Review: SSX [3/3]
SSX: High flying action with staying power.
Many times, when I play sports games, I find it difficult to evaluate the game apart from the sport it depicts. I suppose in many instances these are simulations, a genre of games that I don’t have a lot of experience with. But when it comes to the arcade sub-genre of sports games, I have no trouble. And SSX falls squarely into that category. As a game, SSX executes across several layers: runs, character management, and online competition.
At its core, SSX is a game about snowboarding; snowboarding quickly, stylishly, or dangerously. Players traverse different mountain slopes as though they were snowboarding with jet packs attached to them. Tricks can be executed while in the air, and completing them grants the player boost time that is stored until they are ready to use it. Boosting will propel the player’s character even more quickly and can be used to get ahead in races or to hit ramps with an extra burst of speed and hang time. If the player executes tricks well enough will also fill up a “Tricky” meter, which when full grants infinite boost and access to uber-tricks. In addition, many of the slopes specific hazards that can only be negotiated with special equipment such as ice picks, oxygen masks, and wing suits.
Each slope differentiates itself from the others well enough that makes each one memorable and worthy of player mastery. There are always multiple ways to tackle each one, and in virtually all instances the ride is smooth and entertaining. When everything comes together, tricking your way through the course is satisfying as though you were playing an instrument as part of a band or orchestra that’s playing a great piece of music. Everything that SSX’s trailers depict is what can be experienced in the game as the player learns how to play it.
Learning to play the game can be accomplished through the single-player campaign which serves as a series of staged goals for the player to follow. They introduce the player to a series of more and more difficult slopes. It won’t hold your hand through this process, but leaves you to discover the ways by which you can improve your run times, your scores, and your control as confront the game’s hazards. In essence, you’re being forced to learn how to play the game well in order to progress. Of course, the single-player campaign can be entirely dismissed in favor of exploring each one of the mountains freely.
Performing runs in the single-player campaign, as well as in the explore mode will net the player points with which they can unlock more slopes or improve their characters with. Each character gains levels as they are used, and with new levels come new equipment. This could have been a point of frustration if the game were balanced in a way that access to better equipment was arbitrary constraint to game play. But equipment really seems to simply augment and tweak how the characters perform, rather than dictate how they perform. Customizing each character’s equipment gives the player the chance to tune them in accordance with their preferences.
Where character management really makes a noticeable difference is in competition with other players online. Your friends will appear as ghosts playing along side you in the level based on their best run. In addition to modifying a character’s equipment, you can also purchase stat “mods” that can be used while attempting to get the fastest run time or highest score on one slope. Once you move on to another slope though, the mod expires. They can be used to increase your ability to quickly perform tricks, adjust your boost speed, or your base speed. When competing with others online, you may find that you’ve mastered a run, but still fall behind your friends. The strategic use of points to tweak your character will make or break your performance relative to them and represents a sort of game going on around the game. How and where can points be invested to give you the best edge among your friends. It’s a simple system, but it provides the potential for engagement with the game beyond just unlocking and personally mastering the levels.
SSX doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of the genre or medium, but it exhibits all of the qualities of being an excellent game that will keep you playing for quite a while. When so many other games are striving to bring you a cinematic, complex experiences, SSX is here to remind you of all the simple joys of playing games.