I've never liked sports games, but for some reason snowboarding games are the exception to the rule. Maybe it has to do with fond memories of my family going skiing when I was a kid, which makes the thrill of rushing down a slope at neck-breaking speed before rocketing off a jump, pulling off an awesome trick, and faceplanting in the powder that much sweeter. Maybe it's the schaudenfreude from watching the wince-inducing wipeouts. Maybe it's the implausibility of catching some air on mountains like Mt. Fuji and K2, which I am reasonably sure you can't actually snowboard on (but to be fair, I haven't looked it up or anything).
After going through one of the most limited character creation modes I've ever seen, I found that Stoked was very much in the vein of the Amped series (which I loved) in that it's all about presenting you with a full mountain to explore. After an intro where your helicopter pilot explains the history of the given mountain - from Chile's Almirante Nieto and Switzerland's Diablerets to Mount Shuksan in Washington state - you're given a choice of helicopter drop points.
Every run (or "Session") has its own set of trick challenges - nail a specific sequence of tricks, beat a point total with X class of tricks, race the pro to the bottom of the slope - but they're completely optional, and for the most part you're free to just explore the mountain as you like. Stoked takes the concept of mountain exploration a bit further: After you've bested 50,000 points on each Session, you're given the proverbial keys to the helicopter, and you can fly all around the mountain and jump out wherever you like to find the perfect run for you - or to just find the tallest sheer drop to suicidally soar off of.
Something which I wish Stoked had taken from Amped was the control scheme. While Stoked's controls work just fine for gliding down the mountain and are perfectly intuitive for grabs and spins, they never feel quite right for rail-grinds, since you have to aim perfectly on to actually hit your target. The game also requires an annoying bit of precision in order to pull off its "Stylin'" moves, though it's possible that mastering that particular subset would be rather satisfying if one has a bit more patience than I do.
The game's other claim to fame is its not-quite-real-time weather system. In sunlight, accumulated snow will melt, exposing more rocks and cutting off routes but giving you more jumps. In blizzards, the snow will accumulate over the course of the run, covering up your tracks and making new routes accessible. It's not something that you notice right away, but the difference between a low-snow mountain and a slope covered in fresh powder is actually rather striking.
The career mode is perfectly competent, though it doesn't try anything new. You'll have to impress sponsors by nailing the tricks they call out, and these little challenges help you see the setpieces on the mountain, improving your flow with practice: "Oh, I boardslide on this rail, jump off and hit a 360 Indy Mute before landing with a tailslide on the next one."
In the end, Stoked is what it is: It's a perfectly competent snowboarding game that ditches some of the glamour of flashier extreme sports titles in order to present a more straightforward mountain-carving-and-exploring experience (if not an entirely realistic one). It can be frustrating at times and the game has an annoying tendency to expect you to know some terms right off the bat (how was I supposed to remember that an FS Boardslide is a Boardslide facing backward?), but it's fun, the helicopter-flying and dynamic weather are cool gimmicks, and there's a ton of content there to suit you through the cold snowed-in winter nights.
Don't expect it to set your world on fire, but laugh at the hilarious collisions all the same.
Bottom Line: A perfectly serviceable snowboarding titles with a few cool tricks up its sleeve and some odd - and occasionally frustrating - quirks. Exploring some of the world's most famous mountains is a great time, and when else are you going to get to jump off a cliff face on K2 and live to tell the tale?
Recommendation: Rent it, unless you're a diehard fan of snowboarding - in which case it might be worth a buy.
John Funk misses going skiing.