waves are very accurate to what I'd imagine the real spot would be like. For instance, Pipe is very steep, has a shoreline somewhat reminiscent of Ehukai, and has a flat but craggy reef bottom, just like the real McCoy.
  • For me, a regularfoot, using a character that was goofyfoot felt weird. I also felt uncomfortable performing with the Rochelle Ballard character, but that's just me.

Finally, would you believe that the game actually helped me surf better? After playing my first session (rented it from Blockbuster a while back), I went out to small Backdoor and charged on my longboard. I kept thinking, "I just did an ollie-540 at Trestles--I can handle a head-high closeout." It was quite amusing, but at the same time, the confidence boost was real.

Hey, maybe I can coax my brother into the lineup at Pipeline, now that he's got the cyber version wired. Then again, maybe not.