The Double-A Team is a feature series honouring the unpretentious, mid-budget, gimmicky commercial action games that no-one seems to make any more.
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When I think of the games I loved during my early teenage years, one entire genre seems to have vanished: extreme sports. Sports with the ‘s’ at the end. I know what you’re thinking: of course, this includes the Tony Hawk series. Yes, Aggressive Inline was completely innovative and awesome thanks to its huge playing areas. And yes, I agree with you that SSX3 remains king of the hill. But absolutely none of them come close to the strange vortex of enthusiasm that is Amped 3.
Amped 3! Your first act here, after being introduced to the cast of the story in a faux retro game, is to control your bunny-suited character downhill and begin the first mission. That mission is to grind your snowboard on a giant hot dog. Then, the personalities of the characters are fleshed out even more through a cut scene involving toy figures and stop-motion video. And this strangeness is just the first fifteen minutes.
Just to give you some background: Microsoft pumped huge amounts of money into making successful sports titles for its original Xbox console, including NBA Inside Drive, the golf sim Links 2004, RalliSport Challenge and Top Spin. The original Amped and its sequel followed the mould by being Serious Games about snowboarding. But once developer Indie Built was spun out, things went wild.
You continue your journey with Wienerboy (yep, that’s his name), Hunter, J Dawg (yep) and Sebastian (also yep) who are saving money for a ski trip in Chile, but then you’re accused of stealing said money. And to make matters worse, while you’re working for a shady marketing company in Utah, there’s news of a comet racing towards the planet. I’m not even going to get into the fictitious Colonotronics Arts games company existing in this wacky world, or J Dawg’s short-lived music career in a boyband whose music contains subliminal messages.
Unique art styles are always a part of this genre, whether it’s the hoverboard heaven of AirBlade or the lo-fi aesthetic in the first Skate game. But here, the kitchen sink is thrown against the wall with full force, repeatedly, with collage, anime and hand puppet cut scenes. And while there’s almost infinite choice in gaming these days thanks to the indie scene, the anything-goes attitude that led to Amped 3 seems to have long gone. I miss it!