Going back about a decade ago I used to head to a ski resort in northern California with a group of friends and several days of skiing and snowboard. At night we could often end up playing hours of SSX. I remember those trips well and as fun as the skiing was I enjoyed our SSX sessions just as much, maybe more since I never got stuck on a lift with 50 MPH winds while playing SSX. Anyway, the point is that I had a lot of fun with the game. Over the past ten years or so I have pretty much given up skiing and it seemed that EA decided to give up on SSX. Well, now a new SSX game has been released and while it might not entice me to strap on a board it just might get me to gather up the old gang for some virtual boarding.
The "extreme" snowboarding games were a pretty big deal five-ten years ago but have really dropped off as of late. Why this happened is a discussion for a different time but EA has decided that the time for a comeback is now and thus SSX for the PS3 (and 360) has been released. A quick synopsis of SSX is a hyper-unrealistic snowboarding game revolving around insane tricks and speed, but mostly tricks. A lot of the things you will do in SSX break many laws of physics. So what I'm saying is that this is not a simulation as much as a fantasy. The enjoyment comes from stringing together as many tricks as possible for high scores which lead to the ability to buy better equipment which leads to doing better tricks so you can get even higher scores. It's a classic formula and one that SSX has nailed.
SSX has a single-player campaign that involves Team SSX trying to conquer the nine deadliest descents around the globe before their ex-teammate, Griff, does it. Yeah it's a pretty lame setup and all, but at least you get into the action quickly and don't have to worry too much with storylines. SSX has one of the more interesting tutorials that I have seen as it has you jumping out of a plane with you attached to your board and wearing a wingsuit. You spend the next several minutes in freefall learning how to perform different tricks and maneuvers without worrying about crashing. There are a few options for the controls, one has you using the right analog stick to initiate tricks or you can use the face buttons. I found the buttons a little easier to use, but maybe that's just a personal preference as there didn't seem to be anything "wrong" with using the analog stick, I just liked the buttons better.
The control is spot-on throughout the game. While it does take some practice to nail some of the more difficult ones it doesn't take too long for you to be linking some pretty slick moves together to get the "Tricky" and "Super Tricky" modifiers which unlock the crazy combos and rider specific tricks. The two main types of events are races for time and races for points. There are a lot of courses across the world divvied up into about nine main areas with three mountains in each area and multiple runs on each mountain. The runs will sometime connect with a previous run at points but the variety is enough to keep you interested.
One thing that seemed odd at first but that I didn't really end up missing at all was the exclusion of a head-to-head multiplayer. There isn't the normal live racing against friends but more of a racing against their ghosts as part of the RiderNet system. Your friends run a certain event and the system tracks their run which you can then race against later even seeing their ghost avatar on the course with you. There are also global events that you can enter with others that are anywhere from free to enter to costing lots of credits (not real money or course but credits you have earned throughout the game). The more people that enter, the higher the payout ... kind of like a poker tournament. You can use any credits won on a variety of gear and upgrades just as long as you have the EA online pass.
The previously mention deadly descents are much like a boss battle in other games. These runs are very difficult and throw a lot of different hazards at you. They take a little getting used to because they have your rider at the top of the screen racing down so there is a bit of disorientation and a lack of visibility to what's ahead. It is a change of course, to be sure, and many will have mixed feeling about them. I didn't like them as much as the rest of the game because I died a lot and really success seemed to be a matter of course memorization.
SSX provides a real sense of speed and is a nice looking game. It may not be cutting edge but it is no slouch and it rarely, and maybe even never, had any frame rate issues. There might have been a hint of it when things got really intense on some of the descents but there was so much going on and I was too concerned about crashing that I didn't really remember. The soundtrack is awesome and seemed to adjust on the fly to what was happening on screen very well.
Final Rating: 90%. SSX is a return to the frantic trick-based games of several years ago with a modern online component. It is a heck of a ride.