[28 February 2010]
When I reviewed Stoked in February of last year, I certainly didn’t expect another Stoked title so soon. That’s not to say that it didn’t warrant another appearance. Rather, Stoked struck me as a game that was a solid first effort, but one that was missing qualities that might make it truly stand out. It seemed to me to be a title with which there was plenty of fun to be had, but one that also had plenty of room for improvement. In more ways than one, in fact, it reminded me of Skate, a game I enjoyed enough upon its release to hope that the developers would get a chance to work on a sequel, simply because it seemed as though feedback from the first title might set the stage for a marked improvement in their second go round.
As far as Stoked was concerned, I had frankly chalked up the possibility of seeing another title in the series to its performance at retail. While I felt that there was enough promise for a franchise, I wasn’t sure there would be enough interest from gamers. So, I was certainly surprised when I heard about Stoked: Big Air Edition, which arrived roughly nine months after the original. Given the short turnaround time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Big Air Edition is not a full on sequel but rather an expanded edition. In this day and age of downloadable content, it’s frankly puzzling that the decision was made to put out another physical title, particularly given that the original Stoked was already budget priced. The choice of producing another physical product is even more surprising given the nature of the additional material.
For example, as a fan of Left 4 Dead, I was among the many upset when a sequel was announced so soon after the original. It felt for a time like Valve, a company I hold in high regard, was making a quick cash in and going back on promises of support for the original title. There seemed to be no reason to me that Valve couldn’t have a series of DLC packs that would enhance the original, as opposed to asking gamers to fork over the cost for another full title so soon. But once I actually played Left 4 Dead 2, I saw how much additional material and polish had been added, and grew quickly to prefer it over the original. Moreover, it became clear that there had been enough changes to warrant an actual, physical sequel, as opposed to downloadable add-ons. What Left 4 Dead and Stoked have in common are that the second titles in each franchise really amount to what the originals should have been to begin with. But Bongfish and Destineer haven’t had to defend Big Air Edition as much as Valve did with Left 4 Dead 2, partially because there isn’t nearly the fanbase for Stoked but also because they presented Big Air Edition as an expanded edition, not as a brand new title.
But this expanded treatment is is normally reserved for instant classics. It’s the kind of move that makes sense for a title that’s a massive hit but that those new to a console might have missed. It also seems appropriate for titles that have seen a lot of incremental updates to be repackaged as a complete edition. However, Stoked (enjoyable though it is) clearly isn’t in either of these categories. More importantly, regardless of any considerations as to why Big Air Edition exists from a business standpoint, the reality is that while Big Air technically contains more content than the original Stoked, it doesn’t really do much to address Stoked’s overwhelming sense of aimlessness, arguably its most fundamental flaw.
In the context of these issues, it seems very difficult to assess Big Air Edition on its own merits. Although this is clearly a better overall game than the original Stoked, it essentially serves as a mulligan, and as such, part of me is not sure that it necessarily warrants a higher score. It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with either Stoked or Big Air Edition. But conversely, there’s very little, if anything, that either game does spectacularly. Big Air Edition does attempt to improve on its predecessor, and it does so as best it can without a major overhaul. While it contains tweaks to physics, somewhat more polished graphical elements, and other nominal changes, the biggest enhancement to Big Air Edition is arguably the inclusion of two additional mountains. Ironically, though, it’s exactly this kind of expansion (one predicated largely on real estate) that seems so appropriate for the downloadable content model. It’s conceivable that Stoked’s long term success as a brand might well have been aided more by a legitimate sequel, one that was developed from the ground up.
Die-hard Stoked fans may well find enough to like about Big Air Edition to trade in their copies of the original. Those that had an interest in Stoked but didn’t pick it up for whatever reason certainly have a more compelling reason to check it out this time around. Further, the increased exposure that this release may provide could well grant Destineer and Bongfish the opportunity to do a legitimate sequel. By that measure, regardless of the business decisions that led to its release, Big Air Edition is somewhat successful.