While it is nothing spectacular, I actually remember my first encounter with 1080 Avalanche. After driving for a long while with my mother, father, and sister to meet some friends and family, we stopped at an electrical store on the way for a stretch and to check what they had. After 6 hours, it was definitely time for a break. While strolling slowly around, my father told me he saw some cheap GameCube-games that I might like and showed me specifically SSX 3 and 1080 Avalanche. I only had enough for either and was highly unsure on which one to pick as SSX 3 seemed more like chaotic fun, but Avalanche had 4-player multiplayer. In the end, I decided to go with EA’s over the top game as I had confidence in them to make something spectacular, compared to nowadays. SSX 3 is still one of my favorite games ever, but now about 14 years later (which makes me feel old for saying), I found 1080 Avalanche on eBay for cheap. I thought it was about time to check what I have been missing, especially after enjoying the original 1080 so much.
“Wax your board, this is the sickest ride ever”
This headline is what I was met with even before booting up the game, clearly showcasing its wish to be an over-the-top snowboarding game. Definitely selling itself high, but let us go over the different modes in-depth and judge them thoroughly.
Match Race returns with 3 difficulties and one secret mirror-mode compilation that can be unlocked. Each difficulty mode except for the mirror mode comes with their own set of unique courses, each with the first difficulty having 4 courses, hard having 5 courses, and the hardest containing 6. This is a decent idea on paper, however since you won’t be familiar with the courses to begin with, it can be unfair to not have a practice mode with them and having to go through all of them in one go with just 3 tries. Though this is not the case. In fact, the stages can be severely easy, as the AI opponent won’t use shortcuts or anything to really hinder you. I didn’t even realize I had a health meter until I checked the manual, which was an odd inclusion considering the difficulty.
Sadly, this doesn’t come from just the opponents not being a challenge. The stages are also an issue as they are short and straightforward, with some few shortcuts provided. This makes each area very forgettable in terms of design, and only the last couple of stages had a lot of diverse and engaging paths to take with good variety. The earlier stages have either one or two creative moments, such as going through a lumber mill, or grinding down stairs, but when each course can be finished in about a minute, these parts become easily forgettable. Again, only the last stages have a lot of diversity, despite them also suffering from this issue. There is a clear quantity, but little quality.
Other modes that are less focussed on are gate challenge, time trial, and trick attack. Gate challenge will have you slalom between flags for the best time, and time attack is very similar except you are free to snowboard for the fastest time. There is one more aspect to this, and that is acquiring hidden coin-parts in each stage to get a coin for acquiring better boards. Neither is particularly interesting since you will be racing through the same short courses, though are important parts of the game as they can help with the main event by providing better boards. An incredibly strange design when the matches are very easy.
Trick Attack also returns, but it is in a strange way both simpler and more demanding than ever before. You have 3 stages dedicated to this mode; big jump, half pipe, and one that represents a course with different constructions. The simple parts come with the controls, as gone is the rotation with the sticks for making spins. This time, you just hold R and direct the stick where you want to spin towards and uses B, X, and Y for grabs. This is simple enough, but the game demands you make plenty of tricks at once with no room for error, which is no easy task. Even getting bronze can be insane and with no good difficulty-curve, this can be quite a tiresome mode instead of enjoyable. It is so bizarre how the game goes from incredibly easy to chaotic and insane.
Tricking is a part of the races as well, though never to such a high degree. By making spins, grabs, and grind on rails with L, you will fill up a power-meter which makes you fall for a short time if you stumble or crash your landings, or to automatically knock down an opponent you come in contact with. This is a decent idea, but nothing I really used except to test this mechanic. Another way this poor attempt at simplicity can be seen is in the different ways of landing the board, oddly enough. Landing is only done by pressing L before landing, and grinding is with the same button though it attaches you directly to the rail with you just balancing with the stick, so nothing feels overly complicated or has diverse designs, which makes the game too simple and straightforward.
Should you stumble, you must rotate the stick to be sure you won’t fall, which can be tedious and is a strange way of excluding button mashing. You also use L is for speeding through with less control around edges as before, but with such straight paths, it is hard to be engaged when altering between high speed and better controls. In 1080 it worked, as the controls wanted to replicate the more realistic approach, with jumps being only chargeable for a certain time. Here, you can charge as long as you’d like so long as you at least do it for one second.
These changes, I believe, have to do with another game called SSX. The third game was around the corner when 1080 Avalanche released and it is no surprise it too wanted be as cool and over the top, but it tried so by adapting to both SSX’ and the original 1080’s design. What we got because of this was a mess that could be entertaining, but forgettable due to lacking focus. Though it seems as if the developers might have been troubled as well, as even the characters and boards with different stats barely provide any difference in play as the stages don’t demand any variation or playstyle. This might be why a training-mode is gone, as there is no use for it. Even the actual avalanches are few and are just a more visually intriguing time trial.
Gameplay score: 4/10
This is so cool duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!
You can easily see this was made by a first party studio with full knowledge of the GameCube’s capabilities. Everything looks gorgeous, with great lighting, fantastic weather-effects and a framerate that is solid and high. Each location is different and going from familiar forests with animals running around to a military base and cities full of life, giving each area its own personalities. The different terrains and people on the screen never slow the speed down and it is impressive how the visuals can be so creative and still so beautiful.
Character models are also great and more personal, giving them more unique looks, and details such as how they get covered in snow if they wipe out are great. However, I wish the animation for when they swing around corners and such were more in tune with the real deal. They are too stiff to really make them seem engaged or actually snowboarding, though this can be forgiven when the tricks are entertaining and when you are going through crazy constructions at high speed. Even the menu is a flyer stand, with options being presented with a clipboard. This is incredibly cool, and attention like this is all over the place in the visuals.
The announcer returns from the last game and makes every start and finish sound satisfying, with loses being dampening. Going at a high speed needs a stellar soundtrack, and 1080 got this for sure, though it is interesting how it again is reminiscent of SSX’ with even some artists brought over from that game, such as Finger Eleven. This is luckily not a bad thing, as the soundtrack is fantastic and sets any mood for the high speed you would have. With rock being a highlight, but also giving room for pop and electro, you are definitely going to find something enjoyable to listen to and possibly keep on repeat.
Presentation score: 9/10
So much crazy potential
Since the courses are not very entertaining, it is hard to go back for multiple playthroughs. Time attack will give you more boards, Match will give you costumes, and acquiring trophies will give you more unlockables that I won’t spoil. This is such a tragedy as a lot is over the top and visually entertaining with there being a ton of stuff to acquire, but since it requires you to play at best decent stages and at worst completely unimaginative ones, it is hard to recommend a second playthrough. There is even an ambitious multiplayer match-mode with up to 4 players and LAN-support! Sadly, the problem lies with focus as the rewards are entertaining, but getting them is not interesting, fun, or very challenging. Rather time-consuming if anything. Watching replays is always fun though.
Extra score: 3.5/10
This is such a strange entry. 1080 Avalanche has this odd mix of wanting to compete with SSX by taking inspiration, but also staying true to its original game with complex tricks and straight-forward paths. What they forgot, was to give any aspect a focus. There are more stages, but none are long or engaging despite the occasional clever designs, there are tons of unlockables, but replaying the same stages is not fun due to their limitations, and the controls are very simple, but they expect little in races and demand everything in trick-session. It makes it uneven, but at the very least can provide some interesting entertainment due to the mess it is. Though if you are familiar with any SSX title, you will sorely miss them. If not, the lack of anything solid will make you easily forget this title. Except for the presentation.