Genre: Extreme Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: October 14, 2005
SSX debuted with the PlayStation 2 back in 2000 and gained immediate acclaim, making it one of the best games on the new platform. A big mountain, groovy characters, and lots of sweet tricks helped show off the new power of the PS2, and its high-speed, adrenaline-pumping, addictive nature propelled it to the likes of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. SSX wasn't just a flashy game, but it was a really fun game.
It was followed up with SSX Trickyand SSX 3, the latter being extremely well-received, with everything amplified to the max. The tracks were big, the characters were wild, and some of the stunts are downright zany. In a somewhat interesting move for a company like EA, the developers have not exactly copied the formula set forth by the first three games; SSX On Tourtakes the series in something of a new direction.
Of course, that's not to say it's totally unpredictable. As is the norm in many games nowadays – and another certain Tony Hawk fellow's series – you play yourself. In fact, you can't even play as the other characters, although you do face off against some later. The first thing you do when starting a new tour is create your persona. This isn't quite as involved as in other games out there. You can choose your character's gender, change their looks (including hairstyle, lips, face, and so forth), outfit them (with pants, shirt, jacket, and such), and equip them with customized gear.
Money can be found throughout the game quite easily. You receive so much cash for completing an event, and you can find extra tokens along the way that add up as extra money in your pocket. You can spend this on gear or other "beauty" items, as only a sampling is available from the get-go; to change more things, you've gotta fork over the cash. Still, there's not a terribly large selection, and the entire character customization feels a little pale in comparison to the much deeper ones found in other games. While it's by no means a game-destroying thing, fans probably would have appreciated the option of being older characters.
SSX 3 also had quite a number of levels to unlock as you progressed. SSX On Tourvaries again. The whole mountain is pretty much available from the get-go here, sort of losing some feelings of satisfaction in uncovering new material. Nonetheless, the tour mode itself is well-designed, with new challenges opening up as you complete the ones already available. You can even replay any past missions any time you feel like it – a nice touch.
The sheer number of different mission goals is impressive, and the fact that all of them are actually fun is even more so. There are, of course, more basic missions, like the simple races against another person, or group of people. There are derivatives of this, though, like "Get 200 yards ahead of your opponent in two minutes," which is a rather different challenge that makes you think on your feet and adapt to the situation. There are some trick-related goals; the game might ask you to pull a number of "monster tricks" within the time limit, reach a certain score, or outscore an opponent, to name a few things. Then there are some quite different missions, like "Get to the finish while avoiding the ski patrol," or "Knock over a dozen other kids," or "Get to the finish but don't touch the snow for more than 40 seconds." The mission variety is so great and paced out so well that the tour mode rarely does become boring. The game lures you in with easy missions (for example, the "Knock over so many people" stage might be downright swamped with people) in the beginning, but crank up the difficulty when you're starting to feel too comfortable. It's a great learning curve.
The game handles very well, with smooth analog control making for a pleasant downhill trip; you can lean for a bit of extra speed before jumping, but you'll have less precise steering. The d-pad controls your mid-air flips and turns. Tapping it up or down will induce a forward or back flip, and left or right will make your character spin sideways. The right analog stick initiates a trick, which can then be tweaked by moving that stick more or some other buttons. A wipeout can be easily recovered from with rapid tapping of the X button.
Combos can be strung together by doing the equivalent of a skateboard manual on the snow by tilting the right analog stick. A handy combo meter tells you when you need to be worried about losing your point bonus. The boost meter, displayed along the bottom of the screen, slowly fills up when you do snazzy tricks, and will result in your gaining velocity. When it turns yellow, you can perform monster tricks. These are basically performed the same as any other trick, but the game begins to run in slow-mo and moves in to a cool angle so you can really savor the moment.
SSX On Tourisn't just about snowboards. When you create a new character, you get to choose whether he's a snowboarder or a fancy new skier. Skiing isn't terribly different from boarding, unfortunately, and there's very little to distinguish one from the other. The main difference is that the skier can land and ride backwards, in addition to flipping around pretty easily by fiddling with the right analog stick.
The game sports a really impressive presentation, which looks like the notebook of a bored high school student coming to life. There are swarming Santa Claus midgets, unicorns playing electric guitar, monsters with multiple eyes, and other oddities laced all over the menus. The graphics are, of course, nice as well, and the characters are pretty detailed. While some combinations of human features really are more on the ugly than pretty side, they are nonetheless well modeled. Additionally, the environment looks great; lights play a big effect on the snow, and dark stages look incredible. There are also loads of skiers to be found dancing around at all times.
The sound goes hand in hand with the rough, grimy notebook feel of the rest of the game. Iron Maiden is one of the biggest artists here, with others like Louis XIV and Blackalicious following up. It's got a great "metal" feel, and there are other nifty touches, like a little riff that lets loose when you take first place. The game doesn't support custom soundtracks, strangely, as it looks like it's almost set up to, but instead appears to only offer different playlists of the game's soundtrack. It's certainly not bad, though. As far as sound effects go, there's nothing to worry about – the sound of your board on snow and ice has never been better.
SSX On Tourmight be a little disappointing for fans. With the edgy characters not being nearly so prominent in favor of a somewhat "tame" create-a-character system, some would say the game has lost its charm. This isn't really true, though, because crazy character or not, these guys can still pull off some super sweet stunts. The mountain is great fun to ride on, with dozens and dozens of alternate paths. The presentation is fantastic, with groovy notebook stylings and wicked metal music everywhere, and best of all, it's really, really fun. Sure, it's not the second coming of extreme sports games, and some people might even be a bit disappointed, but if you've never played an SSX game before, this is definitely a great starting point. It's still the best snowboarding – and now, skiing – game around.
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