Ready, set, snow.
Winter is still officially a good two months off, but doní¢â‚¬â„¢t tell EA Big. After a two year hiatus, theyí¢â‚¬â„¢ve moved another mountain of a game with the fourth installment of the SSX series, SSX On Tour.
Despite the time off, the core of the game remains unchanged. Thereí¢â‚¬â„¢s this mountain covered in snow, and you need to get down it fast. You still perform a variety of crazy tricks while dodging killer obstacles on your journey from peak to valley, while a few new features and a brand new set up add spice to the classic SSX gameplay. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a solid run, although the French judge among you may be less than impressed with the risks taken.
For instance, the gameplay is basically identical to the last iteration, SSX 3. The outlandish Uber tricks return as Monster Tricks, and there are plenty of opportunities to perform them. Simply build up the boost bar, hit a big jump and flip the appropriate control stick for some great tricking. These provide cool eye candy, although for some reason, the camera occasionally drifts off to the side, making it tough to gauge how much air they have left. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s not that big of a deal, but it really sucks when you pull off a huge trick only to have a drifting camera cause you to take a spill and lose all of those hard earned points.
Most of the changes are cosmetic, like the much advertised addition of skis. These play the same way as snowboards, although you can ski both forward and backwards. Don't assume that takes more skill, though - SSX hot dogs and weenies alike will handle skiing backward with ease because ití¢â‚¬â„¢s the same as skiing forwards, and skiing in any direction is handled the same as snowboarding. So why ski? Because ití¢â‚¬â„¢s retro, duh!
The overall mode design sees a slight tweak, too. Where SSX 3 gave you the freedom to go nuts anywhere you wanted on a giant mountain, On Tour tries to keep you from going too far out of bounds by having you focus on climbing to the top of the snow-sports world with a custom character. To this end, a character creator has been added, but ití¢â‚¬â„¢s as skinny as one of the new skis. You just pick from a group of pre-made templates, flip up the facial features and skin tones a bit and voila, instant lame personality. As the game progresses, you can also pick up new gear for more customization.
Speaking of progression, the main mode is far from linear, although linearity is far from par for the SSX course. Instead, it sets you up with a nice map that pinpoints all the events on the mountain. Your goal is to shred your way through each on your way to becoming the top ranked snowboarder/skier in the world. The events range from Race and Trick competitions to unorthodox Opponent Knockdown and Item Collection challenges.
Successfully completing events moves you up the leader board and earns you cash for new boards, skis, bonus attributes and other special gear. And just in case you were wondering, thereí¢â‚¬â„¢s also a huge mountain with a ton of secret and not-so-secret pathways to discover. Of course, most of this was true of the last game, and while the sense of freedom has been reigned in a bit, it mostly feels like another run on the same old mountain.
The maps are new, at least. Anyone can make big jumps and drops, but the EA Big crew took things a step further and packed the course with lots of other people. Random skiers and snowboarders are out in force to make the journey more interesting...and more perilous. The courses themselves range from alpine black diamond horrors to a sweet city on the snow. You may jib on top of fences, over buildings, around (or through) people and inside secret ice caves for one hell of an interactive downhill run. They certainly don't lack in creative spark.
Really the biggest change is in the game's style. The opening movie and menus go big biting Napoleon Dynamiteí¢â‚¬â„¢s flavor with notebook scribbled art complete with a unicorn that rocks out, random winged eyeballs and other crazy creations. It's less techno and more indie rock, although none of that has any palpable effect on the gameplay.
SSX has always been the benchmark for extreme sports speed, and On Tour doesn't stray far from that icy path of chaos. With huge jumps and drop-offs, there are plenty of opportunities to let this gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s stunning visuals take your breath away. It helps that the framerate is rock solid - at least for the Xbox and PS2 versions. The Gamecube enjoys cameos from Mario and Luigi, but it also has some unstable framerate issues when you kick up the flurries.
The soundtrack features a lot of predictably bad rock, but also adds in a little Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Dio so you can í¢â‚¬Å“Ride the tiger!"? and the mountain at the same time. Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s hot.
The multiplayer options, though, are not. The good news is that the lackluster online play has been nixed. The bad news is that nothing replaced it. Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s right, no online play anywhere for any system, pretty weird for a game urging you to become the best racer in the world. At least you can split the screen and a slope with a buddy, but that's not very exciting.
And really, neither is SSX On Tour. The gameplay is just as good as you remember it to be and the engine still hauls a great deal of ass, but considering it's had two years to stew, this tour feels a little too much like the last one.