marino's SSX on Tour (PlayStation 2) review

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It's Hard to Improve on the Perfection of SSX3

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After another two-year hiatus, SSX returns with the fourth installment.  SSX On Tour is an excellent addition to an already stellar franchise that dates back to Day 1 of the PlayStation 2.  In Fall 2000, SSX was the best PS2 launch title and while the game has changed over the last five years, it has kept true to its racing core.  On Tour big addition to the SSX formula is the ability to ride the snow on skis as well the original snowboards.  That combined with a unique art style and focus on rock 'n roll (rather than hip-hop that most EA titles focus on these days) create a new yet familiar experience that fans of racing games and alternative sports games alike will enjoy.  
 
 
Graphics 
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The graphics department in SSX On Tour is all about style.  From the first moment you turn on the game you are taken into a virtual sketchpad.  All of the menus and the in-game interface are put together with what feels like a real-time sketching that makes for an innovative design.  Adding to the style is the game's focus on rock music.  The theme permeates every part of the game from the soundtrack to the pre-race ceremonies to the doodles that make up the sketchpad style menus.  The actual worlds in the game don't look that much different from SSX 3, but the big change here is the speed effects.  The EA Canada team has taken a page out of Criterion's book by adding some screen blurring and warped vision that completely sells the sense of speed in the game.  The mountain is still beautiful and the new scribbled style to the game fits perfectly.  The load time is more noticable than in SSX 3, but it's still minimal due to the game's streaming technology.  The extra load time does allow for more trees, obstacles, pedestrians, and all around more stuff, so it's a good thing.  
 
  
Control 
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The basics are the same from the original 3 SSX games: prewinding for jumps, boosting, holding trigger buttons in combination for tricks, etc.  The big change is that there are no more "Uber" tricks as they are now referred to simply as Monster Tricks.  You may remember monster tricks from SSX 3, but those were different.  Now you use the right analog stick to perform these physics defying moves.  You are given four to begin with, which conveniently correspond to the four cardinal directions on the stick, but over time you will learn newer, bigger monster tricks.  These require you to start with a regular monster trick (tilting the analog stick), then tweaking the trick by rotating the stick a quarter turn in a certain direction.  This all allows for much easier trick usage.  The addition of skiing to the game is, for the most part, a cosmetic addition.  The skis do feel a bit different but they control the same.  Skiing adds some of its own innate challenges that you may not have thought about until trying them out.  Lining up grinds is a bit trickier and skiing backwards can be difficult.  Overall, the gameplay is great, but not all that different from before.     
 
 
Sound 
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I have to give it to EA on this one.  They finally got it right.  The EA Trax for this game are excellent and fit the theme of the game perfectly.  A heightened focus on rock new and old combined with a smattering of punk, hip-hop, and even dance come together for the best game soundtrack in recent memory.  Don't expect the TRL indy rock of Burnout either.  This game is loaded with classics such as Def Leppard, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Dio, and Scorpions.  Like all the other SSX games, music plays an integral part of the action.  Music starts out soft no matter which track it is, but increases in amplitude and aggression the better you do on the snow.  The music will also drop down low as you soar off of a huge jump.  It's an effect that's about 5 years old, but has been perfected now.  The character voice overs aren't too great, but it's better than having David Arquette screaming at you in SSX Tricky.  The sound effects are top notch production value that you expect from EA.  So overall, the excellent soundtrack carries the sound department and compliments the crazy sketchpad presentation of the game and the characters themselves perfectly.     
 
 
Replay Value 
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On Tour isn't a meaningless subtitle.  This version of SSX is all about you.  When you enter the tour, you create your own boarder or skier and enter the ranks.  As you progress through events, you earn money and hype, which adds to your rating in Transworld magazine.  By beating record scores you can earn sponsorships which add to your earnings much like Tiger Woods PGA Tour.  Events in On Tour include the classic Race, Trick, and Slopestyle, but it doesn't stop there.  Anyone who played SSX 3 will remember the BIG Challenges that required you to do certain tasks, sometimes within a time limit.  These new events add some much needed variation to the SSX experience.  You'll be given goals in all kinds of events such as making it to the finish line with less than 30 seconds of air-time (or even less than 30 seconds of snow-time), grinding a certain number of marked rails, grabbing a certain number of icons, accumulating 400,000 points in a single combo, and many others.  Sometimes you will be one on one against SSX stars from the past and beating them will unlock special rewards.  You could easily spend 20-30 hours on these events, possibly more if you want the high score on all of them.  The only drawback to the replay value is that the online mode found in SSX 3 is now gone.  But honestly, SSX has never really been about multiplayer, although it was fun.  I dumped at least 40 hours into SSX 3 and I only played it online a couple times.  With all the events and hundreds of collectibles hidden throughout the mountain, you have more than enough stuff to do in this game.  Not to mention the open design of the mountain that literally allows you to go anywhere whenever you want.  Finding all the nooks and crannies on the mountain is a serious investment of time.     
 
 
Conclusion 
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SSX is one of the best franchises born this generation, and with On Tour, they're giving gamers one last hurrah on the aging platforms.  It may be a while before we see a fifth installment, so enjoy this one to the fullest.  If you've never played a SSX game though, I suggest picking up SSX 3.  It's less than $20 now, and is a much better introduction to the game.  On Tour often feels like a game for SSX vets, as even I have had trouble with some of the events early on.  But if you've been playing SSX since the beginning, you're gonna love this one.  I make it no secret that I'm not a fan of EA, but the SSX team seems to have gotten everything right by pulling the best ideas from some of the best EA has to offer.  I mentioned the Tiger Woods style sponsorship and ranking and the speed of Burnout, but they've also added gameplay mechanics that resemble Burnout.  The mountain is now full of recreational skiers, boarders, and even people in tubes.  Racing past these people will give you a small boost for a "Close Call," while doing a solid drive-by punch will boost you even more with a knockdown.  But colliding head on with these people will send you tumbling.  So if you liked any of the past SSX games, go pick this up immediately.  If you're new to SSX, and the game sounds like fun, do yourself a favor and pick up SSX 3 for the cheap price.  Whichever one you are, you will not be disappointed.     
 
 
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***

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