With all due respect to Tony Hawk, Nintendo 64’s 1080 Snowboarding created the blueprint for “action sports” video games. A genre that defined console gaming for years, a lack of innovation caused it to flounder. Until now, the last big name released was Skate 3… back in May 2010. EA Canada decided to reintroduce extreme sports to the masses, reviving renowned snowboarding series SSX. A delightful throwback to board games of yesteryear, SSX (PS3, Xbox 360) is fast, quick to pick up and gorgeous to look at. Although it’d be generous to call it an innovative extreme sports title, it could be one of the most fun titles you’ll pick up in 2012.
The “story” won’t inspire much more than eye rolls, but for those curious: you ride for team SSX, a group of extreme athletes hell-bent on riding and conquering nine of the planet’s ‘Deadly Decents’ before Griff, your rival, beats you to it. Laugh if you’d like, but it serves its purpose by sending the player through nine incredibly diverse environments. Whether you’re cruising down the Rockies or trying to avoid crashing into the Great Wall of China, the variation ensures that the gamer rarely, if ever, grows tired of the offered mountain ranges.
Every level is a bit more over-the-top than the last. Considering the game’s predecessors, this shouldn’t be surprising. Like previous iterations, your rider is tasked with getting from the top of the slope to the bottom. Your path down the mountain falls under three separate modes: Tricky, Race and Survive It. Tricky and Race are pretty straight-forward: pull off as many gravity-raping, combo-shattering tricks as possible in the former and beat your opponents down the slope in the latter. Survive It makes the challenge more drastic, complete with tight turns, long gaps and the occasional avalanche trying to derail you.
The gameplay works well. Controls are tight and offer the user the ability to use analog-only controls similar to Skate or a more traditional four-button set-up. Going down the mountain can be a bit difficult sometimes as the incredible amount of speed your boarder accumulates makes performing important turns near impossible. Thankfully, EA implemented a “replay” system: with the push of a button you can rewind time as much as you’d like at the cost of a score bonus. The Graphics are also incredible, featuring gorgeously rendered mountains, stylized riders and an interesting use of light.
Online play comes in the form of Global Events, a social network-type package that drops players into challenges already being occupied by countless other riders. Although, don’t think this means you’ll have to elbow your way down a trail against a large pack of competitors. Others solely exist in transparent form. The only way to participate in traditional, two-to-four player downhill races is by pairing up with friends in Custom Events. Global Events doesn’t include a match-making system that allows random gamers to link up. This is a problem considering racing is a standard competitive element in snowboarding games. There’s definitely a lot to do within the system, but EA Canada overlooked basic online modes that should have been common sense inclusions.
SSX is a delightful throwback and should appeal to a wide array of gamers, regardless of their exposure to action sports. Its white knuckle-inducing gameplay is, simply put, fun. Veterans of the series will find it incredibly familiar and probably won’t walk away thinking it re-defined any aspect of the genre; however, that doesn’t matter. EA Canada renovated a type of game that, while forgotten, stood nowhere near broken. The result provides one of the most fun gaming experiences players have had in a long time.