The most realistic surfing game I’ve ever played… but is that a good thing?
Note: I have been informed that an update is on the way that addresses about 90% of the issues I had with this game during the review playthrough. This includes iPhone 4 retina support, maneuvers in the pause menu, better surfer animations, and others. I have scored the game based on my assumptions of these improvements, but I may change the score when the actual update is released if I feel the changes in the update (or lack thereof) effect the game significantly.
Let me clarify that when I use the term “realistic”, I’m thinking of this game in relations to past surf games. Some of the original surfing video games like California Extreme (which I own for the Sega Genesis) were pretty much jokes. When consoles were able to pump out better graphics, games like Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfing and Transworld Surf did to surfing
what the Tony Hawk series of games did to skateboarding. That is, ridiculous physics, impossibly crazy tricks, and no real consideration for little things like the surf and the board.
Every trick you see in Billabong Surf Trip, while slightly exaggerated at times, can be done in real life.
That’s right, I YouTubed every single trick, and was completely blown away. “A kickflip on a surfboard!? PSH, yeah right,” I thought. I then stumbled over this video, and proceeded to crap my board shorts. That’s right, kids, backflips, air reversals, alley-oops, and all sorts of other awesome tricks that can be done in Surf Trip, are all completely legit. While they may be just slightly easier to perform on an iPhone than on a real wave, they’re still quite satisfying to pull off in BSF.
All the tricks, or “maneuvers”, as they’re referred to by the pros, are done using two on-screen joysticks. The left joystick is used for movement, and the right joystick is strictly for performing the various maneuvers in the game. Most of the joystick combinations make logical sense. For instance, to perform a “Superman”, you have to push both joysticks up as you approach the top of the wave. To do a “floater 360″, you have to hold left or right as you’re floating (basically grinding) on top of a wave to spin around. The type of trick you do depends on what level your energy meter is at. This slowly fills up as you ride waves and pull off maneuvers. There are three levels, and you perform tricks within those tiers with the various joystick combos. The energy will stay up until you bail, when it completely drains. This will be frustrating at first, until you learn how to ride the different types of waves. After about an hour of playing, I was flying through some of the easier beaches, maintaining full energy the entire time.
One issue I had (that’s being fixed in the update) is the inability to access the trick combos on the fly from the pause menu. You also aren’t informed of the new tricks you learn until you’re on the beach and are required to perform them. You learn
various new maneuvers with each beach you clear, which is done by performing a certain set of maneuvers within a one minute time limit. This seems crazy, but time stops counting down when you catch a wave, which is quite often thanks to the handy arrow at the top of the screen that teleports you to the next best wave when you tap it. You can manually swim out from the shore if you want a more realistic experience. That works just fine, but I would only recommend using it in free play mode, which lets you surf with no restrictions or goals. I was very happy to see free play mode, as it wasn’t in the original build I played, and something I mentioned in my preview of the game. It’s a lot of fun to just chill on the waves and see how many tricks you can pull off before the wave reaches the beach.
So how about those waves? They’re impressive, and not just for an iDevice. Recent console surfing games obviously have better looking water effects and waves due to better hardware, but the waves in this game are quite a bit more scary. The dynamics of each wave are different based on location, and no single wave is the same. Waves in Huntington beach are mild and can bee seen a long ways off. Waves in Tahiti are HUGE and will completely PWN you if you’re not prepared. There were certainly visual glitches here and there after getting tossed by a wave, but overall the wave animations are great. I got to the point where I started “reading” waves to find out where the pipeline would appear, or to plan how much time I had before the wave started to crest and collapse.
One of the other realistic aspects of Billabong Surf Trip is the in-game store. Using the game’s currency, “mondos”, you can buy wetsuits, clothes, and a variety of surf boards. The type of surfboard you choose for the various beaches has a huge
impact on how well you perform in the waves. For instance, using a shorter board requires you to paddle forward much harder before a wave picks you up, and often times by then you’re getting shacked by a huge tube wave. Longer, wider boards pick up a wave easily, but aren’t as maneuverable. What you wear matters as well. If you go out in shorts while surfing Jeffrey’s Bay (South Africa), you tend to fall a lot more, as you are technically freezing your balls off.
So waves, boards, and surf wear all matter in BST. The problem is, none of this is explained in the game at all. Biodroid mentioned that they will be releasing a new tutorial in their upcoming update, but I can’t be sure that will address this problem. While the boards and clothing have basic descriptions, it’s never made obvious that they will have any effect on gameplay. Most of the stuff I knew while playing came from actual surfing experience during my 1-year college stint in Santa Cruz, CA. I was expecting the real pro surfers that are featured in the game to teach you about this stuff, but they play a very minimal role in the game.
Unfortunately, the lack of helpful information adds on to an already difficult game. That’s right, like real surfing, you will suck pretty hard for a good number of trips to the beach. There is definitely a learning curve to the game. However, once you get past it, pulling off maneuvers and carving through tubes is surprisingly satisfying. If you played the game and were frustrated in the first 30 minutes of playing it, stick to it! If the on-screen joysticks aren’t your thing, you can change the controls to tilt, which is always used to navigate through pipelines either way. You will still need to use joysticks for maneuvers though.
On a final note, it bears mentioning that the career mode in BST is extremely weak. Go to a beach, perform the 3-4 required tricks, unlock the next beach, repeat. Sure, you gain cash to buy new gear, but what’s available is pretty limited. It feels
more like a tool used to unlock all the beaches to eventually just play them in free or timed mode. Sure, the game is more about surfing than story, but it was certainly a disappointment. I was hoping to be able to surf with the pros, or compete in actual competitions. Perhaps the ability to go out during different tides or times of day could have added some flavor. Instead, it’s just a pro telling to do some tricks at each beach, and that’s it. Different surf at different tides? Maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but I feel like a lot more could have been done with the main “urf trip” experience, especially considering it’s named after the title of the game.
Billabong Surf Trip is a fantastic surfing game that features realistic wave mechanics and maneuvers that can actually be performed in real life. There are plenty of issues, such as finicky menus, lack of an in-game options menu, random wave/graphical glitches, and a weak career mode. That said, once you learn to read the waves and perform the various maneuvers, it’s amazingly fun and satisfying to sit down and just… surf. While the online features are limited to high scores, the free surf mode adds some no-pressure replay value, and Biodroid has promised a nice flow of new beaches in future free updates. This may be the biggest surprise of 2010 for me, as I don’t tend to expect much from a branded title. I think that most people who give BST a chance will be surprised as well.