Getting tricky one more time
Oh EA Sports Big, how we miss you. Once the home of some of the best extreme sports games like SSX, NBA Street and Def Jam Vendetta, the label zeroed in on our need for over-the-top, hardcore sporting madness.
More than any of the others, the SSX series has been giving gamers a rush since its introduction in 2000 as a launch title for the PS2. The feeling of jumping on a snowboard and carving a path down a mountain, pulling off sick tricks, building up boost, and leaving competitors in cloud of powder.
The revamped SSX marks the first series entry since mediocre SSX Blur in 2007, and though EA has dropped the Big from the label, all of the zany action and death-defying trickery is intact.
Gone, however, is the old sense of whimsy that used to envelope SSX. This SSX focuses on the massive mountains, severe obstacles, and a sense of speed so blistering your eyes will water. A silly story has been draped across the single-player campaign, involving the SSX Team’s desire to conquer the world’s Nine Deadliest Descents. And your chief rival is former team member Griff Simmons, who aims to conquer these slopes before the rest of the team.
The story is completely unnecessary, but doesn’t really get in the way of things either. It does provide an excuse to introduce you to the different playable characters and experience what they have to offer. The single-player campaign is short, clocking in at 6-8 hours depending on your skill, and during that time you will visit all nine mountains housing SSX’s many challenges.
The challenges come in three flavors: “Race It,” “Trick It,” and “Survive It.” The first two will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played an SSX game. During races players earn boost for successfully executed tricks, helpful for flying by the competition. Trick runs are all about getting the highest score, so it’s crucial to link tricks into crazy combos while trying to keep your board from sliding off the mountain.
Survive It shows off the darker side of the new SSX. Here the goal is get down the mountain in once piece. Many of the runs require specific gear such as armor so you can survive longer bouncing off trees or oxygen to counter the effects of the extreme altitudes. Mostly, though, these runs are all about timing and the ability to memorize the courses. You’ll have to find the right lines and avoid the obstacles to emerge at the bottom intact. Sometimes this becomes more frustrating than fun, and if the game didn’t play so smoothly, it would kill it entirely.
Even the addition of limited rewind capabilities, though nice to save your butt when it accidentally falls off a mountain, don’t really solve this problem. And the wingsuit won’t save you if you don’t have a place to land.
Luckily, the controls – whether you opt for dual-stick or button configurations – feel natural and with a little practice fans will be flying through combos like Shaun White (don’t get cocky, you still don’t have his awesome hair or bank account). You can even choose the classic SSX controls, though compared to the new options they feel clunky.
Grinding comes a little too easy and once you’ve attached yourself to a rail only the finger of God can dislodge you. It’s nice for linking tricks, but doesn’t challenge the way the rest of the game does. The same goes for executing uber tricks, which require little skill. Perhaps the developers could have added a difficulty setting for such things so those looking for a greater challenge could have turned these artificial aids off.
The graphics shine with amazing detail around every bend and bank, and some of the un-natural obstacles are truly inspired, including plane and train wrecks to grind off and board through.
And, as fans would expect, the soundtrack rocks with great tracks both new and old, even including such hot acts as Foster the People, and an inspired remix of Run DMC’s classic “It’s Tricky.”
The one area though where SSX stumbles is the multiplayer.
Global Events allow a near unlimited number of players to compete in an ongoing series of events. Leaders appear as ghosts, and as such you’ll always have someone to compete against. You can actively track where your friends stats are and strive to beat them as well. But none of this makes up for the lack of head-to-head competition. Being able to compete on your couch (via split-screen) or online while trash talking with your buddies is a sports game essential and is sorely missed.
Still, this generation has missed having a game like SSX in the mix. Fans will appreciate the care and quality that has gone into the game, and if enough copies are sold perhaps we’ll see those missing elements found in the next installment.
SUMMARY: SSX marks the return of the best snowboarding series ever. Players will travel the world, speeding down some of the most treacherous slopes to ever be imagined. Only the limited multiplayer options keep this one from reaching the upper echelon of sports games. With glass-smooth controls, outstanding visuals and a jammin’ soundtrack, this is a reboot worth giving a shot.
- THE GOOD: Once you’re used to the controls they become an extension of your hand
- THE BAD: Sometimes I just want to race down a mountain with a friend. Why can’t I?
- THE UGLY: Pulling off a sick combo, landing, and then realizing that you just fell off a cliff
SSX is available on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.