SSX is the most recent in the long running series of over-the-top snowboarding games from EA. I’ve been playing the SSX games since Tricky1 and while there are some that I love more than others2, I continue to be a fan of the series. The most recent incarnation is a solid attempt to reboot the series, but is not without some flaws. Flaws which if you’re just now getting into the series might put you off the series.
As someone who’s played the earlier games, the controls take some getting use to. Even the option to use ‘classic’ controls isn’t an exact 1 to 1 to the layout of Tricky or SSX 3.3 The true classic controls would let you use the digital d-pad to pre-wind your flips and spins ahead of a jump. Holding right on the d-pad would lock your character in as you approached a jump. In order to maximize the effect, you’d also hold down on the jump button (X on the PS2/3) as you approach.
In SSX, the default controls heavily leverage the analog sticks, which I’m sure seemed like a good idea on paper. Left for spin/flips when in the air, left and right movement on the ground. In practice, it becomes rather frustrating. For movement you’d want to have the gradient of control analog gives you, but for precise input, such as tricks, it seems a little too loose and muted.
Another small change that is related is the pre-wind for jumps, spins and flips. In the previous games you’d have to line-up ahead of a approaching jump many seconds before you actually reached the apex of the ramp. In SSX the pre wind is not as necessary and if you try to pre-wind too soon your character will veer off course 9 times out of 10.
For an old-timer to the series I would love to just have my digital d-pad, face and shoulder buttons for tricks, spins, boost and jumps. Let me use the left analog for steering and leave the right analog out of it.
My second biggest beef beyond the controls (which I hope I can adapt to over time) would be the addition of the Deadly Descents.
From what I understand, during development the title was “SSX: Deadly Descents” and the element of ‘deadly’ was to be a prime focus for the game. There were to be these super harsh tracks with all sorts of obstacles. They changed the title during development and the ‘deadly descents’ became 8 boss peaks, each with a kind of hokey and unnecessary gimmick along with taxing and honestly un-fun tracks. These 8 peeks, all required to enjoy the single-player ‘story’4 detract what the game is about. Undoubtably EA spend lots of money on these tracks and as they progressed away from “Deadly Descents” to just SSX they couldn’t just cut them. I wish they would have.
One deadly descent has you press an additional button every few seconds in order to keep oxygen flowing to your player. Doing this on some of the more tame tracks would prove an additional challenge. Doing it on the unforgiving and frustrating “Deadly Descents” proves to be maddening. These tracks are not SSX tracks. It’s not easy to create a solid line downhill during a race, or to create a series of never-ending tricks in trick events. It’s sadistic when you add in the super dark tracks that need headlamps or wingsuits to glide like a flying squirrel.
To compound things, instead of having a reset button to reorient your character in the occurrence of falling off the track (which you will do often as these tracks have more blind spots than an 18 wheeler) you have the ability to rewind time. This time rewind feature has multiple penalties rendering it totally useless and just as frustrating as crashing. First you rewind time, but your opponents continue on unabated. Second, you can rewind, but will break whatever combo you had going. Third, the severity of the slope in most tracks will have you rewinding numerous times, compounding the existing two penalties. In most cases it’s better/easier to just restart the race from the beginning.
Another design decision is the absence of synchronous or traditional multiplayer. No jumping on Xbox Live to play head-to-head against your friends – much less any form of local multiplayer.5 All multiplayer features amount to racing ghosts and best times of other people. It’s not all doom and gloom with the multiplier. There’s a very primal competitiveness to besting your friends times and scores, but in 2012 I would think generic old multiplayer would be a given. Like windshield wipers.
The other hokey aspect of multi-player (and single player as well, the line is blurred as far as levels and unlocks are concerned) is the progression mechanism for unlocking new equipment. New boards and suits appear randomly in the store upon each visit, and even with minor loading times, it becomes tedious to determine if what you’re buying is any better than what you have. To add the illusion of customization, outfits for your characters offer nothing more than palette swaps. None of which appear that appealing and none that impact gameplay.
The unlocks are a little Zyngafied as well. You unlock stuff by earning gold and the crap you unlock is random, so you can’t save up to buy cool gear, you just have to get lucky in the store with random stock.
That said, I do like it. It’s not as good as 3, most of the tracks are either too frustrating to be enjoyable or to bland to be memorable as in Tricky and SSX 3. As a long-time fan it’s a solid game and so close to it’s predecessors that I can taste it.
It’s apparent that there’s an influence from the Call of Duty generation to make games more gritty, dark or realistic, but SSX is the last game where this makes any sense. This is a series that has been all about being over the top with crazy characters, crazy tricks and crazy tracks. None of which exist in this game. Well maybe the tricks. Barely.6
It’s SSX in HD, it could be better, and I hope they make another with some lessons learned.
Which is the second in the series and to some the best of the series.↩
My personal favorite was, and still is, SSX 3. Tight controls, logical level progression and some of my favorite tracks.↩
Which is weird. Why call something classic when it’s not. Psudo-classic would be more appropriate.↩
The story is less believable than the idea of people jumping out of helicopters to snowboard down the side of Mt. Everest rocking out to Foster the People.↩
An unfortunate trend that continues. Sigh.↩
I love grinding on rails as much as the next guy, but in SSX there is no need to balance while grinding and there are rails freaking everywhere.↩