Pouring Like an Avalanche Down SSX's First Mountain

Illustration for article titled Pouring Like an Avalanche Down SSX's First Mountain

The SSX demo landed yesterday, with the full title arriving, at last, on Tuesday, rebooting EA Sports' much-loved snowboarding series. The last SSX release was the Wii-only Blur in 2007; before that, SSX on Tour in 2005. It's long enough that even some old hats may feel like newcomers in the seven-year layoff this game has had from traditional controls.

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That makes the demo a useful reacquaintancing for both types of gamers, and a fun ride that's worth the download time you'll have to spend to get it. For veterans, a "classic" SSX control set is included in the game (and accessible within the demo). And for straight beginners—count me among them—the puppeteering is very sensible, whether you choose to use the right analog stick or the face buttons to perform your grabs and uber tricks.

The SSX demo will give you two events and two characters (the second, Mac, comes once you spam a friend with an invitation to try the demo.) You'll see the game's traditional race mode and a trick race, in which the winner is determined by high score rather than position. The survival mode, which involves outracing the avalanches seen in trailers and teasers up to now, will have to wait until the main release.

With such a beautiful, wide-open environment and the open-ended freestyling available to your rider, I felt an impulse to really spam the controls and gorge myself on sick air (do they still use that term?) But if the SSX demo taught me anything, it was the need to exercise some self control in the aerial portions—in the race mode anyway. While going airborne and racking up logic-, gravity- and death-defying tricks will get you into Tricky (or even Super Tricky) mode, where speed comes faster and boost is unlimited, overdoing it sent me biffing hard into course hazards or side boundaries. SSX does a good job of presenting its course as near open-terrain, which is great. The drawback is that course familiarity is hard to develop even after a couple of runs, what with the multiple branching paths, cutoffs and tunnels.

So take it easy on your basic controls, not just the tricks. You can see in this video where I'm about to overtake the top rival out of my friends list for first place on this run, and then completely oversteer at the entrance to the tunnel, losing my line. Again, the good news out of this is those who have become adroit flick-steerers in racing games with a twin analog should be well off in SSX where there is, really, no braking, only drift.

Visually, this is an impressive game. You get two stock interstitials in the demo but I scarcely imagine that's all it's got to offer. The main gameplay served up a daytime race down the Canadian rockies and a night-time trick run in New Zealand (you wear a headlamp for this. I'd probably still break my neck if the whole mountain was lit like Lambeau Field.)

The demo also gives you a look at RiderNet—the SSX equivalent of Need for Speed's Autolog, does a solid job of serving up engaging asynchronous multiplayer. In that video above, you see me gunning for the top rival out of my friends list. You'll see him (and others) ghosted on the course, with their paths marked if they're otherwise out of sight.

Sports demos typically aren't pick-up-and-play enjoyable, as you're given a slice of a very deep experience and the overall game usually depends on familiarity with the control set or outside knowledge of the sport. SSX is a different creature, and one worth checking out. It's definitely grown on me; we'll see how much it takes root when the main game releases on Tuesday.

DISCUSSION

AngryAtom
AngryAtom

This is a great example of a demo done completely wrong.

First you need to watch a 2 minute unskippable advertisement for the game, before you are allowed to play. This seems ridiculous as the demo is already an advertisement for the game, why not let me skip it if I want to? Once the advertisement is over the game starts a short cutscene of a woman doing martial arts moves to the air in the back of a helicopter before jumping out.

As your character plummets to the earth you are forced to spend a few minutes following screen prompts showing you "how to play the game" in a very loose sense. The game says "push the right analog stick right", so you press it, and the game says "notice that when you push the right analog stick right, you grab the right side of the board".

Then the game says "push the left analog stick left", so you press it, and the game says "notice that when you pushed the left analog stick left, you grabbed the left side of the board".

This repeats multiple times for each direction, one for the regular mode and once each for the two tricky modes. Each time you move the analog stick in the right direction a voice praises you, telling you how awesome you are for pushing the analog stick. You have no control over anything other than pressing the stick in the direction it tells you, and since you are "falling" you are simply a floating model on a blank background.

At this point I was getting pretty fed up with the game, but I went through the first area to the goal. This felt a lot like playing Cool Boarders 2 on the PSX, which is both great and terrible at the same time. I loved that game, but it also came out 15 years ago and is on the PSN for a couple dollars.

After I finished the first area, a lot of numbers appeared over and over on the left side of the screen that I didnt understand, but it made it seem like I had accomplished a lot even though I felt like I hadn't. There was more content after that but the game pressured me to send messages to my friends in order to unlock it.

At this point the excitement I had for this game was long gone and I had made a firm decision against purchasing it. I had planned on buying it but the demo left such a negative impression with me that I don't want anything to do with it now.

This is a great example of the demo discouraging a purchase rather than encouraging one, and unfortunately it is not based on the merits of the game itself.