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SSX 2012

You’ll never in a million years believe it but the biggest crack addiction to hit the Xbox 360 this year is the relaunch of the SSX snowboard game and I don’t think it’s too early at all to start hyping it’s Game of the Year status.


With as low as my writing output has been this year, rumors abound that I have passed on, I am severely ill, I’ve given up writing, I got too much stuff at the Austin Books Sidekick Store closeout, that I’ve gone underground to begin my Dr. No-like takeover of the world or something new just hit the Xbox 360 and I’ve been consumed with that.  Of all those rumors, the last one is the truth.  But wait, you say, I haven’t seen Doom 4 or Counter Strike or Rainbow 6 3 or Mercenaries 3 or even Borderlands 2 arrive at my local retailer… is Gotham City Imposters really that good?  I would have to reply in the affirmative; Gotham City Imposters is actually a fun game but that’s a whole different review.  So what could have come out that could capture my attention so unmercifully that I would do nothing with my spare time but play that game?  You’ll never in a million years believe it but the biggest crack addiction to hit the Xbox 360 this year is the relaunch of the SSX snowboard game and I don’t think it’s too early at all to start hyping it’s Game of the Year status.

First, a little history.  SSX made it’s video game debut in 2000 on the Sony Playstation 2 where it didn’t do as well commercially but garnered wonderful critical reviews for it’s over-the-top style of gameplay and arcade feel.  2001 saw the release of SSX Tricky which was hugely popular on the PS2 and remembered fondly to this day.  I was never a fan of LameStation so it wasn’t until the original Xbox got SSX3 that I really fell in love with the franchise.  Instead of just Race and Big Air events, SSX3 was the first time the developers gave you a mountain to play on and it totally captured my attention.  It was the first time in SSX history you could start at the top of the mountain and race all the way to the bottom in one massively fun run.  EA Sports raised the entertainment bar again in 2005, building on the success of SSX3 by releasing SSX World Tour which took the idea of a whole mountain to play on and increased the size to a small mountain range to get big air on and it quickly became my favorite game of the series by far.  2007 saw the first mis-step in the series in quite some time with the Nintendo Wii exclusive SSX Blur, which wasn’t a terrible game but the nunchuck and controller format for maneuvering your rider made the experience less than stellar.  So now we get to 2012 and the relaunch of the SSX brand simply titled SSX and once again allow me to put forth it’s consideration for Game of the Year because it really is that good.

SSX builds on the previous games by allowing you to have fun on mountain ranges but the EA development team raised the bar again by utilizing Google Earth to map every mountain range on Earth and built a globe which allows you to have fun pretty much everywhere you wish you could snowboard.  From the mighty peak of Mount Everest to the lava-filled canyons of Mount Kilimanjaro, the whole globe is open for your Big Tricking pleasure (except Mount Fuji, which is a PS3 exclusive for now and let’s face it, they need all the exclusives they can get).  The sheer magnitude of the peaks available and the amount of stuff you can do on them is truly awesome.  This time around, EA has eschewed the free ride function and split the events up into three types:  Race, Trick and Survive events.  Race and Trick events are pretty much self-explanatory, trying to either get to the bottom with the fastest time or to do the most amount of points by tricking through the course.  Survive events are something else entirely, having you run down a course as many times as possible to set the longest distance you can before your character chokes completely.  The cool thing is the developers have added avalanches as an obstacle to overcome.  Most of the time, the avalanches are behind you as you race down the course but there are a few levels that switch to a top-down perspective and have you barreling down the slopes with the avalanche directly on top of you!  This is one of the most fun new events ever added to the SSX brand and even Magnificent Bastard has shown proficiency in avoiding the avalanche bearing down on him as he burns down the mountain at top speed!  Truly a fun experience, even for novice riders.

The main menu is broken up into three parts:  World Tour which is basically the story mode, allowing your character to get a feel for the control system and try out the many peaks available, all with their own pitfalls, unlocking gear and leveling up your character as you play it; Explore Mode, which enables you to pick any peak and try to beat the Race, Trick and Survival times/scores and to try and pick up any collectables you may find scattered about and the Global Challenge mode, which is pretty much all I do now.  The Global Challenge mode gives you all the same peaks and events you would see in Explore mode except you’re competing against everyone else who has the game for big money prizes.  The higher you rank on the leaderboards once the event has ended (be it an hour, a day or a week) the more cash you earn.  There is something very cool about doing a trick event with 15,o00 other riders and totally destroying someone’s score to earn the Diamond ranking and it is a little frustrating when someone knocks you down leaderboards the same way.  Some runs are free but others have a price tag attached to even participate but the payouts are so much sweeter, especially on a million dollar drop cost (but you have to place is the thing).  The game also allows you to place Geotags, little collectables worth money to whomever picks them up and earning you money the longer they’re not snagged from the course you placed them on.  Geotag collecting alone will suck up many hours of your time because some people are really lousy at placing tags and that’s free money but many, many times you’ll make a mistake on a run and as you hurtle off into space you see that one Geotag someone like me was clever in placing somewhere waaaaayyyyyy off the beaten track and it becomes compulsive to rewind and change your line so you can get that tag!  I even had some kid send me a message on Xbox Live asking me to please leave his tags alone.  After that message, how could I not ruin as many dreams as possible by snagging those tags?  I’ve even blown some diamond runs in an effort to just get that 1 tag I came across randomly, knowing full well a diamond win would net me $200,000 and the tag would only surrender $9600.  I know as a 40 year old guy this is pretty sad but those punk kids need to get better at the game and how better to teach them that than to ruin all their hard work?

Be prepared to die a lot.  Some of the courses are especially brutal and EA Sports have taken away a lot of the Barbie dress-up you can do with your riders in order to include some new devices to help you navigate these treacherous courses (I kid you not – Kilimanjaro is not for the faint of heart).  In the aforementioned African peak, the majority of your time is spent underground so a headlamp is required.  This was one of the first courses I attempted immediately upon booting up the game.  I paid my $10,000 to open the course and my poor level 3 girl coughed up some more dough for a pretty crappy headlamp and off  I went, hurtling through narrow caves and jumping lava-filled crevasses with only a pin-point light illuminating my way.  Oh, by the way, it’s more realistic than you think:  every flip or spin I did caused my headlamp to whip around wildly, just like it would in real life and when you’re upside down over a crevasse not knowing where you’re going to land it becomes kind of a heart-racing experience.  Antarctica is so cold you need a solar panel suit, Patagonia has huge rifts in the landscape so a wingsuit is critical to your chances of survival, the Rockies are full of trees and rocks so armor is required, some courses are so foggy you absolutely need pulse goggles to see the contours of the land and some of the higher peaks in the Alps demand an oxygen mask for you to even run the course.  The World Tour mode gradually introduces these new items and allows you to get used to them but if you’re at all like me you’ll discover more of them on the fly, which isn’t always a good thing.  Steering your dude can sometimes be a pain and every character is attracted to huge holes like they were magnetic, forcing you to use your rewind function in a desperate effort to avoid death, most of the time only lining yourself up for more death from a different angle. A note on rewind:  this function comes in very handy for Survival runs where you’re trying to milk your armor for a few hundred more meters but in a Trick event the rewind may cause a huge point penalty and if you rewind during a Race you’re pretty much done.

EA have been kind of douchbags for trying to recoup money from the used market by forcing anyone who gets one of their games second hand to purchase an online pass to get any of the online functionality but SSX is a first for the company.  All the Global Events are available from the start so even if you don’t have the pass you can feel free to compete with other SSX fans from around the world – you just won’t get to touch any of the money you’ve earned, which is kept in an online bank for you when and if you do pick up an online pass.  This is huge for EA, not to ban you from having fun online and this new way of doing their online pass is very refreshing from a company whose sole mission statement is ‘get as much cash as you can’ and I hope it bodes well for future EA releases.

So, to recap, the scope of SSX is huge, the gameplay is just as arcade-y as you remember, graphically all the peaks and courses look really spectacular, the soundtrack is very solid and the perfect music to burn down a mountain with (DJ Shadow, The Herbaliser, Zion I and the Grouch!) and if you aren’t a fan of the music you can even import your own soundtrack into the game instead of overriding it from the Xbox dashboard, the leveling up isn’t super-frustrating, the new items work fairly well and overall the game is a tremendous amount of fun.  Even a novice SSX player with the basic controls memorized will experience a thrill when they begin bombing down courses at top speed and pulling off ridiculous tricks over the realistic courses and the first time you place in the diamond rankings over a dozen other riders will make you feel pretty proud.  The beauty of the game is that none of the courses are super-long so if you only have an hour to play you’ll still be able to burn up several courses and receive a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Is it too early to tout SSX as the Game of the Year?  I don’t think so, as I’ve said it like 3 times in this review.  This game is pure, unmitigated fun.  Even after getting 100% in Global Challenge Badges and finding the elusive (but not hard to get if you know where it is) million dollar snowflake, SSX still haunts my every waking moment.  The soundtrack constantly runs through my head, when I close my eyes at night I think about courses and how I can run them better, I can’t wait to destroy some kid’s new score on the Alaska courses and I will get every Geotag that I come across.  The game most importantly is fun.  Many of the group I hang out with were surprised that Tron the Hardcore Shooter and Platformer guy would dig a snowboarding game, even one as free-roaming as a Tony Hawk Pro Skater game (which I never got into – Jet Set Radio Future Forever!) but after spending some time with it I now have a legion of converts (indeed, even Red Dawg and Mr. Pink 420 have acquired copies as of this writing).  It’s even a perfect party game, what with the ability to hand the joystick off because the events aren’t that long and whomever is lucky enough to do the next run will be thinking about his next turn long after his run is over.  SSX is one of those rare games that tries to do nothing more than provide a good time on your home gaming console and succeeds mightily.  It’s literally going to take a Doom 4 to pry my hands off of SSX and even then I can see myself going back to it once my shooting frenzy is over.  Trust me, SSX is totally a contender for Game of the Year and is worth every penny you spend to pick yourself up a copy.  Put this down on your MUST BUY list.  You won’t be disappointed…until you run into me on an avalanche course or a big trick event.  Then you’d better bring your “A” game.


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