One of the most anticipated things for wakeboarders ever was the release of the first good wakeboarding video game, Wakeboarding Unleashed with Shaun Murray. The question is does the game live up to the hype?
Activision, the publisher of such games as the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, began working with pro wakeboarder Shaun Murray a couple of years ago on developing a wakeboarding video game for the newest generation of console game systems.
Previously, a couple of poor wakeboarding games had been released. The first was a game called Burstrick Wakeboarding on the Playstation, and the second was a PC game called Darin Shapiro's Big Air Wakeboarding. Neither game was really that fun, or even very playable. So, when word leaked out that Activision was working with Murray on a serious wakeboarding game, people began to get very excited.
Due to the difficulties of making such a game, the game missed it's release date a couple of times which made wakeboarders everywhere continue to anticipate it's release. A demo of the game was eventually released with Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, so people finally got a chance to taste the game. Then, this past June, Wakeboarding Unleashed with Shaun Murray was released to the public.
My initial reaction when playing Wakeboarding Unleashed was mixed. One one hand, I was extremely excited to be playing a real wakeboarding video game, but on the other hand I found myself disappointed in various aspects of the game. However, over time I found myself enjoying the game more and more the better I got at playing it.
The gameplay can most easily be described as being like the Tony Hawk games, with some adjustments to account for the wakeboarding. It's very similar to Tony Hawk in how you control the rider, start your tricks, and perform tricks. However, it's different because you're being pulled behind a boat, and there's an added element of letting go of the rope and performing tricks without it.
Being similar to the Tony Hawk series made it fairly easy to start playing and performing tricks right away. This was a benefit, but it also kind of felt like I was just playing a modified version of that game.
The newer aspect of letting go of the rope seemed stupid and unrealistic to me at first, but I began to enjoy it as a way to mix things up. You can see things on the levels I couldn't get to otherwise, and it added an element of trickiness to let go of the rope and grab it again to keep going.
At first it's also a bit frustrating to have all kinds of obstacles in the way when you just want to do wake to wake tricks. It's annoying to try and do a trick and have the boat turn, or you land on top of a houseboat or rail. Again though, I soon learned what parts of levels were wide open to do tricks, and after learning all the wake tricks having all the obstacles to get creative on was a big benefit.
Most of the tricks and grabs look fairly realistic, although there are some basic tricks that are named incorrectly or really aren't done, and a few of the grabs when combined with spins make everything end up looking like a Hoochie Glide. It just takes a bit of skill to learn how to control and manipulate grabs to do what you want.
After getting experienced, I really enjoyed being able to just perform tricks I like to do on the water, such as grabbing a scarecrow, or simple spins with grabs. There's some kind of strange joy about controlling a video game character and making it do a backside 360 with a grab like you do on the water.
There are quite a few tricks that we'd like to see that were missing, and off-axis spins aren't naturally a trick you can do, although you can sort of manipulate it to happen. There are also plenty of tricks you can sort of make up on your own since you can get more air in the game than in reality.
The game also has a two player mode where one person controls the boat while the other controls the rider. This can be a fun way to mix things up with your friends. There's also a Tug of War mode where you compete against a friend performing tricks. Your rope gets shorter if you don't perform the trick, and eventually one rider wins.
After an initial adjustment and getting experienced, the gameplay is actually quite fun, and is really far better than previous wakeboarding games, although it does lag behind Tony Hawk 4 for example.
The graphics in Wakeboarding Unleashed are good. Water is one of the most difficult things to do in video games, and the water is done quite well. The pro riders look very similar to themselves, and levels have all kinds of interesting graphics and things to see. The water is really the most impressive aspect though.
The soundtrack might be the weakest part of the game. Music depends on personal taste of course, but the soundtrack seems to mostly be filled with 80s and 90s hard rock sounding music.
I'm not sure who picked the music or what constraints they had, but it's really not good in our opinion. I don't think it's really that representative of wakeboarding or music wakeboarders like. If you have an Xbox you can change the playlist to your own music, so that's always an option.
Levels, Riders, and Challenges
The pro riders in Wakeboarding Unleashed are Shaun Murray, Parks Bonifay, Darin Shapiro, Collin Wright, Dallas Friday, and Tara Hamilton. There are also a few secret characters that can be unlocked/found.
It's nice to have some different types of riders, and to have some of the top women riders, but we would've liked to see more riders. The option to create your own rider seems like it's something that should have been included but isn't.
There are 11 levels in Wakeboarding Unleashed. These levels consist of Lake Powell, The Bayou, Springfield, Florida, Ocean World, Hong Kong, The Boneyard, Venice, Timber Lake, Belize, and the Delta. The levels are done well. They have different graphics and lots of different types of obstacles, challenges, and gaps to perform.
Wakeboarding Unleashed levels consist of three different types of goals to accomplish. The first are level objectives which consist of getting a certain high score, performing certain tasks like boardsliding a certain distance, hitting a certain number of tubers, or other tasks.
The second set of goals are specific challenges in a seperate challenge mode. These challenges are things like performing one difficult gap transfer, following the tricks they ask you to do, or taking part in a boat driving race. What's nice about the challenges is that they start out easy and get harder. The process of performing the challenges forces you to learn new skills and abilities.
The last set of goals is performing certain gaps on the levels. Like transferring from one obstacle to another, hitting three rails in a row at one location, and other gaps. When you complete one gap, you get a key to view another gap so you can see where it is on the level. This can make the game very challenging if you try to hit every possible gap.
By accomplishing goals you earn more stats to improve your rider, and you unlock other levels.
The combination of levels, objectives, challenges, and gaps means there is a lot of stuff that can be done in the game. You shouldn't get bored very quickly if you actually try to accomplish everything.
Overall Wakeboarding Unleashed is very fun. It's easy to be critical of it since we've all been waiting so long for it and there are some obvious things that could have been included. However, to include more stuff means a longer wait for the game, so it's a compromise that had to be made.
After getting over the initial negatives, the game becomes very fun and addictive as you try to accomplish all the challenges and goals. There's a lot to the game, and it's a good overall effort that Shaun Murray should be proud to be associated with. We recommend this game to anyone who likes video games, and by buying it you also increase the chances of more wakeboarding games being made in the future.
Read more reviews of Wakeboarding Unleashed in our Gear Guide.