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SSX 2012 revamps its gameplay

By Anthony Lauriello     3/14/12 7:00pm

As technology improves, sports video games move toward increasingly more realistic and meticulous portrayals of reality. From the moment you jump a few stories in the sky out of a helicopter to start your virtual snowboard run, it is clear that SSX is not one of those games. A few jumps with full 360-degree rotations while holding your snowboard over your head, some glides with a wingsuit, and one or two stomach-first luges while grinding on the Great Wall of China, and it is clear that SSX is not just unrealistic, but also a celebration that the pesky laws of physics need not extend to the worlds video games create.

For those familiar with the SSX series, this comes as no surprise. The franchise has well earned its reputation for over-the-top tricks and gleeful whimsicality. The gold standard of the games, SSX Tricky (2001), included courses in downtown Tokyo and Hawaii. The new SSX uses more realistic mountains for the courses, but the term 'realistic' is relative.

Despite the claim by EA that it used NASA topography to create its maps, it is highly doubtful that one could snowboard down Mount Everest in real life.

Another departure from the series is the presence of a storyline in the "Deadly Descents" mode of gameplay. As the obnoxious cutscenes switch styles between a Ford pickup commercial and a comic strip, we learn that Team SSX lost its funding when former member Griff left to make it on his own.

Now SSX and Griff are locked in a race to see who can complete nine dangerous snowboard runs known as Deadly Descents. Any motivation or reason for these characters' actions is left a complete mystery. Even stranger are the small details that the game tells you after races, such as Griff's trouble getting through customs. Luckily, the plot is as brief as it is ridiculous, allowing the player to focus on the game's raison de etre, the snowboarding gameplay.

Like the previous games in the series, you can either race the course for the fastest times or attempt to score the highest point total in tricks. In addition to these classic modes, there is also the "survive mode," where you merely need to battle the elements, such as ice, on the deadly descents.

Lastly, there is an online mode that allows you to use your in-game credits to buy into a competition and reap rewards based off your performance. The lack of a head-to-head multiplayer mode, either split-screen or online, is SSX's major shortfall.

The controls for the game are another of the game's departures. On the Xbox, the game console I used, both the right thumb stick and the four buttons could be used for trick combos. Similar arrangements exist for the other consoles. You can also use the bumper buttons for entirely new options. The left bumper allows you to rewind, for a penalty, so that you can land that one flip you messed up and the right bumper allows you to deploy new gear, such as a wingsuit that allows for temporary flight. The players who want to use the old control scheme can elect to do so, but the new controls allow for players to better direct their snowboards and enjoy the game's new features.

Another enjoyable aspect the game is its soundtrack. Not only can you provide your own music, the game's own large library of songs also provides exciting accompaniment to your snowboarding adventures. Best of all, the game features a dubstep remix of DMC's "Its Tricky" for when a good trick combo makes you go "super tricky."

This throwback to the original games is just another example of how the SSX game developers understand what their audience wants. SSX might not aim to deliver an immersing and meaningful experience but it is a lot of fun to play with friends.

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