Review by DConnoy
"A brilliant meshing of different game concepts."
EA Sports' SSX (or Snowboard SuperCross) has been regarded by many reviewers to be the best title available at the PlayStation 2's launch, and all things being equal, I'm in agreement. SSX combines the best of several different types of games to provide an experience that reaches beyond the bounds of its theme to appeal to just about anyone. I should know--I had no interest in snowboarding whatsoever before playing SSX (yes, this is my first snowboarding game).
Riders are well-detailed, and the tracks even more so. Draw in distance is way, way out there, and the cinematic pans that show off each course before the race are often quite breathtaking. Riders leave tracks in the snow, and thin wisps of snow trail out behind their board when they first launch off a jump. Animation is great too, with a lot of ways to crash, wipe out, knock over, and get knocked over. There's also a cool ''lightspeed'' effect when you hit the boost button.
One of the coolest gimmicks of SSX is the way the music is remixed on-the-fly based on your performance. It's kind of reminiscent of Parappa the Rapper, in that a great trick will ''pump up'' the music for a while, adding lyrics or an extra punchy line, while wiping out horribly will tone it down to a more anticipatory feel. While I'm largely not a fan of the techno/hip-hoppy type music used in SSX, I have to admit that it fits the theme of the game perfectly, and serves well as a dynamic backdrop to the action. You can change the music track being played at any time, which is nice if you have a favorite or least favorite track, but not all the songs are available on all of the courses.
Sound effects aren't quite as dynamic as the music, though. Your board makes a different sound over snow than it does over ice or a rail, but there's not a big variety otherwise.
Probably owing to the fact that it was created in the US, SSX's voice acting is excellent. Each character has a voice that fits their personality perfectly, and the quotes are stylish without being over the top. Each character speaks in their native language, as does the announcer on each course. Finally, there's a play-by-play man who calls out the names of your tricks as you perform them (''Frontside 1080... with a stiffy!''), makes fun of you if you repeat tricks (''I believe we've seen that before.''), and cringes if you wipe out (''I didn't know backs could bend that way!''). All in all, the voices serve SSX extremely well in lending it style and presence.
Going into SSX, I had no idea how a snowboarding game could conceivably be controlled, but the control setup is easy to learn, flexible, and responsive. Just use the analog stick to steer and control your momentum, and when you're ready to jump, hold down the X button to crouch and ''charge up'' the jump. Spins and flips can be wound up by holding the analog stick or D-pad once you're crouching, and then just release the X button when you're ready to catch air (presumably off a ramp). Grab tricks are done by holding combinations of the shoulder buttons and the square button, giving every character 30 different grabs. The Select button can be used to instantly reposition your rider on the main run of the course if you get kicked off or fail to negotiate a shortcut.
My only complaints about the control would be that the right analog stick is used to push other riders, which is kind of ungainly when you're trying to keep your fingers near the boost and jump buttons, and the riders occasionally get pointed in the wrong direction (since they always turn to face downhill when stopped) and there's no way to turn around aside from using Select to reset. These problems crop up very rarely though, and overall, the superb design and implementation of SSX's control scheme successfully expands the Zen-like feeling of Wipeout to a game with many more variables.
Of course, all of this would be meaningless if SSX were just no fun to play... but it so is. The illusion of speed is very convincing when you're carving your way town a tight banked run, you'll hold your breath as you go for bigger and bigger tricks off the jumps, and you'll cackle like a madman when you knock someone out of your way a la Road Rash.
The crux of SSX is the relationship between tricks and speed. Going off a jump as late as possible to get maximum air will slow you down in the long run, so why go for big tricks when the goal is to win the race? Well, the better your trick, the more ''Boost'' you'll get. The Boost meter fills up as you perform tricks and can be used by holding down the Square button for a blast of speed--the more Boost in the meter, the faster you go. So winning races becomes a test in balancing the speed lost by performing tricks with the Boost gained by doing so, and learning this balance for each course provides an experience and challenge beyond what speed or tricks could provide alone.
Of course, if you don't like being around the other riders, there's the Showoff mode, which plunks you down on the course solo to run it and try to do the best tricks you can along the way. There's a time limit so that you can't just backtrack up the course and go off the same jump over and over, but there are also huge colored snowflakes scattered around that double, triple, or quintuple the points you earn if you collect them as you're doing a trick. Learning the new layout of the course in Showoff mode, and refining your run to get the most points, provides a challenge entirely different, and sometimes greater, than that of the races.
So what's the point of all this? Well, beyond the usual racing-game fare of unlocking more courses and vehicles (in this case, boards of different types and stats), winning races and Showoffs will give the character you're using experience points that can be used to increase their skills up to a maximum dependent on the character. It'll take first-place performances in both modes on all eight tracks to get one character up to his or her max stats, and if you have the gumption to max out all eight characters, well, you'll be at it a while (we're talking about at least thirty times down each course!). But, the beauty of the game is that with all those times that you run a course you'll constantly be discovering new shortcuts, new ways to take jumps or save time, how to change the way you handle the course based on the character you're using, and just generally having a hell of a time, so getting everything out of SSX hardly becomes work.
SSX is a wonderfully-crafted game that combines the best elements of Wipeout, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and Crash Team Racing to create an entertaining experience that you don't even have to like snowboarding to enjoy. I highly recommend SSX to anyone who loves any of those three games, and if you're a fan of all of them... well, what are you waiting for???
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/29/00, Updated 04/25/01
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