Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 1, 2000
It’s a pretty safe bet that the main reason snowboarding titles have experienced such a boom recently is the sport’s unique nature. Part skate boarding, part skiing and all about showing off, snow boarders are the bad boys of winter, making their sport intriguing gaming material. Recently, there has been a steady output of titles that try to accurately recreate this elite activity, but SSX from EA Sports’ BIG division joyously throws accuracy to the wind. Instead they have focused on the wild and reckless heart of the sport and let their imaginations run wild. The result is a game that takes snowboarding as we know it and pushes it to wild extremes.
The premise behind SSX is paper thin, but plausible. The best competitors from around the world have gathered to compete on the most challenging courses in two events. The first of these is the race, which takes place in three rounds with medals awarded after the finals on each course. The other event is the showoff round, where boarders are awarded medals based on their total score after a single run. Points are, of course, awarded for tricks, which include jumps and grabs.
Sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it? In theory, yes, but in practice it’s anything but. To begin with, the international roster of competitors aren’t made up of real life boarders, such as those found in ESPN Winter X Games – Snowboarding. Instead this motley crew of eight racers is the most egotistical and overconfident collection of characters seen in years. The most reserved of the bunch is Mac, the fifteen year old American striving for the respect of his peers. From Canada there’s Elise, the six foot tall blonde with all the curves one expects from a Tomb Raider offering; and France offers up JP, the egotistical, handsome and rich young playboy. Each character speaks his or her native language while carving down the slopes, making it particularly entertaining to hear Kaori’s enthusiastic Chinese or Jurgen’s rumbling German after pulling off a major trick.
Added to our cast of characters is Rahzel from the musical group, Roots, who provides a running commentary on all but one of the courses. Quick to criticize unoriginality or clumsiness with comments like “one trick winter stick,” and “the captain of crunch,” the commentary will also identify the tricks as your rider pulls them off. For those sensitive souls, there is a smattering of encouraging comments to be heard, such as “bronze those thumbs,” and “call your momma into the room and show her how great you are!”
Rahzel is critical of repetition because trick riding very much a part of the competition. The tricks consist of spins and grabs, though combinations of the two are encouraged with additional points. When setting up for a trick, the player must hold the X button to begin their rider’s crouch and release it at the top of the hill. Before the launch, holding a direction with the controller will pre-wind the rider for a spin or flip. Similarly, the shoulder buttons can be held before launching the jump to determine which grab the rider will perform. Once air borne, though, the grip may be tweaked out by altering the rider’s stance or changed entirely. As may be expected, the more complex tricks strung together in a single jump, the more the player is rewarded. Similar awards await those who manage to slide their boards on rails, though SSX offers more variety in rail materials than most boarding titles. Snow fences, pipes, even abandoned mine tracks are all valid rails in this game, and they are more common than one would expect. When participating in the Show Off competition, players will have to use these environmental features if they wish to earn the high level medals. In the trick-riding mode, players will find large snowflakes rotating in the air that can double, triple or quintuple the score for a successful jump. Catching these bonuses always takes exceptional skill, and many of them require a rail slide or perfect timing to acquire.