Of all the games we played on the PS2, it was SSX and SSX Tricky that swallowed up the most hours. We would pour away time flipping, grabbing and grinding in some of the best-designed tracks ever witnessed in a video game.
But SSX got tired. Like Tony Hawk, it became a franchise that fell foul of the over-saturation of the genre. In the end, no one wanted to play snowboarding games anymore and SSX itself began to become stale and uninventive.
A few years' rest, however, and SSX is back - touting a redesign, updated graphics and enough tracks to make even the most hardcore of snowboarders eat yellow snow. But does this racer cut the mustard? Or is it a blind-folded black run down to the bottom?
From the start it becomes immediately clear that SSX hasn’t lost any of its slightly over-the-top charms found in the first two. The opening movie and initial training sequences are just as ridiculous as the classics in the franchise. Take the first level for example: you learn how to control your character during freefall from a helicopter.
Characters like Mac and Zoe return, along with one or two new faces, to bring back the entire classic SSX cast. Customisation of each character is possible, though not so much in the style department, more in terms of the accessories that will get you to the bottom of the mountain. Before starting a race you can choose from complete snowboarding outfits as well as extras like a head torch or even a squirrel suit.
In terms of tracks, SSX works in an entirely different way from the originals. Think of a sort of giant Google Earth within which you can select various regions and within those various runs. There is a huge selection of hills to blast down on your board and every track can be raced, tricked or time-trialled on. This is perhaps one of the best and worst parts of the new SSX; it’s great to have so many races available, but the knock-on effect is that the individual tracks don't feel so "special" as they do in SSX Tricky. A lot of them tend to blur together between things like cave-centric races and cliff ledge ridden downhill runs. They certainly play well, but they just don’t quite manage the magic of the originals.
How to play?
The new SSX can seem incredibly complicated on the face of it. There is an overload of things to do when the game first boots up, and not all of it is particularly well explained. The essence of the way SSX works is laid out in brief training stages and then entire mountain ranges are opened up for you to snowboard down.
There is a hugely in-depth multiplayer present in SSX that's easy to ignore, simply because it is so difficult to make sense of. We advise really taking the time to explore everything that SSX has to offer. Get through things by yourself and then start attacking the stat-farming multiplayer. In fact, the single player acts as enough of a training ground to prep you for online escapades.
The number of tracks, and what exactly you can or can’t do down them, is fairly unrestricted in terms of event types. Do bear in mind though that some riders are better suited to different types of events. There are trick-centric boarders and then those who do best flying down the slopes. This is why we found it slightly strange that you aren’t given a free character selection at the start of the game and instead stuck with the weaker of the boarding line-up until you unlock the full repertoire.
It doesn’t take long to get them unlocked because, as in SSX, you earn experience points by the bucket-load. These can be used to unlock outfits, boards and accessories for your rider. In fact you earn them so easily - even when you aren’t playing the game - thanks to its online element, that they seem pretty much pointless after a few races.
The way that SSX plays-out is slightly unusual. You can either engage in a career mode, where you unlock races, trick sessions and boarders, or go straight for a Global Event, which is the game’s multiplayer. In the latter mode everything is unlocked and you have free rein to try to put down the best scores or time on RiderNet, SSX’s stat hub.
Once you have put in enough race time in the single-player mode, you will unlock a deadly decent on each mountain range. These are easily the highlight of the game, and consist of by far the most outlandish track designs. The aim of these races is simply to get to the bottom of the mountain without dying. Some are quite boring, involving lots of trees as obstacles, others have full-blown avalanches and ice caves to negotiate.
So how do you actually control SSX? Well, like the original, nearly everything is done via the left and right thumbsticks. On the left-hand side of the controller is the amount of spin you are going to put on your rider and in what direction. On the right is the "grab" he will pull off on his board. The two shoulder buttons govern which hand he uses and now in the new SSX, "X" or "square", depending on console, will let you either tweak tricks or do "manuals" on the slopes to link together moves.
The inclusion of accessories like the squirrel suit, as well as the ability to rewind time on the fly, adds further complication to the control scheme. At first it is a slight case of mental overload but after a few hours' play time you will be flipping, flying and rewinding yourself with ease. It gives the game a brilliant flow and ensures it plays just as good as the originals.
The track design is never going to be able to rival that of SSX Tricky, simply because this new title is just that bit more serious. There are still some amazing moments when you end up doing a quad backflip off an ice shelf on to the top of a truck, but don’t expect to be doing loop the loops on every run.
In the end, SSX feels like everything a next-generation update to the game should be. It is incredibly refined, looks great and still retains all the sense of fun that the original titles had. The multiplayer element, despite being very much in the background, is great just the same.
We would have liked to see a slightly more straightforward single player and a tad more emphasis on the unlocking and general expansion of our character’s skills. A menu redesign might also have helped to bring a bit of clarity to the game’s tracks and race types.
Ultimately SSX is a great game, and by far the best extreme sports title to appear in both the PS3 and Xbox 360 since the days of the original Skate game. Fun in its purest form, SSX is a game you can enjoy for 20 minutes or blast at for a few hours.