SSX is a bizarre mix of over-the-top gameplay and realistic expenditures of effort and reward. One minute, you’re grinding the landing strut of a helicopter as you rocket down the Himalayas, and the next you’re wiping out because you’re still an inexperienced snowboarder with crappy equipment. It’s frustrating at times, thrilling at others. Sometimes you’ll be yelling because you’re sick of falling into that crevasse for the umpteenth time, and others you’ll be yelling because you just beat your rival’s time and got a fat cash bonus for doing it. It’s everything that’s great about sports – and videogames.
The shtick of the game’s story mode is that you’re recruiting snowboarders to join Team SSX in the hopes of crushing your former teammate Griff, who has decide to screw you all over and head out on his own. It’s a pretty thin motivation, but it does provide a handy excuse for touring the globe of SSX, which uses real-world satellite images of mountains all over the world as the basis of its courses. You’ll hit places like the Rockies, Alaska, Patagonia, Africa, Antartica and Sibera as you unlock new boarders and their special equipment. Each character has a unique item of gear that you’ll need to to tackle certain locations; Kaori’s oxygen tank will keep you from blacking out as you descend at high speeds, Elise’s wingsuit will let you glide over huge gaps, Zoe’s armor will keep you from dying when you smack into trees. The characters themselves also have different perks – Kaori is better at tricks, Alex is super fast – but otherwise are pretty interchangeable. Even when you have everyone unlocked, you’ll probably just pick a favorite character and stick with them.
SSX is about performing gravity-defying tricks and racing down the mountain at breakneck speed, but when you first start out, you won’t be particularly good at either. You’ll need to level up both your character and your board, which you’ll do by splitting your time between the story mode of World Tour and the Explore mode, where you can test your snowboarding might against every course in the game. Each track has both trick goals (high score) and racing goals (time), and you’ll earn money for each attempt you make at taking home a gold medal, even if you don’t do very well. Bonus cash is awarded for making your run in style by doing things like attaining a high speed or performing a lot of rotations. You shouldn’t have any trouble racking up a huge bank account in SSX, which encourages you to be spendy in the game’s shop. You can visit at any time to pick up a new outfit, board, or gear. Use a particular board that’s really good for tricks, or one that favors boost. You can even buy outfits that give you special perks, like extra rewinds.
Rewinds are new to SSX, and let you literally retrace your run to a point that will let you avoid, say, smashing into the side of the mountain or plummeting into a crevasse you didn’t see coming. The clock doesn’t stop when you use one, which prevents them from feeling like a cheap cheat, but they’re very helpful when you’re trying to learn a new course. You’ll need to learn the nooks and crannies of a course if you’re going to master the mountain, and not having to completely start over every time you goof helps decrease the frustration.
Decrease, but not completely remove. Success in SSX comes from effort, practice, and steady improvement, but you’ll lose a lot more events than you’ll win, at least at first. Low-level characters are weak and unskilled, which means you’ll be face-planting quite a lot in your first several hours of playtime – or longer, depending on how quickly you master the controls.
Honing your skills can be frustrating, but it makes your eventual victory that much sweeter when you finally earn a gold medal – or beat your rival. Friends that have posted scores on tracks in Explore mode become your “rivals,” and you receive a cash bonus when you defeat them. You get another cash bonus every time they try to beat you but fail, which is a clever way of boosting your ego and fueling friendly competition. SSX‘s asynchronous competition is ingenious, combining the best of both worlds; you get to pit yourself against your buddies without actually all having to be online at the exact same time.
SSX‘s Global Events provide the same kind of competition, but on a much grander scale. Open to everyone who can afford the entrance fee, Global Events last several days and let you try as often as you like to post a score that rates in a winning bracket. You don’t have to be a master boarder to win, either – some events are restricted to low-level equipment, and others are free of charge. Your score is based on the performance of all participants, which makes free events a great equalizer.
Bottom Line: SSX has glorious over-the-top moments, masterfully inspires friendly competition, and rewards practice with steady improvement. It’s slick, polished, and hand-crampingly addictive.
Recommendation: If you have pals playing, definitely give it a try, but if you don’t plan on going online, you may not enjoy your time on the mountain.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.[rating=4]