Snowboarding games, my long lost love, you have finally returned. The past SSX games were great, but with this new iteration, things are brought to a whole new level. The jumps are bigger, the tricks are crazier, and the graphics are gorgeous. This is the kind of game that will ruin your life under the right circumstances. Or if you’re good enough, your friends will ruin themselves trying to take you down. There is no greater joy in video games.
If you’re not familiar with SSX let me break it down for you, SSX used to stand for Snowboard Super Cross, but in this iteration they have attempted to make it more edgy and hip by calling it ‘Snowboard, Surfing, Motocross’ which is the dumbest thing on the whole damn planet. That doesn’t really matter though; the game is still snowboard super cross in every other aspect. You are racing down ridiculous courses trying to go as fast as possible, get as many points as you can, or just survive the descent. Each mode works the same with different ways of determining who won. As you are going down hill you do tricks, doing tricks builds up your boost meter. If you fill it up enough you go into tricky mode. This gives you unlimited boost and allows you to do crazier tricks. If you fill this meter up, you go into super tricky mode which gives you even crazier tricks. This is all done by default on the right thumb stick. If you’ve play EA’s skate, it shouldn’t be too hard to comprehend. Pull back and push up to jump, press left to grab the left side of your board etc. The key to winning the events is getting into tricky mode, keeping it there, and chaining as many tricks as possible as this keeps your boost alive and your multiplier climbing.
This all may seem pretty standard for an action sports game, and honestly it is. What sets this game apart is the execution. Everything is so smooth and the tricks you’re doing look amazing. From your very first run, you will feel like a badass. This might lead you to believe there is a shallow learning curve, but that isn’t the case. Perfecting the game takes a massive amount of practice and skill. So much so, that you don’t even realize it when you first start playing. The nuances of the game flow naturally. For most action sports games, you will never get to the level where you can see these. There’s a good reason for that, they didn’t have SSX’s leaderboard system.
The way SSX has handled competition is the crowning achievement of the game. It has lead me to play more and become better. The real meat of the game isn’t the mediocre story mode, it’s the explore mode. You can travel to the different mountains and do runs, but there is also a board showing you everything your friends have done. Which runs they’ve done, where they hid collectables, and what contests they are competing in. When you’re feeling like a challenge, you find a friend who’s completed a run and go after their score. Your friend’s ghost will be on the course giving you some hints on how and where they got their points. You can keep playing the run until you beat them, giving them a nice shiny notification saying their high score has been toppled. Beating your rival also gives you a nice bonus of credits, while simultaneously giving them credits each time you lose to their ghost.
The credits are used to buy gear for your character. Each character has ten levels with gear for each. When you are about to start a run, you can shop for gear. The shop presents you with five choices. In order to see more gear you have to buy one of the items already on sale. You can buy snowboards, clothing, gear (wing suites, armor), geotags, and mods. There is a pseudo RPG system to the gear as well. You can find rare items for a limited time that have massive stat boosts. Finding all the rare items will take a lot of time and credits. If you’re winning a ton of money each race, you won’t be too strapped for cash, but EA does allow you to buy credits with real money. This is devilishly good business for EA as the mods you buy are one time use and can get expensive. The mods give you a bump in speed, boost, rewinds, and gear related stats.
Regular ole races and trick sessions aren’t the only way to get credits. If you run out of friends to race, you can enter global events. These are contests that have thousands of riders. Everyone does a specific course under certain restrictions to get placed in a prize pool. You set your time and walk away. After the contest expires (some last weeks while others last hours) you get a notification of which tier you ended up in and you get your winnings. Getting a huge prize is an amazing feeling.
Global events, along with beating your friends scores to a pulp is such a good motivator to keep playing, that you’ll be racing for weeks. Even if you lack friends to play against, the game is great on its own. It’s easily my favorite SSX game to date in terms of gameplay, and when you look at the whole package, it’s easily one of my favorite games of all time.
This review is based on a retail copy of the X360 version of SSX provided by EA. It is also available for the PS3.