Reviewed: March 13, 2007
Released: February 27, 2007
I’ve played and loved all of the SSX snowboarding games from EA Big. Tricky was (and still is) my favorite and On Tour was probably my least favorite, even with the pretty Xbox graphics. Others have tried to emulate the success of SSX – Amped comes to mind – but those games always tackled the sport from a simulation aspect rather than extreme, over-the-top fun.
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical when I heard that SSX was coming to the Wii. After all, how could you possibly put a game about feet on a system all about hands. I had already twisted an ankle playing SSX using that funky Freestyler board from ThrustMaster back in 2002, and had rattled the floorboards doing jumping jacks with AntiGrav and the PS2 EyeToy, so I was not above humiliating myself trying to play SSX with another new input device.
SSX Blur does so many things right for its debut on the Wii that it is downright scary. First, it totally nails the look, feel, sights, and sounds of all of the previous games. We have a hip DJ spinning fresh tunes and snowboarding updates and the Blur offers wide-open exploration of three massive mountains, dozens of events, and challenging gameplay for boarders and skiers.
It all starts with a rocking opening movie before we move on to the character selection where you will find many of your favorites including a few new characters that fit the stylized theme of the franchise. Pick from a limited (but expandable) list of clothing and gear then head off to the slopes.
You’ll definitely want to spend some time with the tutorial so you can come to “grips” with the new control scheme. It’s pretty simple when you figure out the basics and the tutorials do a great job of building off previous lessons to learn the more advanced skills. You’ll be using both the remote and the nunchuk, which at times can make you thing you are holding onto a pair of ski poles. You’ll control the speed of your character with the analog stick and tilt the nunchuk to carve in the deep powder or balance those rail grinds.
A quick upward flick of the nunchuk puts you in the air where side flicks of the remote will spin you and moving the nunchuk in any axis will execute grab moves. Ubertricks are back and bigger than ever and extremely difficult to pull off, but oh so sweet when you do. The first thing you need to do is fill the Groove Meter by pulling off tricks and combos. This meter not only fuels your turbo but once filled to level 3, allows you to do an Ubertrick.
To do one of these insane and gnarly stunts you will have to press the A button and mimic the pattern shown on the screen by drawing arcs and loops in the air with either or both of the controllers. These patterns increase in complexity with the tougher tricks, but once you master this art the results will dazzle your friends.
The Groove Meter has five sections. You can use turbo at any time but can only do Uberific tricks after level 3. What is really exciting is the dynamic soundtrack that features five layers of music that increases in intensity with each new stage of the Groove Meter. The music really helps you get into the rhythm of the mountain and pull off some wicked-cool stunts without even thinking about it – you just get into the zone.
As you are flying down the mountain you’ll want to keep your eyes open for various collectibles. These are obviously much easier to collect in Free ride mode and will unlock all sorts of cool things like new tricks and even a special outfit if you can find all 275 spinning icons.
In previous SSX games you could punch and shove the competition, but in SSX Blur you get to throw snowballs at them. This feature makes great use of the Wii controller by having you hold down the B button and make a throwing motion with the remote and releasing the button when you would release the snowball. If you have played the baseball game on Wii Sports you’ll know what to do.
SSX Blur has a nice Quick Play mode so you and your friends can jump right in, but most of you will want to dive into the lengthy career mode that will have you traversing the slopes of three massive mountains in numerous events ranging from races, half-pipe, slope style, big air, and complete the 32 challenges scattered about the mountains. As you complete the various tournaments and challenges you will unlock Peaks 2 and 3 as well as new music, characters, and gear. Only the best skiers will make it to the “Ultra Super Secret Platinum Tour”.
SSX Blur is extremely difficult, but only as difficult as you want to make it. Controls are surprisingly functional even though it’s all too easy to catch some air and flail your arms around madly pulling off random combos then hitting A at the last second to land feet-down. This makes the game playable for younger kids, but those willing to master the finer points of SSX Blur are in for a very long and deep downhill experience that will challenge you for months to come.
SSX Blur is all about style, and borrows heavily on the sketchpad artistic vision of On Tour while making things large and colorful and deceptively childlike. Characters are cartoonish and totally exaggerated when you are manipulating them in the menus, but so are their moves and abilities once you get them on the slopes.
The mountains are huge with a draw distance that would shame the Xbox. The Wii does a clever trick of having a lot of blind drops and plateaus so it only has to draw a few hundred feet in front of you until you hit that rise and drop into the next section. And even when you do crest a mile-high drop, the world unfolds before you like a majestic postcard from Italy or Switzerland.
The mountains have very defined courses but you are also free to freestyle it down the deep powder and explore the woods to either side – this is often necessary if you want to find those hidden secrets. Expect lots of rock-n-roll style graphics, banners, giant speakers, giant inflated animals, and colorful rails. One thing I did notice was that the game seemed limited to either a purple or blue-green tint at all times. It was almost like playing during a post-nuclear sunset.
Character models are cartoonish and extreme but they animate extremely well and there are plenty of special effects including some of the best falling snow I’ve seen in a video game. There is also a fantastic blurring effect when you hit the turbo that rivals a lot of vehicle racing games. Cap it off with support for progressive can and widescreen and HDTV owners will be most pleased.
As you are free riding between events you’ll get various updates on your progress as well info on possible other events you can enter courtesy of your ultra-hip DJ. Once you start any event the music kicks in and as mentioned previously, the music is dynamically mixed based on your performance as indicated by the Groove Meter, so the groovier you skate…the groovier the soundtrack.
The EA track list is quite substantial and it takes awhile before you hear the same track repeat itself, and by then you are ready for it. I can’t think of one song I didn’t like in the entire soundtrack, probably because I was mixing the tunes in real-time by my performance.
The rest of the Dolby Pro Logic II sound package includes the typical sounds of boards and skis on sliding on ice and carving through snow, or perhaps grinding a rail or log, and then you have the wind and the occasional yells of other skiers. It really is a great sound presentation.
Most gamers can easily expect 30-40 hours to complete the career mode and probably another 8-10 if you want to go in search of all those hidden secrets and unlock the special costume and Platinum Tour. There is also a solid multiplayer component for up to four skiers in split screen as well as 12 slots for unique profiles so everyone in the family can play their own character.
SSX Blur is a fantastic installment in the SSX franchise and a great first-effort for the Wii. Blur makes great use of the unique controls of Nintendo’s new system without seeming like they were trying. Skiing and snowboarding just feel really natural, and while this is easily the most difficult SSX game in the history of the series, it is also the most rewarding. You'll probably call your friends the first time you pull off an Ubertrick, if they aren't already there cheering you on.