Now here’s a genre that has subsided as the cost of video game development has risen. Thinking back to the period that this game was released, both Microsoft and Nintendo had first party snowboarding games, while Sony had the original SSX exclusively, not to mention a few other third-party snowboarding games. This period also saw the bubble of extreme sports video games, which we don’t see as often anymore. I haven’t played Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding, but I recall it (and its predecessors) being well received. A quick scan of its Wikipedia page reveals that it made use of the Xbox’s built-in hard drive. It allowed for entire mountains to be played on (instead of single courses as in SSX or 1080°) and the ability to create custom soundtracks. I’ve always enjoyed this style of game and look forward to playing Microsoft’s answer to the genre.
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding was developed by Indie Built. The studio had a long history dating back to the early days of commercial PC video games (then known as Access Software), and are perhaps most known for their Tex Murphy or Links series’ of games. This was a launch title for the Xbox, releasing November 19, 2001 in the U.S. Microsoft purchased the studio in 1999, and thus published this game under their Microsoft Game Studios label.
When the failed heist of a treasury plane leaves John Lithgow and his group of robbers abandoned in the Rocky Mountains, they force rescuer/mountain climber Sylvester Stallone to locate the lost suitcases of money and get them out alive. This introduction is what one gleams after watching the ten or so minutes of low-quality, grainy footage that sets the stage for the first level of the Sega CD video game based off of the 1993 film, Cliffhanger. Developed by Malibu Interactive and published by Sony Imagesoft, Cliffhanger features awful beat ‘em gameplay interspersed with fast-paced 3D snowboarding and dire video clips.
After locating one of the lost suitcases, Stallone is on his own as he proceeds to traverse and scale peaks that contain way more enemies than one was lead to believe was with Lithgow. The beat ‘em up gameplay that ensues is awful. The stages are full of banal action that manages to be infuriatingly cheap. Stallone moves like a child with a dozer load in his diaper and after every hit he takes, he collapses onto his batch of brownies. This Stallone is not the Rocky who can take the hits, and deal them out with more determination and intensity than his foes. Thankfully, the enemies also can’t take a beating and are out cold after two or three hits. But when it comes to scaling cliffs, don’t even bother. Resting on perches are snipers who can’t be touched, so don’t worry, Stallone’s just going to have to man up and take a few bullets. The lives will be lost and continues will be used – thankfully the game doles out a combined twenty-one chances to outwit Lithgow, but you’re gonna blow through them on the snowboarding sections.
When he’s not killing thugs with his bare hands (or wussing out by using a knife or gun), he’s hitting the slopes and getting his daredevil thrills by outrunning avalanches. How Stallone can go from falling on his ass to outrunning avalanches is a weird disparity in pacing. These stages of the game are quasi-3D with Stallone shredding into the screen while dodging boulders and bushes. Speaking of infuriatingly cheap, it was one of these stages that I rage quit and decided I could spend my time better. Still, the fast-paced gameplay of the snowboarding sections was the complete opposite of the worthless beat ‘em sections and for that, I almost enjoyed it.
Cliffhanger’s beat ‘em up gameplay pales in comparison to the titans of the genre and its snowboarding sections are a thrill, but too long for their own good. The soundtrack was ridiculously clear, but I don’t care. The best part of Cliffhanger was the twenty minutes of malodorous video, and that’s saying something.