I spent many-a-late-night huddled in my room around my television with my PS2 while learning to master the slopes in the previous SSX titles. I never have been one for sports games, but something about the wild, whacky and extreme racing and tricking of the SSX franchise really caught on to me. My brothers, friends and I would spend hours learning to master each course and find all the shortcuts, racing against each other’s best scores and the clock.
Those were the days, and I’m sure there are games out there each of us could reminisce about. Some say nostalgia is a boon to gaming, others say it’s a bane. Back then, of course, I wasn’t looking at the game with a critical eye, but was simply in it for the fun. Does this SSX “reboot” live up to the memories, or does it falter in the face of current generation tropes?
The first thing to note is that there probably is more of a story here than there ever was in the franchise previously. I’ll touch on it briefly simply because the story is practically inconsequential. There’s a former SSX member, Griff, who wants to shred the nine deadliest peaks in the world. These peaks range anywhere from the Rockies to Siberia to Japan and even Antarctica. Naturally, the SSX team, headed up by Zoe, wants to get it done first and beat Griff at his own game. To do that, she needs to assemble new and old friends alike to go up against Griff and take him down. There. That is your story. It’s simple, it’s shallow and it’s completely what we should all expect from a game like this.
The “story” unfolds as you reach each new area, which provides you with a handful of peaks and events that lead up to a “boss” event against Griff. Things start off tame and increase in difficulty as you move on through the area. Each “zone”, so to speak, also has a single theme challenge. It could be darkness, it could be ice, it could be trees. Each of the nine areas have their own theme and carry that theme throughout all the descents in that particular region. I actually like this concept, as it challenges you to work – during that segment of the game – to learn how to deal with that particular obstacle on the slopes. Learning about all those, as well as the gear to get you through them, will come in handy later in the game’s campaign.
In each of these areas, leading up to the final challenge of the region, you’ll be racing against one of these new recruits you’re trying to get join with you in challenging Griff. Once you clear the first race with that new character, you’ll unlock that racer for continual use throughout the game (including the awesome Explore mode, which I’ll get to in a bit). There is a little bit of interaction between the characters, but it doesn’t go too deep.
This all works together to keep the story there, but doesn’t shove it in your face. It’s mildly interesting, but certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously and never tries to be more than what it is – a shallow membrane to wrap around the meat of the game.
As you go through these various regions, the game teaches you about the new additions to the franchise, which is an extensive gear shop. Just about everything you do in this game awards you credits, and you can spend those in the shop. There you can outfit your characters with new gear like boards, mods, accessories and other things. The most important addition is that of various accessories that help you out in certain slope conditions. There’s an ice pick, for example, which helps you dig into icy mountainside courses, thus controlling your cornering and descent.
The various boards and outfits you can purchase also increase your “stats”. The stats are simple – speed, tricks and boost. The higher the stat in each area, the better you are at it. The game keeps that simple and effective. If you purchase a board that gives you a big enough trick boost, you’ll definitely notice it as you trick your way down the mountain.
The unfortunate aspect here is that, aside from the main stats, some of these gear additions are hardly noticeable. If you traverse an ice-covered peak without an ice pick, many times you won’t even notice you’re missing it. The game lists a survival rate far lower than what it really is. I’m not sure if this is an attempt to scare you into purchasing the gear or what. Granted, the gear needed isn’t that expensive, but it would stand to reason that it should do something.
To that point, some of it does work, and works very well. The armor plating, for example, provides a pretty noticeable addition to how many hits you can take going down a mountain filled with rocks or trees. Overall though, it’s very iffy as to what you really need and what you can do without, regardless of what the game does to warn you that you absolutely need something for that particular descent.
The descents themselves are designed well, for the most part. A lot of effort was put into designing them with as much realism to the actual peak as the developers could muster in a game like this. Obviously you don’t find grind-able nuclear silos or half-buried monasteries in these areas in the real world. However, because it’s highly unlikely most of us will ever see these areas of the world from these perspectives, it does give it a sense of awe-inspiring greatness to race and trick down some of these areas. Each area is also culturally themed to the region you’re playing in, which is a cool touch and keeps things interesting.
I do think, sometimes, too much is done with these areas. I don’t remember ever having a dozen choices of where to go all at once in the previous games. This kept courses tight and easily learnable. This iteration seems to want to give you a path to go and a jump to take for every day of the week, and then some. I found this many times to be very overwhelming, and that feeling generally detracts from an otherwise well designed mountain. Even in the first campaign region, you’re subjected to a race or two that is incredibly complex and branching, which stands the chance of overwhelming new players or those just starting off. Not everyone wants to race a track a dozen times before a) figuring out the best and fastest way to go or b) to check out every last nook and cranny.