Reviewed: July 21, 2002
Type: FreeStyler Board
I’ve been using ThrustMaster controllers since 1990, and over the past 12 years I have owned and used just about every single wheel, joystick, gamepad, weapons control system, and yes; even those famous pinball paddle buttons that attached to your keyboard. Those clever designers at ThrustMaster always seem to find that niche gaming market and create the perfect controller. Last year we saw the release of the PS2 version of the FreeStyler Board, so it was not a huge surprise when they released this new and improved version for the Xbox.
Snowboarding and skateboard games have descended upon the gaming world like a plague of locusts. These games range from hardcore sims to the crazier trick games with insane speeds and mad air. If you have played any of these games then you may have secretly envisioned yourself on the slopes, in the skate park, or catching the big waves off the coast of Hawaii while feverishly mashing the buttons and tweaking those control sticks on the Xbox controller. The FreeStyler Board gets you that much close to this dream.
Here are some FreeStyler features:
Since the board only serves as a directional controller you will need to use the handy palm-controller for the rest of the buttons. This small device resembles a TV remote and fits into your palm giving you easy access to all the buttons found on your regular Dual Shock plus a 4-way D-pad. This controller has been totally redesigned with a new shape and button placement making it much more functional than the teardrop shaped controller that came with the PS2 version. Unlike the PS2 version however, there is no place to plug in a standard controller, so you are forced to use the remote whether you like it or not.
Installation is a snap and consists of opening the box and plugging the cord into your Xbox. There’s nothing special required to make this controller work with any Xbox game that would benefit from such a controller. There is a switch on the bottom that toggles Gamepad/Board mode. None of the games I had supported this controller in the "board mode" - in fact, I'm not sure if any have been made yet that do. I tested the FreeStyler with several games in my library and here are the results.
Amped was the first game I tested. This game is perhaps one of the hardest (or at least most realistic) snowboarding games out there right now and required much more precise control than the FreeStyler was capable of delivering. It's fairly fun just doing free runs down the mountain but when you start going for tricks and photo ops, you are going to fall back to the standard controller.
Dark Summit is more of an arcade snowboarding game. The tricks are not as difficult to pull off and I was able to do several complete runs with the FreeStyler. But when the tricks and challenges started getting longer and harder once again the board just didn't offer the full range of control or precision required to play this game and do well at it.
Tony Hawk 3 is the definitive skateboarding game on any system, and using a board controller would seem like the obvious next step in putting the gamer into the game. I had tried the PS2 version of this game with the PS2 version of the board and didn't have much luck, but the Xbox board seemed to peform better for some unknown reason. Despite this added level of control it still wasn’t precise enough to pull off the harder "sick" tricks required for the career mode. The board does a good job of turning your rider and an amazing job of allowing you to balance rail grinds for days (and mad grind points), The analog foot buttons really don't allow for the level of control required for performing and maintaining “manuals” (riding on front or rear wheels only) for any length of time - something that is key to linking large chains of trick combos.
Transworld Surf was the final game I had that was suited to the FreeStyler, and while this is my least favorite of all the games I tested, it turned out to be the most fun. Surfing by nature is more suited to the left/right tilt of the board and there aren’t that many button commands used during gameplay other than to tweak some tricks. This allowed me to use the palm-controller, which combined with the board to make the perfect surfing experience.
When it comes down to deciding to purchase this controller you simply have to ask yourself how many games do you own (or plan on owning) that will make good use of it. There are plenty of games available that will “use” it, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will play better or add any enjoyment. In most all of my tests the controller simply added additional awkwardness to some already-difficult games. Perhaps I was too used to playing with the standard controller, but for me it was like learning to type with my toes.
At $80, this controller is a major purchase; so make sure you have at least a few games that will support it and the patience to relearn the gameplay mechanics. Expect a steep learning curve, but if you stick with it the extra level of immersion may just be worth it.