Reviewed: Novmeber 2, 2005
Released: October 11, 2005
EA’s SSX franchise is easily one of my favorite games of all time. I can’t even begin to count the hours I’ve invested into this series trying to complete the various games with all of those crazy boarders. Truth be told, I’ve never 100% completed any of them but I came pretty close with SSX Tricky and SSX 3.
Another snowboarding season is upon us and EA is once again there to take us on another wild ride down the slopes with SSX On Tour, a slightly unique twist on the original formula, with a new presentation, hot new tunes, and a game where YOU are the star.
Until now, EA has been content to rest and rely on their undeniably flawless formula that started with the original game clear back when the PS2 launched. Sure, there have been subtle changes to the trick system, but each SSX game has always had that “familiar” feeling to it. From the moment the opening song kicks in and the pencil sketch animation starts playing, you will instantly know “you aren’t in Kansas anymore”.
SSX has always fused snowboarding with great tunes, but now they have taken the concept even further and seamlessly merged the extreme sport with a Monsters of Rock road show, both in presentation and gameplay. I’m not sure if the SSX design team was totally replaced for this latest installment or if they just spent the last summer being roadies for Led Zeppelin. Whatever it is…it works.
SSX isn’t just for boarders anymore. This year you can shred the slopes on skis, and if you're thinking they just replaced the board graphic with a pair of sticks you are sadly mistaken. There is an entirely new trick system in place along with some fantastic animations, which means you will be playing SSX On Tour at least twice…at least.
The first thing you will want to do before shredding the mountain is create your skier or boarder. You can pick from either style as well as male or female before going into a surprisingly rich customization screen to adjust face, hair, clothing and body type. It’s not the most advanced character creation system I have ever seen, but considering this is the first SSX game to not have you picking from a predetermined cast, it’s a refreshing change and really gets you involved with the game before you even vault out of that first gate.
As with the previous SSX games, there is a robust upgrade system that dangerously borders on becoming an RPG. As you earn cash you can return to the various shops on the mountain and purchase new equipment, clothing, and even tricks. Some of these items are ridiculously expensive, but the better the board (or skis) the bigger the boost to your stats.
SSX On Tour takes on an entirely new and realistic presentation by putting all the action on a single mountain. Even the On Tour map interface is a mountain with icons representing the various events and challenges. There are 135 challenges, not all available at once, and 49 medals to win. As you win events you will earn hype points that move you up slowly through the ranks from 200 to, hopefully, #1 before it’s all over.
With so many challenges I was surprised that the game never got repetitive. There are so many game variations that you can almost always find something to do you haven’t done in the past hour. There are the standard races of course, but you also have face-off races where you will race against an all-star (like Pysmon) who will become unlocked in the other modes if you beat them.
Then you have all sorts of inventive challenges like trying to stay off the snow for a certain period of time or catching so many seconds of air in a three-minute run, or making it to the finish line without getting busted by the ski patrol, or grinding for so many meters, or earning a set amount of points in four jumps. The list goes on and on, and the events get more creative and more challenging the deeper you get into the game.
The courses are all now much more realistic and rooted in traditional skiing and snowboarding. While many courses still defy reality, not to mention personal safety, they all look like they could exist if Tony Hawk (or whomever his counterpart is in the world of snowboarding) bought a mountain somewhere and went crazy.
The best thing about the courses is that they are positioned on certain sections of the mountain at different elevations so eventually you will see what used to be single runs chained together for some pretty massive events. Some of the larger races will actually chain four to six smaller courses together for rides down the entire mountain that can exceed ten minutes. You’ll be skiing through what used to be the finish line thinking the race is over only to find you have another three minutes to go…and maybe another three after that.
Whether single or joined together, the various courses all retain their own originality, even though they are part of the same mountain. And they are much more diverse now, many offering multiple paths down that part of the mountain. Sure, there is always the main route that is clearly indicated with the scratched curved, almost toboggan-like groove, but if you look for those secret routes you can explore all sorts of wondrous new locations including twisting paths through silent forests and even a hidden half-pipe in one section.
For the collectors out there, you will find plenty of cash icons stashed all over the mountain, some flying high above it waiting for you to obtain just the right amount of “big air”. The cash icons are counted off as you find them during the entire game, so you always have an incentive to go back and look for any you might have missed. There are also boost icons that give you a burst of speed and camera icons that will snap amazing still images of your trip down the mountain.
This is my very first time playing SSX on an Xbox and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. After three games and even more years on the PS2 I was confident that there was no way I could do all of those fabulous tricks on the Xbox controller; not without the four shoulder buttons. Thankfully, EA chose this installment to totally redefine the trick system.
You still initiate each trick by holding down the A button to preload your jump along with any direction on the D-pad to preload the rotation. Releasing at just the right moment you can catch amazing air and initiate the trick with combinations of the right and left trigger and tweak those tricks with X button or grab the board with the Y. The B button does a hand-plant which is a great way to initiate a grind and start a combo.
The Uber tricks from the last game are gone and we now have Monster Tricks, which are initiated with the right analog stick, thus making this game entirely playable on the Xbox. Monster Tricks are insanely cool and give you awesome camera angles as the action is slowed down to Matrix time allowing you to relish every moment. The one thing to keep in mind when doing Monster Tricks, especially in races, is that only you are slowing down and if you watch the competition meter you will see other racers start to pull ahead of you quite rapidly.
But before you can pull off that first Monster Trick you have to fill up the boost meter, and to do that you have to do the smaller tricks and link them together for high-scoring combos and big air time. Once the meter is full the logo will turn yellow and you can Monster Trick until you wipe out and lose it. The interesting dynamic here is that the boost meter used to earn Monster Tricks can also be used to boost your speed (also with the X button), but if you boost too much you’ll never fill the meter and get to do the Monster Tricks.
You’re either going to love or hate the presentation. While I found it very different from the past games and totally unexpected, there was no denying the style and visionary art design that went into this game, at least from an opening movie and menu perspective.
Once into the game proper, not all that much has changed from SSX 3. The game is certainly more realistic with all of the tracks being rooted in the natural settings of the mountain. I do miss my pinball level, but I supposed I will get over it. The track designs are fantastic and totally integrate natural elements with the manmade courses. You can find almost infinite trick and grind lines by combining logs, branches, and rooftops, with rails and track-side banners.
Many of the events take place at night and there is excellent use of colorful lighting to illuminate the snow. Speaking of snow, it is snowing for about half of the events and the snowfall looks very realistic and even specs the screen. It changes in density as you progress down the slope, which realistically changes your visibility.
The sensation of speed has never been greater and the game screams by at a blistering 60fps. Sometimes I felt totally out of control and was just hanging onto the controller going along for the ride. And when you kick in that boost button and the screen blurs, well, the only thing faster is a game of Burnout Revenge.
SSX On Tour has the single best soundtrack of the series and perhaps any sports game of 2005. With so much emphasis on rap and urban hip-hop in today’s games I was ecstatic when the thumping drums and electric guitar whines of Iron Maiden greeted me during the opening movie. Combine that with Def Leppard, Scorpions, Rush, and many other classic monster metal bands and you won’t even care the game doesn’t support custom soundtracks.
The sound effects are pretty straightforward with the icy edging sounds of boards and skis carving through snow and ice, the howling of wind, and a few specialty effects for icon pick-ups. There is some minor voice work from other riders as you bump and punch your way down the mountain, but sadly the characters including your own lack any real personality other than the gratuitous celebration gestures at the end of a victorious run. The announcer can get annoying at times but at least he shuts up when the events actually start.
The only thing holding SSX On Tour back on value is the lack of a large cast of characters to complete the game with. Since you are playing as a single character that you create you will likely only play the game once on a board and once more on skis. Each of these rides will last at least 30-40 hours so you have an 80-hour game on your hands.
After playing Amped 2 and seeing what it was like to exist on the slopes with other real skiers and snowboarders in real-time, the lack of any online multiplayer is disheartening to say the least. Even if there weren’t any real competition modes it would have been awesome just to have free ride modes online so you could chat and show off your moves to anyone who would watch. For now, we’ll have to settle for two-player split-screen racing from the quickplay menu.
SSX On Tour takes the series in a slightly new direction with an entirely new presentation. I loved the rock concert atmosphere and awesome soundtrack, and the naturalistic track designs were inspired and expertly crafted so they work independently or when merged together for longer runs. Skiing is also a nice addition and while the fundamentals aren’t all that different from snowboarding, the new tricks and animations are certainly worth an extra “tour” down the mountain.
Is this the best SSX game ever? I’d still have to go with SSX Tricky as my all-time favorite, but this is more than a worthy addition to the SSX lineup and a must-have game for fans of the series.