Carve Snowboarding has a steep learning curve that’s well worth mastering. Read more in our full Carve Snowboarding Review!
Snowboarding should be hard, right? I mean, I’ve never tried it but I’m pretty sure gluing your feet to a piece of wood and then throwing yourself down a mountain takes some getting used to. Not to mention those tricks. All the twirling and posing – it looks exhausting.
Fitting, then, that Carve Snowboarding is also pretty tough and quite tiring. At least it will be for your first few hours – learning the ropes in Chuhai Labs’ downhill delight is the most challenging part of the experience thanks to an unconventional control scheme that, just like last month’s VR Skater, assigns the movements you’d usually make with your feet to your hands instead. Stick around, though, because the game’s well worth the effort.
It’s a bit of a brain melt at first. You need to stand side-on and keep your arms to either side, just like in the real thing. Each hand basically controls one end of the board, so to steer left you need to point your front hand to the left and then pull your back hand round to the right to line the board up. You might first think you’ve grasped it, but when later levels introduce more twists and turns you’ll probably discover you haven’t. At this point you can turn on a Full Tilt mode which, along with steering, lets you tilt the board with your wrists. It’s an extra step to learn but the added control and intuition really helps in the long run.
Thankfully jumping is much easier – you just need to throw your hands up and you’ll spring into the air. Tricks, meanwhile, take a bit of getting used to. Touch’s grip buttons let you grab the board in one of several positions depending on where they are and twists are done by holding your triggers mid-aid and moving your arms. All thrown in together it’s a little like ballet… for your arms. I’ve played around four or five hours over the past few days and my shoulders are paying the price for it.
Clearly, Carve Snowboarding is a very different beast to the combo-making mastery of console snowboarding and skateboarding games. And so it should be – this is less focused on impossible stunts and more concerned with using VR to simulate the rush of racing downhill, ducking under tree branches and daring yourself to hop into the air and try for an Indie or a Japan Air (terms I had completely forgotten in the 20 years since SSX Tricky).
And it’s really good at replicating all of that. Once you get to grips with the game’s controls, hitting the slopes turns into a real thrill in either the speed-focused Time Attack mode or the point-racking Freestyle option. The former is the simpler of the two, requiring a few runs of a course to find the ideal path and the right board. Each board varies in speed on icier hard snow and the softer, crunchier alternative, whilst they also have different stats for how fast they spin or how well they maintain speed on a landing.
Once on the snow, gliding down the hill feels natural and satisfying. when it works, there’s an elegant flow to weaving between rocks, crouching under a tree branch and then flying into the air off of the end of a grind pipe. Chuhai has some smart tricks for mishaps – go head first into a tree and snow will shoot up into your face, obscuring the screen. It’s a smart way to stop your stomach from lurching forward.
But it’s Freestyle where Carve Snowboarding really shines – you’ll have a few minutes to pull off tricks and keep up multipliers by getting in different grabs and grinding along platforms. It makes for one of VR’s most instantly restartable experiences, heading back up to the top every time you find a new element to work into your sequence. Each of the six levels has diverging paths, huge jumps and narrower, riskier pathways you’ll quickly come to learn like the back of your hand and, with enough practice, start to build a routine around.
Oddly the game doesn’t have any sort of glossary of tricks you can learn but this omission does (perhaps inadvertently) demonstrate the real power of snowboarding in VR – when I needed to learn how to pull off a move like a Squirrel or Cross Rocket I just watched it being done in real life on YouTube. Then I went back and imitated it in the game. Just the fact that this is a viable way to learn how to play the game proves Chuhai Labs is doing something right.
Fun as this can be, it also showcases the game’s messier side. Without the tactile context of really feeling your board, it’s hard to know exactly where your hand will grip, especially when moving your hand also moves the board. This makes pulling off specific moves something of a juggling act. Fortunately, the game isn’t too punishing; it’s easy to get up to the biggest multiplier by alternating a few tricks and then keeping it going with small hops between bigger jumps and grinds. You won’t be punished for small bumps into the side, either.
Six levels, meanwhile, might not sound like much but Carve gets good mileage out of them. You’ll need to earn five medals in each to unlock the next course which means getting at least a gold medal in either one of the Time Attack or Freestyle modes. Along with boards you can also unlock new gloves and music tracks and, yes, there’s a cozy cabin where you can pet a dog. Need I say more?
Carve Snowboarding Review – Final Impressions
Carve Snowboarding has a steep learning curve that’s well worth mastering, even if it never completely covers up its messy side. Fight through its unusual control scheme and you’ll find a game that captures the thrilling elegance of its real-life counterpart in a way flatscreen games have never quite managed. It doesn’t have the precision of classic snowboarding games and it’ll tie your mind in knots at times but, once you’ve experienced the rush of Carve’s downhill stunts, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Carve Snowboarding review? Let us know in the comments below!