Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back to the Roots: SSX 2012

After recently picking up SSX (2012), I was brought back to a time in my youth spent on a myriad of arcade-style sports games: the Tony Hawk franchise, NFL Blitz, of course, the original SSX, and many others.

What struck me after playing the game was that the era of these games had died starting with the new millennium.

But why? While there necessarily wasn't a terrible amount of substance to these games, they were just plain old fun. No plot, no driving force to get you through the game, but it was made up for by the fact that you could just sit and play. There's just something about having free reign (over the gameplay and often the laws of physics) in your gaming experience.

It was refreshing to see these traits return in EA's first release in the series in five years. Absurdly large courses, often spanning the face of entire mountains, bring longevity and unlimited creative potential in how to approach each event. Races and trick-contests return, and with the newest release, EA mixed it up with the newest Survival mode.

This mode pits the rider against Mother Nature's "deadliest descents," facing obstacles such as cliffs, subzero temperatures, pitch-black caves, and low oxygen levels. Each descent is modeled after real-world mountains based on data taken from NASA.

Story-wise, there's not much to speak of, but of course it is an arcade-style title. It's your run-of-the-mill competition, but, hey, who's playing for the story, anyway?

The gameplay is where it truly shines, hearkening back to earlier titles in the series. Gravity-defying tricks create the sense of dominating the mountain while still maintaining lighthearted fun for all. This, accompanied by another superb soundtrack by EA, spanning electronica, rap, and dubstep, matches beats and remixes perfectly with landings, tricks, and the classic "tricky" mode thanks to their "Harmony" mixing software.

The game features 159 total drops, although many are just different modes of play, and many also converge near the bottom, creating the illusion of track diversity. That said, there are a few gems among the crowd, integrating train-wrecks, slope-side houses, mines, crashed planes, and more in order to create a unique run each time.

While it isn't perfect, SSX is a nostalgic blast-to-the-past, and it projects a promising future for the franchise.

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