It's been a long while since we've had a genuine SSX game carving up powder on consoles, so it's nice to see EA revive the mostly dormant franchise. After such a long layoff, the question is whether the series can recapture the magic of days gone by. SSX succeeds in most respects, but there are a few elements of the game that show the team may be a bit rusty. This is a great reintroduction for the snowboarding genre, but it's not quite ready for the X-Games.
The heart of SSX still lies in getting ridiculous air and pulling off superhuman grabs, flips and grinds. Even though the old-school button controls are still available, tricks have also been mapped to the right thumbstick, where they feel very natural and intuitive. Flicking, holding and rotating the stick all provide different trick varieties, and holding down the shoulder button tweaks every move for even more points. It's a control scheme that is friendly to both button-mashers and strategists, and just about anyone can jump in and begin busting tricks with ease.
Those jumping into the franchise for the first time or just looking to brush up since their last outing should first stop by World Tour mode, which acts as a sort of primer with a bit of narrative thrown in for a sense of progression. The various races and trick contests will get players ready to tackle a variety of challenges, as well introduce some of the brand-new survival elements, which may not have been the best idea.
Each of the nine regions the SSX team visits features one Deadly Descent, a mountain so wicked and gnarly that when conquering it, you don't need to post a specific time or beat a score; you merely have to survive all the way down. That's easier said than done, though, as each locale introduces a unique hazard, such as bone-chilling cold or the constant threat of avalanche. Each Deadly Descent requires a special piece of equipment to even make an attempt, and this is the point at which the game loses almost all balance and temporarily kills the fun.
There are some gimmicks, like the wing suit, which do add a bit of extra excitement to the game. Other levels, such as those which require you to stay in the sun to avoid freezing to death or using a headlamp to see the path ahead, are irritating and not the least bit enjoyable. The very mountains that are meant to be the culmination of all your hard work are almost universal letdowns, and what should be the game's crowning achievement is instead its weakest feature.
The real meat of SSX can be found in Explore mode, which lets players pick a rider and some gear and drop into any of the game's 150 events. This is the area where you'll likely while away the hours, rerunning tracks and coming up with new lines in the hopes of grabbing the shiniest medal and posting the absolute best time or score. Also hidden along the mountains are Geotags placed by other riders, and each one snagged provides a nice chunk of bonus points for your characters. Even more fun, you can hide your own tags, which will continue to rack up points until someone else finds and claims them.
Complementing Explore is the RiderNet feature, which is patterned after the very popular AutoLog system from Need for Speed. RiderNet keeps tabs on what your friends have been doing, shows you their scores for various runs, and even provides personalized challenges for you to try and tackle. It's an incredibly intuitive way to boost the multiplayer aspect of the game, and when you combine it with the special events and challenges EA is constantly hosting, it turns SSX into a very social experience.
The bad news on the multiplayer front is that there's no local split-screen to be found, so the only way you'll be able to compete against friends is online. It's definitely an unfortunate miscue for a series that has almost always been more fun when playing with a group of friends in the same room.
For the most part, SSX does a great job of recapturing the spirit of the franchise, but it biffs the landing in a few key areas. The Deadly Descents are more hype than fun, and the lack of local multiplayer is a major oversight. Also, if you aren't a big fan of dubstep, then you'd best upload your own music onto the console; otherwise, you'll be stuck with a soundtrack that assails your auditory nerves.
When you look past that and get to what really matters, actually carving your way down a mountain while pulling off stunts that Shaun White could never even dream of attempting, SSX is an absolute joy. Piling the tricks on top of each other, activating Super Tricky mode, and then nailing a Signature Trick while listening to a remix of Run DMC's "It's Tricky" thump through your speakers basically guarantees that all is forgiven. Welcome back, SSX. You have been sorely missed.
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