I didn’t think my first time snowboarding would happen in the middle of the summer when it’s over 100°F outside in the Central Valley of Northern California, but here I am rocketing down the slope of a snowy mountain with the wind in my face. Naturally, the mountain, powdery white snow, and the board beneath my feet are all virtual inside my Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, but the wind is real thanks to the fan pointed at my face.
This digital staycation is happening thanks to Carve Snowboarding, a new arcade-style snowboarding VR game developed by Chuhai Labs that just released last week for the Quest Platform. Giles Goddard, the creator of the classic Nintendo 64 game 1080° Snowboarding, helped create Carve and has injected a nostalgic sense of action and excitement to really bring it to life. You can read our Q&A with Goddard right here.
This isn’t a simulation experience, as the developers are instead aiming to offer something that’s fun to just hop in and play for a bit, or to even dig into as a competitive challenge against friends on the leaderboards. Courses have various objectives to complete based on either timed completion marks or reaching a high enough score, so there’s a natural incentive to replay courses as you get more experienced and acquire better gear like new boards. If you think back to what made classic snowboarding games like 1080°, SSX, Coolboarders, and so many others popular before the dawn of VR, it usually boiled down to the constant, intense sense of speed and high-flying tricks. You probably won’t be pulling off any triple backflips in Carve, but it absolutely nails the thrilling speed and intensity borrowed from the games that inspired it.
As I continue down the mountain, everything feels very natural. I stood perfectly still in one spot and turned my head to the side with arms outstretched from my waist to simulate balancing — just like I would on an actual snowboard. Or, at least, that’s what I imagine I would do if it were a real snowboard.
I didn’t have to bend my knees and sway my body in real life, but I did anyway. The board is technically controlled just by my hands, but I found that it helped increase immersion and offered more control if I leaned my knees and upper body to mimic my hand movements. What feels exaggerated at first becomes a key part to the experience as a whole. Using this method I lean back and rotate my hips forward to slow down when approaching curves and bank from side-to-side through the snow as I weave between rocks and trees.
In non-VR snowboarding and skateboarding games I find myself doing tricks instinctively as I progress through levels to fill time and create my own fun, but in Carve it takes almost all of my focus and concentration to just not wreck and ruin my time — that’s why I’m grateful score-based objectives are separate from time trial challenges. After running a few Time Trial courses, diving into the trick-based Freestyle modes is when things start to truly open up. To perform tricks I use my hands as well, but it requires a bit more finesse.
Grabbing the board for a rotation requires holding down a trigger button and thrusting my hand in the direction I want to spin, while a grab-based trick requires holding the grip button at different points on the board. Jumping is simple enough too; all I have to do is reach my hands up in the air and the board lifts off the powder as well. All of the ingredients are fairly simple, but there are enough of them (crucially with enough nuance) so that when they’re all added together there’s more than 100 different tricks combined. And figuring them all out is a huge chunk of what makes Carve so satisfying.
Blazing down the side of a mountain and erupting off the edge of a cliff into the air while reaching down for my board, slowly spinning 360° just before landing was an incredible feeling unlike anything I’ve tried in VR to date. I even got that weightless feeling in my stomach, the sensation that my gut was dropping out of my body onto the floor like when a rollercoaster begins its descent, and I started to crave triggering it again and again. Replaying courses and trying to hit rails for even faster grinds or trying to launch off of cliffs for even farther jumps became incredibly addictive. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about breaking my legs with this type of snowboarding.
When I’m done jacking up the adrenaline in my body, I take a break back in my virtual cabin. It serves as a cozy hub area where I can cycle through my various boards, different gloves, browse courses, and just walk around indoors. I’ve even got an adorable canine companion waiting for pets and head scratches on the bed, fully completing the snowboarding fantasy life of my dreams.
All six of the courses offer tons of branching paths, so I can explore the mountains differently through each run as I attempt to uncover the quickest routes. It’s a thrilling demonstration of VR’s power and immersion that I can’t wait to get back to.
Carve Snowboarding is out now on the Oculus Quest platform for $19.99 USD.