space_sandwich's SSX (PlayStation 3) review

The Future of SSX is a Bright One.

In a market dominated by shooters, fantasy, sci-fi, and simulation sports, it’s always nice to get a nice dose of the ridiculous. SSX fulfills that need amicably, bringing a devilishly addicting, albeit sometimes frustrating, good time. While you won’t find much here in the way of an interesting narrative, the massive amount of content in EA’s snowboarding reboot more than makes up for its faults.

Speaking of story, I might as well get this out of the way first. The story in SSX is just that: A story; a skimpy one at that. It’s not particularly good, nor is it offensive in any way. Referred to as the “World Tour,” you witness the tale of Zoe, the badass, purple-haired leader of team SSX, which has apparently disbanded since we’ve last seen them. She’s got to get the band back together and is willing to do so by making her potential teammates risk their lives in the quest to conquer the “Nine Deadly Descents” for the sake of an Internet live-stream. There’s also some dude named Griff who challenges SSX out of what seems to be a reaction to his crippling loneliness, but I’m not really sure, and it doesn’t really matter. If anything, it does a serviceable job of providing context for your world-hopping, death defying endeavors, but that’s about it.

Embarking on this quest for Internet stardom will take you all around the globe to several different, let’s say, “reimaginings” of the world’s most famous mountain ranges. From the rocky Alps to the icy Siberian peaks, each drop comes covered in snow ramps and more random red pipes than you can wave a “Basic Principles of Irrigation” textbook at. The courses are fun, fast, and vibrant; a much needed departure from this generation’s fascination with rust and garbage. You’ll only hit about six or seven slopes for each range, with one or two events occurring on each individual mountain. The events aren’t particularly hard in World Tour – you’re only required to finish in the top three – but this thankfully keeps things moving along at a good pace. As a result, the World Tour is fairly short, or at least can be short, since it’s still very possible to get stuck on the “Deadly Descents.”

Each mountain range ends with one of these perilous pitches that pits the player against nature and are usually only possible with the help of special equipment. These deadly descents, or “Survive It” events, as they’re called, are the newest thing SSX brings to the table, each with varying degrees of success. Some provide a good change of pace and seriously intense situations, while others are just plain obnoxious. Fortunately, you’re only forced to endure the terrible survival gimmicks for a single event. When other factors are introduced into these survival moments by the Tour’s end, however, things start to get really frustrating. The final course, in particular, had me punching my couch with its wonky mish-mash of danger and racing that apparently requires you to dominate your opponent – I beat the level three separate times by a hair, yet the game told me to try again despite my helicopter pilot’s congratulatory speech. Like I said, frustrating.

Yeah, so this game is really pretty.

The World Tour is also where you’ll unlock all ten playable characters, one for each mountain range. The character selection is pretty mundane and most characters are pretty forgettable, however there’s still a decent enough variety as to not get completely bored by your snow-shredding cast. In terms of personality, the best you’ll get out of these guys are the few cheesy, sometimes recycled lines shouted mid-run – “50% less sodium, 100% more AWESOME,” for instance – and a pretty lame introductory motion-comic. In fact, you’ll get way more personality out of your three helicopter pilots than the snowboarders themselves. This being an SSX game and all, I would have liked to see things be a bit more bonkers, but, like the story, it doesn’t end up mattering in the grand scheme of things.

Each character also comes with their own signature trick to engage in during “Tricky” mode, but it’s hard to tell what’s actually happening during this time since just about every move in Tricky mode is absolutely insane. Save for that one signature move, though, everybody shares the same move set. That’s not a huge problem considering the aforementioned craziness and you’ll be busy scoping out where to go next to really notice. It also helps that the animation flows incredibly well, and all your moves are a treat to look at.

Each boarder also has a few character perks that yield bonus stats to overall speed, boost, tricks, or specialized gear. Characters level up the more you use them, granting access to better boards, suits, gear, single use modifiers and “geotags.” This access doesn’t mean anything for the first four levels or so, since each character already starts off with some great equipment as is. Occasionally, a mystery item will pop up in the store, however I never felt compelled to buy anything (during the World Tour, at least) since none of it was markedly better than standard equipment your character comes with. Once you move out into the other modes, however, the gear will start getting noticeably better, and before you know it you’ll be pining to gather more credits. Thankfully, EA has done a good job managing the credits system. You’re not swimming in cash by the game’s halfway mark, but just enough to keep the store interesting.

Although the World Tour certainly won’t last long, the Global Events and Explore modes will. With nearly 160 drops in Explore and an ever-changing wager system in Global Events, there’s a ton – I repeat – a ton of content in SSX. “Ridernet,” a system of that more or less functions as a dynamic leaderboard, logs player’s best times and scores, alerting you if a friend happens to top your performance. If you want to reclaim the top position, Ridernet will automatically load up the ghost of the rival player so you can see exactly what shenanigans were pulled to achieve the top spot. Things get a bit crazier with the ghosts in the global events, as the ghosts of everyone playing are loaded up during your ride, kind of like Demon’s Souls. Seeing hundreds of riders simultaneously cut down a mountain is a thing of beauty.

Part of me wishes the ghosts would be of the bedsheet variety, but I guess translucent blue will have to do.

The many-ghost mash-ups only occur in Global Events, which are special drops that sometimes require a price to enter. As more players pay the entry fee, a prize pot grows bigger and bigger, sometimes entering into the billions. The better score you get, the more you’ll get out once the event times out. If enough people beat your score, you’ll get bumped down a prize group and Ridernet will handily let you know that your turf has officially been messed with. It’s an excellent feature that kept me coming back daily to see if my scores were still intact. It’s a shame there’s no direct player-on-player multiplayer features – this would have been perfect for split screen races at the very least, but what’s here is enough to keep me invested.

Of course, it’d be a crime to go without mentioning the quality of the game’s soundtrack. Featuring a bevy of licensed tunes ranging from the Pop Rock guitar melodies of Foster the People to the heavy bass drops of Nero and Skrillex, what’s here fantastically matches the game’s mood. What’s more, the songs will dynamically modulate if you’re flying through the air – it’s a great effect. Entering into Tricky Mode will bring about a dubstep remix of Run DMC’s “Tricky,” as well. While you might think this would get annoying after the first couple times, the remix has surprising longevity and never fails to get me singing along. If the in game soundtrack doesn’t strike your fancy, you can also upload a custom playlist that’ll work with the in-game modulation effects.

Although SSX doesn’t fully deliver in some areas and creates a few frustrating situations, the overall experience is one you won’t find anywhere else on the current generation. It’s fast, colorful, addicting, and just plain fun. If you’ve ever had any interest in telling that thing we call gravity to “shove it” while gesturing to hang loose, my only question is why haven’t you bought this earlier?

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