The SSX franchise has experienced numerous highs throughout its lengthy tenure, most notably on the original Xbox. Flying down snow-packed mountains, and landing death-defying tricks offered hours of insane gameplay. The series also landed one of the best in-game music tracks in history, headlined by Run DMC's "It's Tricky." As you can imagine, nostalgia instantly kicked in when EA announced a new SSX title. Despite notable changes in the series' direction, the newest SSX offers an impressive snowboarding experience for newcomers and old-schoolers alike.
Those who were lucky enough to experience any of the older SSX titles are quick to question if this SSX holds true to form in terms of gameplay. Luckily, the core mechanics have been unchanged. For instance, tricks still revolve around the right analog stick and trigger, while characters' movements are controlled by the left analog stick. Landing tricks have been slightly changed, in that you no longer have to point your board in a landing position. Instead, all you have to do is release the trick before you hit the ground, and you'll automatically land smoothly. It can be argued that this addition simplifies the game, but it actually diverts your attention to other details (tricks, course layout, death drops). In a nutshell, it's the fun and exciting gameplay you've come to know and love with the SSX name.
While gameplay mostly remains unchanged, EA made it clear that SSX was taking a more serious approach in terms of story and survival. The game offers a somewhat worthwhile narrative: The SSX crew is battling against a former member to concur the world's deadliest descents to remain in business. The game's core focus, though, revolves around these nine descents, ranging from ice to tree-stricken areas. Standard races and "trick-offs" are still present, but the descents serve as boss battles to open up new mountains. Sadly, this change creates several problems. The idea, ambitious at best, quickly becomes a chore due to difficulty. Some of the descents are downright tough to complete and can leave you frustrated in a flash. The challenges also throw off the game's pace — switching from fast, exhilarating racing to "what's around the corner that'll kill me" style racing.
Visually speaking, SSX has never looked better. Mountain vistas are drop dead gorgeous, which is impressive in that they're must larger in scope compared to past titles. Everything from trees to grind rails are detailed, creating one of the most realistic environments in any snowboarding title. Ironically, the lifelike setting coexists quite well with the wacky, arcade-like gameplay SSX offers. Characters, many of which return from the most recent installment, also look incredibly well. EA should be applauded for their attention to detail, as hours of hard work can be seen in every inch of snow and every falling tree limb.
Aside from the World Tour mode (main story), SSX presents several different modes for players to indulge in. Thankfully, these modes compliment the vast mountain ranges strewn throughout the world (Siberia to Australia) extremely well. In addition, EA's social plug, seen in recent titles like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, introduces friendly competition; you and your online friends can battle it out for high scores on each range. SSX offers a hefty amount of content for $60, including witty achievements worth obtaining for bragging rights.
Overall, SSX is an experience that longtime fans will embrace, and newcomers will surely fall in love with. Yes, EA has clearly changed direction in their approach to the series, but they've kept the core concept that's pushed the series to coveted heights. SSX will not only entertain you with silly tricks, it will be fighting for your gaming time. To sum up the game in two words: "It's Tricky!"
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]