Games about surfing are rare indeed, but it’s a sport that can be gamified to success, something Surf World Series proves wonderfully. It’s not the most feature rich experience but it captures the atmosphere and excitement of the real world sport and makes it fun and accessible.
Surf World Series begins with a comprehensive tutorial for its mechanics and controls, and it proves intuitive and well designed. Riding waves is easy, as are performing tricks, the difficulty comes into play with chaining these tricks together into combos and maintaining speed. Indeed, these two elements work in tandem; without good speed you’ll struggle to gain enough air at the top of the wave to perform a trick without wiping out, meanwhile, the window to chain together tricks to form combos is narrow enough to rush you. It means you can very easily make a mistake, and that very much plays into the risk/reward of combo making that makes Surf World Series so intense and exciting.
Figuring out how to ride the wave to best build up and maintain speed, all the while dodging less stable parts of the wave and the crashing water, is a key skill that can take some practice to master. When it does all come together it’s splendidly satisfying and encourages you to take greater risks for greater score rewards. This becomes the primary game loop, limited by how long you can resist wiping out on free surf and time limits in the challenge campaign.
Those two modes make up the entirety of the singleplayer content, with no career to speak of and only the timed challenges, at increasing difficulties and across a variety of different beaches, providing anything resembling a tracked objective. It’s fun either way; the free mode allows you to experiment with the controls and learn reading the waves better, and the challenges live up to their name and soon require mastery to be completed. It’s a bit of a harsh difficulty curve but the experience feels responsive and intuitive enough to inspire hope of overcoming it.
Online multiplayer is also available but the three modes essentially boil down to the same score competition. Like the singleplayer component, it’s an arcade set of physics set on a realistic competitive stage, so score beating is the order of the day and the height of a jump can be pretty gravity defying, alongside some generous landing angles that in the real sport would definitely cause a wipe out. It’s a good balance but more modes would be appreciated.
What is impressively comprehensive is the board and outfit customisation options. More shirts, shorts, wet suits and boards are unlocked as you play and you’re free to customise their patterns and colours to a great degree of freedom, and can even adding some beat lighting to your board. It’s a great feature that builds on the already terrific sense of immersion.
The excellent sound design of flowing and crashing water, well implemented slowdown when performing tricks, a strong camera setup and excellent water visuals all do a great job of selling the ocean environment. Moreover, each location has a very different aesthetic and lighting, making them feel unique. Meanwhile, appropriate music helps pull you in further. It’s not the most visually impressive title out there by a long shot, but it’s smartly designed to keep you focused on the best parts: the water and surfer animations, allowing the background elements to be largely ignored.
Surf World Series does a great job adapting surfing to video games. The feeling of pulling off tricks on the intractable waves of the ocean is a great sensation, thanks to strong controls and mechanics. It does get a little repetitive, something more modes could help alleviate, but there’s no question that this is a well-designed and highly enjoyable title.
Thanks to Xbox and Climax Studios for supporting TiX