In 2000, EA Sports Big was born to honor the unrealistic genre that is “extreme sports”, and to test it out they created the SSX (Snowboard Supercross) series, a saga of critically acclaimed extreme snowboarding games. The series debuted as a PS2 exclusive, but eventually grew to adapt to the original Xbox and the GameCube, among other consoles. SSX Tricky, the second in the series, was one of my all-time favorite PS2 games growing up. I was nothing less than ecstatic in 2010 when I found news about a new SSX in the works. My elation was replaced with horror when I realized that the series was taking an unexpected detour into an abyss shrouded with darkness and ambiguity. However, EA Sports brought the game back on track, and the final result is the new SSX, the most realistic game the series–maybe even the genre–has ever seen.
“Defy reality. Own the planet.”
Famous biker Zoe Payne, snowboarding legend Mac Fraser, and surfing icon Tane Mumea (he’s new) have co-founded Team SSX. Instead of Snowboard Supercross, the letters stand for Snowboarding, Surfing, and Motocross, birthed by the three best riders snow, sea, and dirt have ever known. They’ve searched the planet to make a team of the nine best riders on Earth. However, member Griff Simmons (from SSX 3) has ditched the team, and most of the team funds have followed. Turning to their fans for help, Team SSX plans to raise funds with the power of live-streaming by conquering the nine deadliest descents in the world! Unfortunately, Griff plans on defeating the descents first, sparking a race across the globe to see who will “own the planet” first. The game’s ravishing visuals make each descent much more lifelike and much more deadly. Here are the nine mountains you plan on defeating:
- Mount Robson, USA – The reason Robson represents America as a deadly descent is its merciless array of trees that have been strewn around the course. Well-timed jumps and maneuvers are key to making it to the bottom with as little damage as possible. Gear will be needed to take on this descent, as it gives you a layer of protection if you run into any trees.
- Fitz Roy, South America – The reason Fitz Roy represents Patagonia as a deadly descent is the enemy that is gravity. It will be impossible to clear a jump without a wingsuit, as it will be needed to give you some air before landing. However, your wingsuit isn’t too sturdy, so you have to make a quick landing before lining up your next jump.
- Mount Belukha East, Russia – The reason Belukha represents Siberia as a deadly descent is its endless supply of ice that can get up to six feet thick; it’s just as unforgiving as it sounds and looks, but luckily you’ll have a pair of ice axes to aid you on your path. You’ll also be iceboarding on the side of a cliff, so it’s best to stay as near to the mountainside as possible.
- Mount McKinley/Denali, USA – The reason McKinley (known in the game as Denali) also represents America as a deadly descent is its ever-so-exciting avalanche that you have to outrun all the way to the bottom of the course while avoiding crevasses and not sticking too close to the avalanche. Boost is key to outrunning the snowy beast, as it will give you a distance advantage as well as a time advantage.
- Mount Slaughter, Antarctica – According to the game, no snowboarding trip around the world would be complete without a stop at the coldest and most desolate place on Earth. Obviously, your main enemy is the piercing cold in an area where the sunshine is everyone’s best bud. Luckily, you will be equipped with a solar panel while also keeping an eye out for any light patches that can regenerate your health, because shade and tunnels are your worst enemy.
- Mount Everest, Himalayas – The tallest mountain on Earth is also one of the most dangerous descents you’ll be conquering. As in real life, up in the mountains thin air is a killer, so you’ll be provided with an oxygen tank consisting of the freshest gas your mates could find. Even then, you’re not very safe, as your oxygen is–wait for it–limited. You’ll have to get out there as quick as possible before you run out of oxygen. When you start to see blackness around the corners of your TV, that means you’re gonna black out in a couple of seconds–a perfect opportunity to use some of that good O2.
- Mount Blanco, Alps – No, not that small hill in Texas, an actual mountain where your one enemy is rocks. But not in avalanche form–just plain rocks. You can easily jump over the rocks and make small movements to avoid them, but don’t overdo it–you might run into the side of the canyon. I recommend you use armor to increase your survival chances, and around here speed literally kills, so I suggest taking it as slow as possible.
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – (Ah, Tanzania. My true non-American home.) “But, Sam! Kilimanjaro’s a volcano, not a mountain!” Exactly, my dear reader. You’re actually going to be riding inside the volcano, but don’t fear eruptions; I just hope you’re not afraid of the dark, because that is your main enemy for this descent. Luckily, you’ll be provided with a headlamp to provide some light, but don’t be planning on tricking a lot–where your head goes, the lamp goes. So if you’re in the middle of a gnarly tweak, you might not notice that menacing wall in front of you.
- Mount Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand – You’ve fought through trees, rocks, and darkness, but that’s just the tip of this game’s iceberg (sorry). Because this time your enemy is–the notorious whiteout. The granddaddy of all snowstorms and blizzards. You won’t be able to see your trembling hand in front of your terrified face without pulse goggles, but all they do is help you see through snow. They won’t help you differentiate safe terrain from lethal chasms, so keep an eye out for flares that will help you down the mountain and avoid taking bad jumps. (These flares can also give you some Tricky meter boost. Why they give you some boost, I don’t know.)
The game starts by automatically launching you into story mode, as you are unable to go anywhere else. You can either use the button controls or the right-stick controls, and both work quite well. A majority of Tricky‘s best mechanics return in this game: tweaking your tricks as well as the famous Tricky meter. Land tricks to boost your meter, and if you want to you can deplete it by using it as a speed boost. If you land enough tricks you are temporarily put into Tricky mode. Tricks get Über makeovers, are worth more points, and earn you letters once landed. Once you earn your Y you don’t receive infinite boost and the ability to perform as many Über tricks as you want–you get into Super Tricky mode, allowing you to perform even crazier tricks as well as the granddaddy of them all–the signature trick.
Old school gamers can change the controls to “classic” in the game settings, although I have no clue what difference it makes since it’s been years since I’ve played Tricky. When you get far enough in story mode, you can unlock two modes: one of them being Explore, where you can free-ride. While in that mode, you can buy people for 10,000 to 50,000 credits. Credits are the game’s currency, earned by competing in events–whether you win or lose, you’re still probably gonna walk away with a couple thousand. Speaking of which, you can also get geo-tags via completing select events or by buying them. You can place them in spots while rewinding, and they’re worth varying amounts of XP and credits. A player has exactly a day to obtain the geo-tag before its lifespan runs out.
At each descent, you compete in two events as descent training before the real deal: Race It (qualify in the top three to advance) and Trick It (try to earn more points than your opponents). Each mode delivers a new strategy to the tables; in races, you need to find the fastest routes, but you need to locate big air in trick runs. Then there’s Survive It, where it all comes down to. Each descent features a number of paths, hidden obstacles, and dangerous chasms, so elite precision is mandatory to getting the best scores on the more challenging descents–or you know, just surviving. But this game is only for people who know what they’re doing and what they’re up against; the AI is
punishing challenging, and death traps are just waiting for you to run into them.
The one other thing I hate about the game is its lack of traditional simultaneous multiplayer. Yes, SSX is a single-player experience, and that sucks! The closest thing to multiplayer in this game is Global Events, a challenge series open to every player across the globe, or just you and your friends. EA has challenges going nonstop, and you can just come to try and beat a high score or a time. While you’re racing, people may just show up alongside you and turn this into a simultaneous event. There are some custom events where you can invite just your friends, which is probably the closest Global Events get to “multiplayer.” Besides GE, RiderNet (SSX’s AutoLog) keeps track of your progress and informs you on what hijinks your buds are up to.
But what’s a sports game without a stellar soundtrack? (I’ve played FIFA for 4 years; I should know.) SSX‘s music includes Foster the People, The Naked and Famous, Flux Pavilion, Camo & Krooked, DJ Shadow, and the three bosses of dubstep: Nero, Noisia, and Skrillex. Too bad the only time your characters speak are if they’re in the middle of a gnarly trick or bailing.
Once you get far enough in story mode, you can unlock two modes, one of them being Explore. If you press a certain button to select the track you want to ride in Explore, you can go into free-ride mode, where you can simply cruise your way down without a Tricky meter to distract you. But you can still do Über tricks; a blue flash on the screen means you’ve hit Tricky, and an orange means you’ve hit Super. In the game, you can earn badges and achievements while ‘boarding a track, and you can use RiderNet to check out your goods and remember just how great you are at this game. If you’re not doing story mode, checking out Global Events or RiderNet, or exploring, you might be checking out the DLC.
Electronic Arts has announced DLC characters that are already on the market: real-life pro snowboarder Travis Rice, and our old pal Eddie! The bro with the ‘fro appears in his own DLC pack, Mt. Eddie, which also brings the exuberant and colorful feels of Tricky to the new SSX. If it didn’t feel nostalgic enough, classic skins have been added for characters like Elise and Moby! Could it get any better than that? Oh, but it doesn’t stop there: the pack features the return of 7 characters in their original appearances. To be specific, Elise, Eddie, Kaori, Mac, Moby, Psymon, and Zoe. As in Tricky, each ‘boarder comes with alternate outfits and their own board. For just $5.99, you can give your SSX experience a nostalgic retro makeover.
For PS3 players, Mount Fuji is automatically installed into the game, allowing you to snow-surf down another mountain. I wouldn’t look at it as a descent, though. Luckily, Xbox 360 users won’t be left out in the cold (sorry again)–Mt. Fuji comes in the Mt. Fuji & Friends DLC pack, which comes with Eddie and Travis, as well character-specific Ultimate level snowboards that’ll make that high score more visible with perks for Eddie, Zoe, Mac, Kaori, and Elise. There’s also a bonus Geo-Tag. Xbox.com describes the pack as a “mountain of content”, and why not buy it? It’s absolutely free!
In the end, SSX is an extraordinary and over-the-top snowboarding game that brings some new and some old to the table, using its gorgeous visuals and challenging gameplay as a great filter.
FINAL SCORE: ★★★★
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Well, that was quite the doozy! Be sure to tune in next Friday at 1:00 PM ET for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak! Oh, and have a rad summer while it lasts!
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