Genre: Extreme Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: October 14, 2005
Faithful readers will recall that I am a fan of the SSX franchise, and for the most part, I worship at the altar that is Electronic Arts. Trust me, people, I am asked to slog though a lot of crap on a weekly basis. It's not that easy to write about game after game after game, so when I'm assigned a game with any variation of the EA logo, I get excited. I love EA Games so much that I have been quoted as saying "EA Sports' games are so good I would gladly buy an EA Sports' Cricket" if they made it available in the good old US of A." I hear that I may have to eat my words with EA Sports' Cricket 2006, but that is a task I am more than willing to stick my wicket into. (Keep your filthy remarks to yourself, whaddaya say?)
When I first looked at the box for SSX On Tour, I had, in the words of numerous Jedi, "a bad feeling about this." Scribblings on lined notebook paper abound, and the artwork looked decidedly cheesy, but as my mother often said, "Don't judge a book by its cover." So I popped the disc in my war-worn PS2 and cracked my knuckles, while giving my feeble brain a refresher course in how to control my 'boarder. "OK", I said to myself, "forward stick to gain speed, hold the X to pre-power the jump, use the D-pad to pre-wind the spins … yeah, I remember."
The first decision to make is which of the characters to play. In the past, I had always had success with Allegra (no, not the allergy medicine), so I nabbed her and hit the mountain. I had a number of choices in front of me, and a few of them looked very different from what I had previously encountered. I decided to play it safe and do a simple race down the mountain. There are no real surprises here. Occasionally, a signpost telling me which direction to go looked like a power-up, and I slammed right into it. Ouch. There are a lot of trees here, and the paths are not as well-defined as in the past.
I noted a number of new play types. In one of the more interesting ones, you must reach the finish line while being chased by the Snow Patrol. This gives the feeling of a Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit-type experience, but there seems to be some confusion where collision routines are concerned.
Come to think of it, there are many times when I found myself staring at the screen wondering how a pair of skis could actually run through a snowplow, or some other equally perplexing puzzler. I know we have come a long way from the sprite-collision-handling of old, and I wish these advancements were more apparent.
Aside from those glitches, the graphics are pretty slick. There is a true feeling of speed, and, during the forest runs, a great sense of claustrophobia. The lighting and textures are what you would come to expect, but not a major improvement over SSX3.
Some of the other new formulas include a neat little idea of a race where the object is to amass a lead of X meters. This can make for some very interesting terrain choices, because once you are trailing, it's harder than hell to get caught up again.
By the same token, the trick races are handled differently than before. While the standby get-more-points-than-the-other-dude mode is present, you are also challenged with a beat-the-other-dude-by-X-points thingamabob.
Add to that a Tony Hawk-style get-X-points-in-a-single-combo mode, and you start to see a pattern here. Frankly, I would be more accepting of this title if it were called Tony Hawk's Frozen Wasteland, for it is definitely geared more toward the skate-punk set, rather than true extreme gamers.
Musically, the game crosses genres faster than Eddie Izzard in a leather bar. I'm not saying this is a bad thing – you just need to go to the custom music section if you wish your ear candy to be more uniform. The choices run the gamut, from old-school metal to the phreshest, phunkiest grooves. Ya know, I sound really Caucasian when I talk like that so I should stop. While I may know the difference between Snoop Dogg and Lil' Bow-Wow, I couldn't tell you much more about the current music scene.
My daughter just informed me that Bow-Wow dropped the "Lil" from his moniker so it seems I don't even know what I thought I knew. God, I am so old, I can personally identify every object in every antique store. Personally, give me the Scorpions any day.
There are a few major changes to this year's edition of EA Big's snowboarding juggernaut, the most obvious being the addition of skiers in the lineup. Alas, there are no noticeable differences in how the skiers play; they just look different from the 'boarders. Whee.
The most annoying change this time around is in how the patented Uber-Tricks are pulled off. First of all, you have to re-learn where to look for your trick power, (now across the bottom as opposed to down the side), and in order to execute these great-looking tricks, you need to make use of the right analog stick. While this may be more comfortable for new players of the franchise, for us (meaning my entire SSX-loving family), it is near maddening. At the risk of re-quoting myself again, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
I honestly think that some amount of loyalty has to be paid to those of us who have bought year after year's versions of the same franchise. We do it for a very good reason: comfort. At today's rather exorbitant prices, it is much less a risk to buy, say, the next Madden or Metal Gear because we know what we are getting ourselves into, for the most part. From the heart, guys, if I had rented this title, I would not have bought it. I would have shredded whatever stuff my week-long rental would allow, return it, and go back to playing SSX3.
In the final analysis, SSX: On Tour is a rather feeble attempt to lure new gamers to a genre they might not otherwise dip their toes in. The overhaul of the Uber-Trick system did nothing to enhance the experience, (quite the opposite) the GUI presentation was bad enough to be called insulting, and there is the distinct possibility that this incarnation may alienate past fans of the franchise. I'd say "Pass on this one, and hope they do better next year."
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