Originally seen in Only Single Player:
When last we heard of the SSX crew, it was was way back in 2007, on the Nintendo Wii. The series, long worn out, needed a fresh coat of paint to revitalize it. Now, the gang’s back together in EA’s next-gen reboot of the franchise, simply titled SSX. And boy, is it good.
In order to conquer the nine deadliest descents of the world, Zoe Payne, motocross legend; Mac Fraser, pro-snowboarder; and Tane Mumea, pro-surfer; decide to form SSX (which stands for Snowboarding, Surfing, and Motocross). Recruiting seven other individuals, all coming from distinct extreme sports backgrounds, they plan on taking to the slopes and making history. However, Griff Simmons, a pivotal member of the group, decides to splinter away at the last moment in order to claim the fame and fortune for himself, unfortunately dragging the teams sponsors with him. Now sponsor-less, SSX turns to their fans for help as they broadcast their attempt to conquer the nine deadly descents before Griff does.
Although the bare-bones backstory doesn’t add much to the game and simply serves as padding between events, its influence can be seen in-game. Cutscenes highlight the progress SSX makes on their quest for superiority, and pre-race banter remind the player that the stakes are high. Each character also has an introductory clip, illustrating their backgrounds in comic book panels. Though the characters are pretty generic, the game does a good job of giving them each a personality, seen in their mannerisms and quirks. It’s quite charming.
Where the story lacks, the game makes up for it in spades. SSX’s gameplay, divided between story mode World Tour and challenge mode Explore, is a refreshing take on the classic arcade formula that made the original such a success. Utilizing the face buttons or the right stick, the player could perform cool and explosive tricks that defy gravity as they journey down expansive snowy mountains that are based on real locations, such as the Himalayas and the Rockies. Tricks like basic grabs and spins are easy to do, and with the press of a additional button, they can be modified into a more advanced grab. Linking moves is also possible to increase the score. It’s a system reminiscent of the old Tony Hawk games.
Once enough moves are stringed together into a good combo, players will be granted the Tricky meter, which doubles the points gained, and gives them the ability to use Über Moves, advanced tricks that are pretty cool (not to mention, dangerous!) But it doesn’t end there as by stringing even more tricks, the meter can be raised to a Super tricky status, granting the use of Super Über tricks and Signature Moves, some of the most ridiculous yet awesome looking tricks in a snowboarding game.
Despite sounding a bit complicated on paper, SSX is quite friendly to first-timers. Grinds on rails are automatically performed, and the character will level out and auto-correct itself after spinning and flipping if no buttons are pressed. The game also features a rewind feature, should the player err in the game’s trickier stages. This gives the new players a chance to compete against the more experienced gamers. Additionally, most of the challenges in World Tour can be passed by placing 3rd or higher, cutting the player some slack in more difficult areas.
Not only are the stages large and full of standard SSX fare, such as half-pipes, rails and other grindable debris, each location is host to a thrilling gameplay element that alters the gameplay significantly. For example, in Patagonia, large gaps abound in the racing path, rendering the route uncrossable. To pass it, players need to utilize a wingsuit, complete with its own control system, to glide across the expansive gaps. In Africa, due to the races taking place in a system of large underground tunnels, the player has to utilize a flashlight to navigate the dark, treacherous terrain. Without it, the player would be blind and most likely fall to their death. Gameplay moments like these break up the monotony and provide a exciting thrill that no snowboarding game has provided until now.
Once done with World Tour, the fun doesn’t end. Players can replay stages with the Explore mode, in which they compete to earn medals and points in order to purchase equipment for the characters. Boards, clothing, armor and more can be bought in order to improve stats like speed, tricks, and health and raise the overall survival rate for the more dangerous stages. By racing in order to get new times, scores, and equipment, the replay value of SSX is pretty high.
The only complaints I have about the title are minor. The character introduction cutscenes, which are done in a comic book panel fashion, are some of the ugliest drawings I’ve seen. I understand it’s going for the whole pop vibe, but it clashes with the impressive cutscenes and graphics displayed in-game. I guess they might have been done last minute, but still, they’re pretty bad.
The other problem I had was with the grinding mechanic. During later levels, I would occasionally slip out of a grind for no apparent reason while doing tricks and fall to my death. Maybe I didn’t understand the mechanic too well.
Other than those small problems, SSX is a terrific game, a true return to form. Full of exciting and exhilarating edge-of-your-seat moments that rival the best snowboarding scenes in movies, the adrenaline won’t let up until you’re at the bottom of the mountain, celebrating sweet victory.