Twelve friends... a cabin in the mountains... and a deadly secret...
Alright, maybe not. But why can’t one of these skate-or-die games have a slasher waiting in the closet to spice things up? Maybe some day, Skifree was pretty scary.
...And now they’re racing to survive...
[image1]Enough of that; SSX Blur is a lighthearted and arcadey contender for your Wii time, completely devoid of terror. Thirty-two career mode events and nearly 300 collectible tokens lure you around three mountainsides, with dozens of moves, accessories and characters to collect. The simple, inviting slopes are offset by a steep learning curve, as we spend our first weekend on the Wii slopes.
Blur uses the tethered Wiimote and Nunchuk to steer and spin your board. Most of the action of pointing and carving is done on the ‘chuck while you save the Wiimote for tricks. Most of the SSX repertoire is here, and even the underused stuff like board grabs play a greater part in winning races and landing stunts.
At first the controls feel unreliable and a little uncomfortable; you’re never too sure how much you have to tilt the analog stick while you tilt the Nunchuk to turn, you can be airborne but unable to perform tricks because your jump command didn’t seem to register. There’s a definite rhythm to learn before you can cut through the ice.
Some clunky tutorials lay out the very basics of the system, though they skip a few critical features: for example, I would have been careful about leaning the Nunchuk forward and backward if I had realized it was affecting my speed. Even when you’re trying to figure out how to make a move work, there isn’t a ton of explanation on how to execute the controller moves, so that’s a bummer.
[image2]These bumps can be satisfying to overcome, but not everyone likes the moguls. Any graphical or controller feedback at all would have eased the frustration factor. The button for landing jumps mostly seems to throw you on your back, and the poor jump detection leads to a lot of air time where you can’t do anything.
Unfortunately, the control problems eat away at the whole game; the ‘Ubertrick’ system would have you paint shapes in midair for bonus points, but the painting controls are painfully exact. Plus you can’t see how well you’re painting them, and you’re going to land on your spine anyway. I’ve been drawing Z’s with the Wiimote for some time now (trust me), and I wish SSX Blur was a little more forgiving so I could enjoy its centerpiece as easily as the rest of the game.
Heh, look at all that yammering about control... is this a Wii game? It’s pretty good for an abstract control scheme, it just buckles under heavy pressure. After a few tries, the half-pipe challenges feel more like yanking teeth than pulling tricks. When you’re gliding downhill, however, the nuances are hardly noticeable.
The graphics take a step down from even the latest PS2 editions; think Xbox 1 Fuzion Frenzy… On Ice. The animations are solid but very subtle, especially if you’re trying to tell if your character is leaning forward or not; visual highlights like a parked van or a post are often spoiled by sloppy collision bugs. Tiny fireworks give a little bit of punch as you run through gates and power-ups.
[image3]HUD details like the combo meter have been scaled back into a 2D poster-paint motif. I dig the colors and the style though they aren’t so user-friendly; they inconsistently force you to point and click or allow you to use the joystick and buttons, plus sometimes you will get a menu that gets interrupted by another menu before you continue. At least there aren’t a thousand stats screens or a tiny inventory to manage.
The sounds of Blur are more coordinated than usual: DJ Atomika returns from SSX 3 and JunkieXL (featured on Britney Spears: Greatest Hits) provides the soda-poppin’ 15-song soundtrack. The sounds blend nicely with the action; Atomika yammers about whatever slope you’re near, and the music cuts short when you stop or crash.
The extremely basic multiplayer game is divided between race types, so you can either race against a single opponent in split screen, or four players can take turns using the whole screen for slaloms and stunt courses. The limit is lame, but it does the job.
So this Spring... don’t go into the mountains...
Maybe SSX Blur sums up the first Wii generation - a small-scale game with some interesting but awkward new control ideas, showing the difficulty for developers and players alike in adjusting to Nintendo’s new wave. If you want a smooth downhill ride or a few hours to perfect your shredding, go hit the real slopes before global warming melts us all into little puddles of goo. Blur may be a step in the right direction, but it hasn’t gotten past the bunny slopes yet.