SSX used to mean Snowboard Super Cross. SSX used to be about huge air and wild tricks. It used to be about racing, tricking and battering your opponents downhill. SSX used to be about over the top sports action and impossible feats of alpine artistry.
EA’s reboot, when initially unveiled, worried some fans with its move towards realism and its focus on survival and peril. Does SSX remain that unbridled, joyous game we loved ten years ago or has the attempt to update it for a new decade and a much more powerful generation of consoles left the spirit of the game back at the chalet?
More air than a Nike factory.
Essentially, it’s a vanity project for a team of extreme sports nuts, out to prove that they can do it. One of the former team members, Griff, has gone rogue and is now trying to beat “Team SSX” to their stated goal of taming the world’s nine most deadly descents. SSX now stands for “Snowboard, Surfing and Motocross” as those disciplines provide the history of the characters who make up the team.
It’s a mix of high-score tricking, racing and surviving dangerous slopes as you earn experience, unlock equipment and ultimately live through descending each peak before moving on to the next one. Griff has a head start on your team so you’re encouraged to learn quickly and catch up as you build towards the inevitable showdowns.
The game is slightly more rooted in reality than elements of its predecessors but that’s not to say we’ve got a snowboarding simulation on our hands. SSX is still about crazy grinds, impossible tricks and insane air. There’s no Tokyo Megaplex, with its pinball table elements but grinding the roof of Siberian factories, dodging aeroplane wreckage, lava pits and tricking over freight trains is still a long way from realism.
The gameplay, while not identical to earlier games, is solid. There are multiple control mechanisms so you can choose between buttons or the right stick to perform your tricks. I never felt completely in control using the stick scheme but the standard button layout was perfectly usable. The classic control scheme is for those who want something more similar to the old style of SSX controls, with shoulder buttons used for trick combos.
You can even trick off your support helicopter, if you get big air at just the right moment.
Races are slightly less straightforward because you’ll still need to pull off tricks in order to build up your boost but that need has to be balanced with a direct line downhill.
Keeping a trick combo going, with multiple tricks and grinds, will build up a Tricky meter which allows for unlimited boost as long as it’s lit. It also modifies the tricks you have available so that you can perform bigger tricks and different ones, further maximising the potential for a big score.
Everything is balanced extremely well, although there is the odd difficulty spike that causes a bit of frustration as you have to repeat events and build experience points in order to unlock better equipment to succeed.
The “Deadly Descents” act as final stages to each mountain meeting of the story mode, almost like an end-level boss. In these stages, the goal is survival. You will be boarding down a dangerous mountain with some risk mechanic thrown in to hinder you.
For example, the first descent has fallen trees that you need to jump as you go, crashing into them depletes your armour and eventually your health. Gaining enough experience points to unlock suitable equipment on your way to unlocking these final stages is key and will call for some event repetition but that’s no bad thing.
I’m not new to this, though.
Each descent in each event is unique because of the multiple routes and the opposing AI so there’s a good chance you’ll actually want to repeat an event multiple times, even before considering the high score bragging rights.
Without any traditional multiplayer matchmaking, this kind of competitive element is really taking on the task of increasing the game’s longevity. The RiderNet works like SSX’s version of the Autolog from the most recent Need for Speed games, constantly updating with your friend’s times and scores and encouraging you to compete.
There is an option to build games with invited guests too, which seems likely to offer a more traditional multiplayer experience but will require a group of likeminded people on your friends list.
The game looks and sounds fantastic, with glistening snowscapes and well animated character models all working along to a great soundtrack which actually remixes live in reaction to your in-game actions. A particular highlight, amidst the easy listening indie rock, drum & bass and dubstep is the remix of Run DMC’s It’s Tricky that plays when you fill your Tricky meter.
It’s a nice tip of the hat for old fans but with a modern twist — much like the rest of this exhilarating game.
- Looks and sounds fantastic.
- Exciting gameplay and intuitive controls.
- There’s plenty to do, with around six hours of story mode plus free play.
- RiderNet will keep groups of friends locked in competition.
- The over-reached set up is unnecessary.
- There could be more voice work as you compete.
- Occasionally a little too unforgiving with difficulty spikes.
SSX is a wonderfully fun game. It successfully captures the spirit of the earliest games in the series but without feeling dated. This generation of consoles has suffered slightly from an understocked catalogue of games that revel in their over-the-top nature and SSX is a perfect remedy for that. If this is what happens when you rest a franchise for a few years then I am perfectly happy to forgive EA for those lean years they left us without a new sequel.
SSX is a great reboot.