Game Review: SSX (2012)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Game reviews are not normally something you’d see on a blog ostensibly about music (and it’s even outside my usual movie/tv review schtick), but I thought I’d make an exception for SSX 2012, as it seems appropriate given our recent glut of snowy weather. Also, I have something of a personal history with the series.

You see, I’m madly in love with SSX (for those unfamiliar with the series, SSX stands for Snowboarding Supercross - here's the Wikipedia link). One of my fondest memories from my youth is playing SSX Tricky with my dad, trying for hours to one-up each other’s scores on Garibaldi (the final verdict? He was the first to break 1 million points,  but I got the top score eventually with 1.4 million). When SSX 3 came out, not only did I play it, I obsessed over it – and to this day I still regard it as the greatest videogame I’ve ever played.

Not just sports game, or racing game. I mean best game. As in the best of every game. And even then, if pressed, I probably couldn’t give you a great answer as to why a fantasy and sci-fi loving RPG nerd would adore a sports game so much, other than, “because it’s really, really good!”



Yet, weirdly, for a while, it had sort of dropped off my radar. I wasn’t a huge fan of the gameplay changes in On Tour, and Blur was an interesting exercise, but the novelty of drawing your tricks in the air wore out quickly, and for the longest time I forgot about the series. So, four days ago I saw the demo for the new SSX – I had seen the alpha footage and thought it looked pretty cool, so I downloaded it. About two hours later, and that old flame had reignited with a vengeance. I was playing the two tracks in the demo over and over, trying to beat my own scores. When I saw that it came out the next day, I was faced with a crisis - you see, I’ve been in something of a game flood recently – between classes, a life, Batman: Arkham City, Skyrim, and the Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Demo, my schedule’s absolutely swamped. Cramming SSX in the center of that wouldn’t work out well, especially given that I’ve pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 for next week. It would be too costly, and would get in the way of my already crowded procession of games.

But I bought it anyway. Because it’s really, really good.

In a lot of ways, SSX typifies a return to form for the series – bringing back all of the things that hit the nostalgia triggers for me (SSX 3’s narrator DJ Atomika, the classic control scheme, and my dad’s favorite character, Eddie, as a pre-order/DLC bonus character) while adding a bevy of new gameplay mechanics. The biggest of these is Survival Mode, where you have to navigate down a lethally dangerous peak and survive long enough to reach the bottom. Often, these are used to showcase the new gameplay mechanics like the Wingsuit or the Ice Picks – with middling success.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to think of them. When they work, they’re positively breathtaking (the Wingsuit peak in particular is amazing), but when they don’t, they feel cheap, gimmicky, and unrewarding (like the Ice Pick peak). I’ve only done three of the nine available, so maybe the others are more consistent.

The rest of the game works like the best of SSX games gone by. The level design is pitch-perfect (based loosely on NASA renderings of real-life peaks), the campaign has a pretty nifty – albeit simple – storyline and likeable characters, the gameplay is just as technically satisfying and finely tuned as ever, and the soundtrack is…well, okay, we can talk about that a bit.

The soundtrack is one of the main reasons to play an SSX game – both 3 and On Tour had amazing soundtracks packed with a healthy mix of hip hop, alternative, indie, electronica, and techno. On Tour in particular was great for featuring MFAMLG-approved acts like Bloc Party and We Are Scientists. By comparison, the soundtrack we get here seems really bland and kind of generic. Don’t get me wrong, I like Dubstep more than I’m willing to admit in public, but there are just no tracks to write home about, except one truly awful Skrillex…thing (I wouldn’t call it a “song”, per say – link here if you dare) and a pretty solid remix of Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky”, which sent nostalgic shivers down my spine the first time I heard it kick on.

My other complaint is the lack of 2-player split-screen, but they make up for that with a really strong online mode. I tend to avoid online modes like the plague, not because of the gameplay changes they bring, but because of the communities they attract. However, SSX’s online mode is pretty engaging – it’s not really competitive unless you want it to be (through their Rivalry system), and it seems like the closest thing the game has to a freeride mode – oh, right.

Where the heck is my gorram Freeride mode! The BEST PART of SSX 3 was being able to just freeride from the top of the highest peak all the way to the city at the bottom of the mountain! GRR! RAGE!

Okay, I’m done.

Ultimately, SSX is a worthy successor to the series, and a fine game. I don’t usually pay full price to pick up a game, but I think SSX is worth every penny. The insane number of tracks, the robust campaign and online options, and the nostalgia value are worth a lot on their own.  Is it better than that fabled SSX 3? No. But it’s good enough to warrant me not busting out my Wii (there’s got to be a better way to say that…) just to play it.

And who knows? Maybe I can convince my dad to get it and get on Xbox live and we can get back to work destroying trick runs (ahem...hint. hint.)

2 comments :

  1. Hmmm.... Tricky style shootouts with the Effin Bear? Sounds like something I need to consider.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What system do i need to get?
    Tell me Elise is back.
    Could we still play SSX-SmackDown?

    ReplyDelete

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