The SSX series from Electronic Arts’ BIG studio is renowned for its high quality snow antics and absolutely crazy stunts. However, the last outing on the GameCube was slightly pushed down in terms of eminence by Nintendo’s own 1080 Avalanche. Now the latest edition is out, On Tour, can that magic be resurrected and lift the game above the crowd?
Something that stood out from the second the game loaded up on my ickle black GameCube was the style used within. It completely caught be off-guard as it was totally unexpected and in a highly positive sense. There is a great energy that spills out of the screen into your mind, getting you excited about play before it even gets going. Everything is reminiscent of a black and white sketch in a notebook by someone bored and doodling away to pass the time. But far from being basic it actually adds a crazy atmosphere that adds to the game immensely as you flick through the menus. In-game visuals are also of a strong calibre, with massive tracks to navigate your way around, breaking through barriers to access whole new routes, watching as your chosen character twists, turns and generally gyrates their way down to the finish line. Perhaps this is not the most attractive GameCube game, but it certainly works its magic sufficiently!
And, for a change, the EA Trax feature works a treat, with SSX On Tour's being one of the finest line-ups for quite a while. The theme of the game lies in a rocker style more than the 'cool' approach found in previous iterations and other snow-related racers, and the line-up is rather tasty indeed. Songs like Apply Some Pressure from Maximo Park and other tracks from the likes of Hot Hot Heat and Bloc Party really do give a great feel to the title and mixed in with the voice snippets throughout the game proves to be thoroughly enjoyable because of this aspect alone...
That is not to say the gameplay does not help, because it certainly does. If there is one particular EA franchise that does not cease to impress with every new version, it is the SSX series. With its amazing sense of speed throughout, tights controls and absolutely crazy selection of stunts to pull of whilst zooming down the slalom courses, On Tour gives you the (virtual) ride of your life. It may not be quite as exhilarating as the thunderous Avalanche tracks from 1080 or as breath taking as Criterion's Burnout arcade racing games, but you will certainly feel the chill after playing through On Tour a few times!
In fact, talking of Burnout, there are elements from it that creep into this latest, and fastest, edition of SSX, with near misses totting up along the way in each race. The main reason behind On Tour is that the character you choose (from a wide line-up of customisable men and women) actually takes to the slopes on tour. You can choose to either use a snowboard or skis before hitting the snow, pleasing fans of both forms of snow entertainment and adding a nice bit of variety to the proceedings. Then you are faced with various challenges across the snowy mountain location.
The mentioned choice of snowboard or skis makes barely any difference whilst actually racing, unfortunately, with only the repertoire of aerial stunts being any different, which seems like an opportunity missed. Even the inclusion of Mario, Peach and Luigi as a bonus on the GameCube version hardly adds anything extra to the play as they basically handle exactly the same, just with the odd Nintendo sound effect thrown in as an almost after-thought. Each of the challenges you are faced with works on a class-level, starting at the usual level of 'Novice' and working up from there as you go through completing each task from racing one-on-one to stunt challenges against the computer.
Other trials include collecting icons from around the course or having to reach a certain amount of points using stunts whilst you race, hit a total from just three large jumps or grind along railings for as long as possible. The range is quite impressive and will definitely keep gamers entertained throughout, as will the fact that the stunts can now be accessed far easier by using the C-stick. On Tour may not be the pinnacle in racing goodness, but it sure does push to be the best snow-related one on the market. Until Nintendo gets a new 1080 out, then On Tour comes highly recommended for your freezing speed thrills!
With the ability to play through the various modes on offer, mess around with the numerous tricks and stunts available, plus play against a friend on the slippery slopes, SSX On Tour will definitely last a fair while. However, the thrill can wear thin over time and the lack of a four-player option or even LAN capabilities severely limits the playtime factor. There are only so many times you can race down the same slope against one average computer opponent before a repetitive feeling starts to creep in...
Whilst perhaps not being quite as straight-laced as Nintendo's previous efforts, SSX gives a solid snow ride with wacky stunts that are appreciatively easier to pull off!
The superb use of sketch-book art for the interface and various cut-scenes really does blow you away and with the usual high standards in character models and snowy locales, On Tour looks lovely.
EA Trax may get people down in some games, but the licensed music for this new SSX is spot-on, giving the rock-alternative edge that fits its personality perfectly.
There are several challenges and modes to work through on varying difficulty levels, but racing against a sole competitor can grow tiresome and with no four-player mode the game can peter out slightly.
Personally Nintendo's snowboarding franchise is still the one to beat, however it has to be said that EA BIG's SSX series does manage to find a place of its own thanks to the crazy stunts that can be carried out mid-race. With a superbly fresh new style and amazingly perfect soundtrack, along with no similar competition this Christmas, it does not take a rocket-scientist to tell you if it is your cup of tea, then rush out and buy it now!