SSX On Tour (PlayStation 2) review
"As you stand on the top of the hill, the chilly breeze flows past you like a wave of ice. The sun is still climbing toward the midday sky, but it has done little to warm the surrounding mountainside. It snowed last night; there’s a fresh layer of the white frosty goodness laid out before you, with trails stretching as far as the eye can see. None of the snow has melted off the trees, either; the entire hillside is primed and ready for some serious shredding. In fact, that’s what you’re here for...."
As you stand on the top of the hill, the chilly breeze flows past you like a wave of ice. The sun is still climbing toward the midday sky, but it has done little to warm the surrounding mountainside. It snowed last night; there’s a fresh layer of the white frosty goodness laid out before you, with trails stretching as far as the eye can see. None of the snow has melted off the trees, either; the entire hillside is primed and ready for some serious shredding. In fact, that’s what you’re here for. Armed with your trusty snowboard, layers of clothes, and buckets of adrenaline running through your veins, your goal is simple: snowboard down the mountain to your heart’s content. Peering over the curve of the hill, you realize that you’ll be making at least a forty- foot jump to the next level ground. Closing your eyes, you get into position, tense your muscles, and take in the moment. This is it, the start of another awesome season of snowboarding. As you breathe in that crisp mountain air, you lean forward and begin your increasingly rapid descent into the thrills that await…
And immediately trip over the bunny hill skier that wandered in front of you.
Apparently, the latest SSX Snowboarding Tournament isn’t exclusively for pros anymore. As the name suggests, SSX on Tour revolves around a rock band that has set up a stage on one of the local mountains and invited some of the SSX superstars to have some fun. Unfortunately, Zoe, Mac, Allegra, and a few more of the old crew aren’t the only ones dominating the slopes; the mountain has been overrun with amateur skiers and borders, clogging up the usually pristine pathways down the mountainside. In fact, you won’t even get to play as the SSX superstars in the game’s main Tour Mode. Instead, the game borrows a page from Tony Hawk’s Underground and lets you create your own character. Aside from the gender and build of your character, you’ll be able to customize faces, hairstyles, clothes, equipment, and specialized tricks that they can perform. Unlike previous games, however, your characters stats can no longer be developed to increase their abilities; though your character may not be as famous as SSX characters of old, he or she has all the talent necessary to rise to the top.
That’s the entire point of SSX On Tour; assuming the role of some unknown star to rise to glory in the latest competition. Your popularity is ranked by the amount of hype you can garner by participating in the various events in the game’s Tour Mode. Veterans of previous SSX titles will be glad to know that the basic events – the races and the trick-oriented slopestyle competitions – are present and accounted for. The former focuses mainly on the use of a course’s shortcuts and your character’s speed to leave the competition in the dust, while the latter allows you to show off your skills with the controller and make your character do a wide variety of jumps, flips, rail grinds, grabs, and plenty of other acrobatic insanity. In order to win either of these events, you’ll have to build up energy by performing tricks; with each successful trick executed, energy will build up in a gauge at the bottom of screen. The energy can be used to gives your character a boost of speed, which is essential in maintaining your lead in a race, or getting enough velocity to make it over hills and curves to perform your tricks. If you store up enough energy, you’ll also be able to perform more complicated (and occasionally physics-defying) tricks like using your board as an air guitar or waving your skis around like a makeshift windmill. These over-the-top antics aren’t just for show, however; with better tricks, you’ll amass a higher score and dominate the competition.
Though the basics of the SSX gameplay formula remain intact, SSX On Tour also throws in a few new aspects to make the game seem more entertaining. If racing and performing tricks get too boring, the game offers a handful of stranger events to complete. You’ll be against the mountain’s impersonal ski patrol, smack every innocent bystander you come across, grind along a rail or stay airborne for as long as possible, never touch snow for a fixed period of time, and play tag with your snowboarding rivals. None of these events, however, are particularly difficult or challenging to complete. Unlike in the previous games, the events in SSX On Tour are not crafted specifically for a particular objective. In previous games, you were granted access to higher hills and jumps for slopestyle challenges and smoother tracks for the races. In this game, all of the events take place on the same levels regardless of their type. You’ll find yourself revisiting the same spot over and over again, with the same obstacles, rails, and jumps that you’d find in any other event. To make up for such repetitiveness, the levels are fairly large with tons of pathways and features to exploit. Such an emphasis on complicated level design isn’t necessarily a good thing, however; the areas in previous SSX games were made with far simpler designs, thus challenging you to make full use out of the terrain and your character’s abilities. This time, however, you’ll find multiple weaving pathways that cheapen the competitiveness of the races, multiple plateaus to easily max out your energy gauge, and more interconnecting rails than you should probably shake a stick at.
That’s on top of all the other obstacles you’ll have to deal with as well. As you blaze down the mountainside, you’ll frequently have to navigate past rocky outcroppings, dodge the snowboarders and skiers that seem to want to get in your way, dodge through thickets of trees like some kind of reincarnated Sonny Bono, and try not to smash into the buildings and lodges strewn throughout the courses. At least the game does a fairly good job of presenting it all. Though the trees seem a little too pixilated up close, the rocks, lights, ice, and everything else is presented with remarkable detail. The snow looks like a creamy surface, complete with the matted tail that your snowboard will leave behind it. The main emphasis, however, lies with the lighting; you can see the gradual contrasts between the surfaces under the sun and those in the shade. Even the snow seems to glow when the sun is out. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t get the same kind of treatment. Though you’ll be given creative liberty as to how your character is designed, he or she will have little personality whatsoever. Although a handful of the older SSX superstars are still around, they lack the same kind of personality and vigor that made them so much more likeable in the previous games. You’ll also be treated to an assorted selection of bands and unmemorable rock music. The game may look and sound pretty, but it lacks the charisma necessary to make it truly memorable.
It’s not that SSX On Tour is a bad game. It’s just that the game attempts to improve upon a gameplay formula that doesn’t necessarily need it. If the game were just about tons of challenges and awesome tracks, it would have turned out far better than what it gives gamers. Its fundamental gameplay is solid enough, making it a great introduction for those of you that have never played a snowboarding game. The graphics feature some of the best ever seen in the genre, though it tends to be a little incomplete in a few minor aspects. The overabundance of obstacles, repetitiveness, and convoluted level designs, combined with an utter lack of personality and challenge, ultimately hinders the experience. SSX On Tour features the basics of snowboarding games, but gets bogged down by everything else it tries to push on its audience. In the end, veterans of the series may not consider it to be a worthy successor to previous games, but essentially as “SSX For Dummies.”
Community review by disco (February 17, 2007)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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