Critics who describe a work as a love letter to something else have obviously never written a love letter. Real love letters are written by people so ruined by an oxytocin-soaked brain that they’re compelled to pick up a quill and rattle off paragraph after paragraph of rambling, horny nonsense, a hot stream of unalloyed adoration that is destined to one day be read aloud in a grave voice by the host of a mid-tier crime podcast.
Shredders is an actual love letter to snowboarding. It might have been coded using cut up letters from magazines. It is a pure, geeky, effusive veneration of the sport and its players, and so sincere about its passion for going down the side of a mountain on a long bit of wood that it occasionally verges on embarrassing. You’ve heard of dancing like nobody's watching, now get ready for a game about snowboarding made as though nobody will ever play it.
The indie team behind Shredders, FoamPunch, understand that plain simulation is not the highest form of flattery. Whereas skateboarding sim Session aspired to make doing a kickflip using a thumbstick about as difficult as it is in reality, Shredders doesn’t punish uninitiated fans with complex controls and fiddly knuckle contortions. Instead it’s about the snowboarding vibe, allowing anyone who can wrap their fingers around a controller to experience the flow state sensation of linking together little jumps and flips.
A Forza Horizon style rewind button lets you turn back time by a few seconds when you flub a trick too, meaning you never have to suffer the indignity of eating snow or fatally ploughing into a ski lift. The trick system is cleverly designed around a few basic inputs, which combine with one another to form more impressive stunts. Your right trigger primes you for a jump. Tilting either thumbstick twists your riders’ body like a big human spring, ready to be released at the crest of a ramp and send you pirouetting about.
Once airborne you have a slightly magical degree of control over your momentum, giving you just enough time to correctly orientate yourself so that you land on your board rather than on your face, and ample opportunity to initiate grabs or do that one cool trick where you sort of arch your back like a yoga instructor and grab hold of the snowboard like it’s a toilet seat. You know the one. It’s the snowboarding trick from the box art of every snowboarding game ever made.
If you don’t know the names of any of the snowboarding tricks, then expect to be totally baffled by one of Shredders’ main draws for fans of the sport. Missions and events are built around a series of guest appearances by famous real world snowboarders, with names like Arthur Longo and the Gimbal God, who are each awkwardly voiced by their actual human counterparts.
Presumably, if you know who these people are, carving through powder snow alongside your sporting idols as they shout encouraging things like “sick” and “cool” and “let’s do tricks on our snowboards, friend” is a dreamlike thrill. But these are not professional voice actors – sliding down a mountain on a plank and reading lines like a normal human being are apparently not transferable skills – and so cutscenes in Shredders play out with all the charisma and charm of a hostage ransom video. A celebrity rider will successfully land a backside rodeo 540 and grind for half a mile along a frozen pipe, before mumbling “hooray” with the enthusiasm of somebody who’s just filed their tax return.
Your main riding companions are a duo of thrill-seeking YouTubers, whose wacky childish energy and fourth wall breaking jokes are genuinely hard to sit through. It’s nice to see them trying to inject a bit of fun into what would otherwise be a dry sequence of snowboarding events, and I do wish these cutscenes didn’t fill me with a visceral sense of revulsion, but any time anybody is speaking in Shredders you are receiving a form psychic damage.
Thankfully, things are less chatty out on the slopes. Shredders is a semi open world boarding game set across several big frozen mountains, with a varied set of missions including trick runs and time trials, each with generous win conditions and bonus objectives to go back and try to unlock later. Your rewards are an ever-expanding wardrobe of branded clothing and licensed gear, cosmetic improvements that feel like scant encouragement to replay old missions, but hold some appeal for anyone who’s particularly motivated by candy-coloured wraparound goggles.
There’s surprising variety in the missions too. As well as your basic stunt runs you’ve got more interesting staged events, such as a downhill race against a speeding van, or a risky off-piste line through some densely packed factory buildings. The game tries to be as frictionless as possible inside and outside of these events too. Restarting a mission is near-instant, and at any time you can summon a snowmobile to drag you uphill, or use the in-game menu to teleport to the beginning of any event in the open world.
Shredders is at its most enjoyable when it’s not getting in its own way with zany goofball oddness. It deftly captures the sensation of carving neat lines through alpine forests and zooming across vast immaculate hillsides, that incredible feeling when the scissors start to glide through the wrapping paper. It has problems that hold it back from being a better game – gruelling cutscenes, impenetrable menu screens, some glitchy physics surprises – but Shredders is an endearingly sincere and uncynical homage to snowboarding.