Rocketing down a snow-packed slope on a piece of cheap plastic, a cafeteria tray or some other haphazard device is one of the cold-weather delights enjoyed by northern youth. When the land you live in turns into a sub-zero arctic mess for five to six months out of the year and your folks have put a temporary ban on the household videogame console, wild rides down hastily constructed courses assembled on snowy afternoons are often the preferred way to pass the time outdoors. The crazy sledding shenanigans found in Line Rider are exactly how I always imagined those chilly New England days in wintry exile should have played out.
The original Line Rider, a free, sled-centric physics toy released in flash form on the internet several years ago, was a bundle of addictive indie brilliance that hinged on a marvelously simple concept. Using a basic set of drawing tools, you create a sloped track for a little guy on a sled to race down. The freedom afforded by the toolset and the unique physics engine led some wildly imaginative and artistic users to create extremely elaborate worlds for their rider to sled along in. The intensely detailed sled-able works of art one could create made the otherwise primitive program hugely attractive.
Line Rider 2: Unbound is a different animal altogether. Despite the moniker, it's the first commercial edition to be released on major gaming platforms. The transition from a mere plaything to a more substantive game is fairly successful, and the DS version gets bonus points for its portability. However, in an attempt to enliven the minimalist experience and make it more marketable, inXile entertainment inadvertently sucks most of the soul and artistry from the original in the process. The first signs of this are immediately and painfully apparent.
Obnoxious techno music, dopey cartoon characters, atrociously rendered cut scenes and the insipid narrative haphazardly tacked onto the so-called story mode of the game are a huge distraction from the actual enjoyment to be found deep within the gameplay itself. You play as a doofy sledding do-gooder who's trying to keep some bully (another sledder dressed in black with a skull emblazoned on his sled) from stealing your girlfriend (a bleach blonde, pink-adorned sledder). Much like the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons of days past, the bratty villain's frequent attempts to take you down continuously backfire. It's best just to block the story out completely and move on. I almost prefer the visual sparseness of Line Rider to the hokier aspects of Unbound's presentation - the basic, snow-covered landscape, made up primarily of rocks and clouds, is far less offensive.