SSX: All the snowboarding you want, some you don’t

March 27, 2012

Most everything can be improved by editing. This review, almost assuredly, did not get published in the same state I submitted it, and we’re all better off for it. I sound smarter, and you’re reading a better review. SSX, similarly, would benefit from a good dose of editing. There is a great game hiding underneath all of the fluff, but that fluff gets in the way and the modes are set up to make it mandatory.

What you loved about the old SSX titles is present in full force. The sense of speed is fantastic, the courses are varied and interesting. Even though the tutorial will encourage you to use the right thumb stick, the classic control scheme is available and just as responsive as you remember it being on the PS2. What has been layered on top of the SSX you know and love is equipment that mars the experience and a rewind mechanic that, while interesting on paper, is useless in practice.

The rebooted SSX features race events, high score trick events and deadly descents that absolutely ruin the World Tour mode. They start out tame enough, encouraging you to outfit your boarder with some body armor because the first drop is littered with trees. Okay, the point here is to get down in one piece, and the armor will help you to do that.

Continue through the mode, though, and while the goal remains to survive the course, the mandated equipment changes. You’ll find yourself needing a breathing mask (that you have to manually use while still trying to steer and do tricks) and a headlamp that is nauseating because of how much your character bounces around the screen. These events convey a sense of danger well, but they traded the fun of SSX to get it. The challenge of SSX lies in competing for high scores with your friends, not in seeing who can actually make it to the end of a run.

SSX also features a rewind feature. Rewinding can be nice when it is woven into the narrative of a game. In particular, it was used to great effect in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Everywhere else I’ve seen it, it felt unnatural, and it’s no better here. Differing from other games, rewind affects only the player and there is a hefty score penalty so it’s only really useful on the deadly descents (which you’ll only play once to advance the story and then never come back again because they’re just not fun). Using a rewind in a race is essentially throwing up your hands and saying “I am okay with coming in last in this event,” so you’ll only ever use it by accident and then end up restarting the event.

What really baffles me is that SSX borrows the AutoLog (called RiderNet here) from Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and then litters the game with events where the goal is survival instead of speed or chaining tricks together. I love the asynchronous multiplayer; I just wish that it took center stage here instead of the extreme events.

In addition to the disappointing World Tour, SSX features Explore and Global Event modes. Explore is what the single player should have been – picking an event from a list and doing your best at it. There are 150 events with some overlap. While this could be considered a negative, I think it’s a credit to the course design that swaths of the same mountain can be used in different events. Global Events allow you to compete with the entire SSX player base, and the better you score the more credits you earn to buy new boards, outfits, and equipment.

SSX is worth playing, but there are warts to avoid. I hope that we get another entry in the series and that EA realizes it is the core mechanics and addition of asynchronous multiplayer that make it fun, not the hokey equipment-based events and rewind mechanics designed to make everything feel more dangerous. As it was released, SSX is good, but with a little editing, it could have been great.

Pros: Great sense of speed, RiderNet is fun here just like it was in NFS: Hot Pursuit
Cons: Deadly descents distract from the real fun of the title, equipment-based events are not fun

Score: 4/5

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