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SSX review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also on: PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E

Snowboarding games have come and gone for the last decade or so, but it’s been a while since EA’s SSX disappeared, once thought gone for good along with the EA Sports Big logo. SSX couldn’t have returned at a better time since the competition has been mediocre at best, and never really reached the heights or entertainment value that EA’s flagship snowboarding series had in its heyday.

Never fret lovers of powdered adventure, SSX is back, and while it may have dropped all the sequel numbers and catch phrase subtitles, it doesn’t mean this game is basic.  It’s the biggest and deepest snowboarding game to date providing enough thrills, icy chills, and painful spills that’ll prompt a visit to the ER to make sure your heart can take it.

The game looks stunning, showing off a massive open world that spans over 9 territories; the Rockies, Patagonia, Siberia, Himalayas, Antarctica, Alps, Africa, and New Zealand, all with multiple drop points and event styles to board through.  If EA did the norm, you wouldn’t be able to identify the difference between locations, but EA went above and beyond, so expect to see clear definition between the locations and obstacles found in each area.

Gone are the trick events and ramp jumps found in the X Games style of previous SSX titles; it’s all about downhill action here. Each terrain has a unique downhill run that will keep gamers jumping, dodging, weaving, and sometimes crashing and failing.  For instance, Siberia has ice filled wreckage and drops, the Rockies are full of trees, Africa has chasms of lava, and New Zealand has a breath taking dam jump.  It’s in these details that you will find some miraculous visuals that range from snow blinds to crazy jumps, and all of this hyper-detailed scenery makes it difficult to keep your wits about you and keeps your heart pounding.

The gameplay has also become more diverse, allowing you 3 ways to play between racing, tricking, and the ever frustrating survival style events. Each drop comes with gear that will help you prevail over these insane obstacles.  It wouldn’t be EA if they didn’t try to be innovative and invent a new style of game play that involves using the analog sticks, but unlike the mixed reviews of games like Grand Slam Tennis and Fight Night, the analog controls are a perfect fit for this game, and enable you to pull off even sicker tricks than just using button combinations.  If you still prefer a classic control scheme, that’s available as well, but you’ll lose out on some fun there.

One of SSX’s biggest hiccups is the unpredictable difficulty with some races that you’ll breeze through, while others become so frustrating you will find yourself cursing the TV.  These points are completely random and come as early as your first round, and will keep rearing their ugly head through the rest of the 150 drops at various points.  There is a wimp out clause though, so if you find yourself cursing EA, the skies, the controller, the TV, your dog, or whatever, the game is generous enough to ask if you want to buy your way out of the round and advance to the next level, provided you didn’t blow your cash on gear.

Speaking of gear, this version of SSX allows you to upgrade your character and provide them with suits, boards, and other goods that are meant to help you not only score better, but also for survival reasons or to enter certain stages.  While this is a good way to spend your bonuses for completing events, I can’t say other than the visuals that I could tell a difference in gameplay with or without them, but maybe using the auto-customize feature masks the improvement.  Still, it’s nice to have the feature, even if there is no character specific customization. You’re still forced to play with a premade character with no creation tools available to create your own Lane Meyer from Better off Dead.

Another snag that keeps this from the “A” list is the lack of multiplayer either offline or online.  I don’t know if it was a time issue, or that EA just felt the experience was a one man show, but it is disheartening to see you race against CPU opponents, but never against friends in real time.  Sure the game provides their coveted Autolog-style Ridernet feature for racing against your friend's ghosts and times, along with leaderboard score updates, but that is far from a true multiplayer experience.

In the end this isn’t the SSX you grew up loving, but this isn’t just another snowboarding game either. This is a reboot of a franchise that feels not only fresh and original, but has enough depth and difficulty to keep gamers constantly wanting to learn the drops to increase scores, and completing those drops is a challenge in itself.  I only fear that casual fans coming from the snowboarding titles like the Shaun White series will have a rough time playing catch-up to this system, which has a learning curve not for the faint of heart.

However, I loved the challenge and I’m happy to see EA not bow down to the masses and give hardcore fans the series remake they were hoping for.  Assuming SSX sees some fantastic sales numbers, you best incorporate some multiplayer next time…ya hear?

Grade: B+