SSX On Tour

Catch some air and pull off radical tricks in the latest SSX snowboarding title from EA Sports. Full verdict.




Version
PS2, Xb, GC, PSP
Developer
EA Canada
Publisher
EA Sports
Genre
Sports



By Andy Robinson

Madonna. The faux aristocrat has been at the height of media attention for over 20 years. She has made an absurd amount of money in her tumultuous career and you'd be hard pushed to find a man in even the most remote of Welsh villages who hasn't heard of her. How has she done this? By continuously reinventing herself whether through writing books, making rubbish films, or dressing like a deficient rapper so that it is made impossible for the media not to write about how silly she looks.

You see, all good brands, both the music artist and videogame variety, have to reinvent themselves in order to stay with the times, and thus tap into the ever evolving customer who is continuously searching for something new. Well hold on to your horses, because in the footsteps of the Material Girl, EA has got the makeup stylists in and SSX has thrown out its promiscuous lacy wedding gown and is hailing in a new era of studded leather bustiers. Now sporting a new rock music sheen, SSX On Tour is a wild departure in style from its past brethren.

But do not fret, underneath the hard, angsty surface is the snowboarding game of old that we all love and cherish. You don't have to squint hard to see that the arcade spirit is still writhe on the slopes and valleys littering SSX On Tour's beautifully crafted mountain-side. The ridiculous stunts, the massive tracks and exhilarating speed are what we truly love about SSX, and thankfully the gameplay is still top-notch.

The development team at EA have gone beyond the call of duty and created something really special with this one: Not only can we fulfil our childhood ambitions to throw ourselves arse-first down the side of a mountain, but we can now all achieve a second, more growling ambition, to become a rock star. That's right, the edgy art style and Iron Maiden soundtrack are all there, because you are a budding rock star destined to dominate the slopes with your mad board skills. On a simple character creation screen you can customize your rock god right down to the colour of his beard, ready to terrorise the quiet skiing resort with outrageous pranks and general naughtiness.

Complete and utter domination of the mountainside can be conveniently achieved in a map view of 135 challenges set over 13 tracks. SSX On Tour has taken a new approach which transforms the mitigative soul of the single-player game into the form of various challenges propositioned on each course. For example get 50'000 trick points, win a one on one race, grind a rail for a certain distance and many other gripping provocations. Completing these challenges, apart from unlocking a whole lot more, will consequently bring you higher up a list of the mountain's most beloved boarders.

We could see this coming a mile off: Rock Stars? Some kind of sport? Yep, stick another respect points system in there. It's officially the new stealth section/lens flare (delete your least favourite) in the league table of bandwagon game design. Gaining 'Hype' (call it kudos if you like) will advance your rocking rebel through the world rankings, so be sure to perform the mythical method of acquiring this most fabled of points which is essentially chinning tourists on your way down the mountain. While we are becoming very bored of 'respect' systems in their many forms, these hype points at least mix things up a bit, which for a game in its fourth instalment is only a good thing.

Luckily though, also new on offer is the more civilised talent of skiing down the slope, perhaps backwards for those so inclined. Skiing characters share the same mechanics as their snowboarding chums but the many new character animations make them feel like a whole new experience. Not feeling trapped to a board is almost liberating. Whilst it's not a legitimate reason to play through the game twice, it did give us an excuse to create a female character and explore the wealth of new customisation options available to us. We found far too much enjoyment touching-up our characters make-up.

If guitar-wielding unicorns aren't your thing, then maybe you'll be more pleased with the slight increase of trees and scenery, lining the courses. On Tour doesn't look a whole lot prettier than the previous instalments, but short load times help tidy up the experience, if of course, you can endure the in-your-face art direction. Whilst the new edgy style and rock soundtrack aren't completely to my taste, it cannot be denied that it is well executed and the game oozes style.

However, the crazy character art and drawn-on menus should have been your first warnings that this SSX is a whole new kind of beast. The predominantly rock soundtrack will successfully scare off SSX pioneers searching in vain for a song vaguely reminiscent of our previous snowboarding escapades. Also on the cutting room floor is our beloved announcer, the one that sounded like a reject from a K-Swiss commercial. His witty jibes and keen observation will be sorely missed.

Yet another standard SSX feature for the chop are the uber tricks, which in reality have just been renamed 'monster tricks'. That's more rock and roll, you see. The trick meter can be filled in usual SSX fashion (i.e. by pulling off tricks) except On Tour's tracks now supply you with lots of tourists to assault, which fill up your trick meter nicely. Tricks can be pulled off again, in the usual fashion, using the d-pad and various buttons to grab your board in a manor that would surely cripple you in real life. On Tour's immaculate courses present a variety of pants-soilingly high jumps and the potential for crazy stunts is perhaps more thriving than in any other previous SSX game.

Apart from wondering where the rest of the band are, we occasionally find our minds concerned with state of the new-fangled single player game. You see, we just can't help feeling a little teased by the structure offered in 'The Tour'. The game seems to cruelly dangle a fantastic racing game in our faces, only to ask us how long we can grind a rail. Sure, the challenges have the occasional race stuck in there, and they keep us off the streets, but why can't I just have a pure racing tournament?

Our biggest problem is with the developer's apparent eargness to throw out every hallmark and feature which made SSX unique in the first place. What happened to the complete open-endedness and free-reign of SSX3? Gone are the burlesque characters and electric Beastie Boys tunes of Tricky, nor are the indie herbal-chemist-music wonderings of SSX3 completely present. What we're left with is a game with a rock-centric image only one licensing deal away from being renamed 'Tony Hawk's Pro Snowboarding Adventure 3'.

Nevertheless, we are willing to put aside our qualms regarding the many missing franchise hallmarks, because hidden amongst the rigid challenges and contentious soundtrack is a expertly serviced snowboarding game begging you for attention. Like the battered housewife, we may get a couple of backhands on a Friday night, but we love him anyway because we know he has fantastic track design and massive ramps to do stunts off of.

Graphics Sound Gameplay Depth Presentation OVERALL
7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 8.0 7.0


THE VERDICT:
The biggest challenge faced when reinventing your brand is to not change so much as to disconnect from your previous customer base. Like Madonna, SSX on Tour seems more concerned about restyling its platinum coif than maintaining the appeal that attracted its fans in the first place. Unfortunately SSX On Tour has been changed and hacked so much that we can hardly recognise it. In it's own merit it is still a fantastic game, after all this time, the SSX formula refuses to feel tired. Not necessarily for SSX fans, but for snowboarding fans this is certainly worth parting money for, especially those partial to a spot of Motorhead.

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