SSX On Tour
EA delivers another solid entry in its acclaimed snowboarding series.
Let's face it, up to this point I've really loathed any handheld port in EA's ongoing extreme snowboarding SSX series. The Game Boy Advance game that was released a couple of years back was absolutely pathetic in terms of responsive controls, and the N-Gage release SSX: Out of Bounds, while slightly improved, failed to manage the kind of thrills that the series is known for. Even the forthcoming Gizmondo version of the game fails to hold promise, probably because that machine is only getting SSX 3 instead of a full-blown all new game. Whatever.
Fortunately, there is hope, and it comes in the form of the PSP. I was surprised to see SSX On Tour come out so quickly for the machine. But credit EA for at least giving the PSP edition its fair shake and finally giving us a version of the game we can take on the road with pride, without leaving it in the street like road kill.
The words On Tour definitely come into play with the title. As you proceed, you'll choose from any given character (you start out with two but can unlock more as you proceed), and work your way through a number of timed and point-driven challenges, from downhill runs to trick tournaments to competitions with some of the most drastic snowboarders and skiers around. As you proceed with the "Tour", you'll unlock even more challenges and accumulate more cash to give your riders some improved equipment and gear to help them become more successful.
The formula of the game hasn't changed greatly, aside from adding skiing to the downhill mix, which is interesting but doesn't quite catapult the game into superstar status. However, the nature of SSX is represented fully, and it remains a wonderful treat for extreme sports fans. Like in the console efforts, the game lets you tweak your way through a number of tricks, spins, and flips, all while timing yourself perfectly for that crucial landing. As you proceed, you'll fill up a meter that will allow you to do "monster" tricks, which are beyond the norm and give you mega points upon completion.
The game's controls are adapted from the console version as well, which is curious given that you don't have a second analog stick for the PSP. But what's here will still suffice, and pulling off monster tricks is as simple as hitting a shoulder button in conjunction with a shape button. The gameplay still feels like second nature, and true to the theme of the sport, even if you're trying out skiing for the first time. It can get quite challenging in the later levels, too. Building 156,000 points for a point challenge is a lot more trying that it appears to be.
As far as graphics, the company tried to squeeze every ounce of SSX goodness into the portable device as they could. It comes away with a lesser frame rate and some missing details here and there, but still looks like a winner. Some will recognize earlier levels from SSX 3, as well as some new terrain that looks dazzling when you're launching yourself 50+ feet in the air for a "monster" trick. The menus also have an original touch to them, made up of hand drawings that come to comedic life.
Sound-wise, I was dreading the EA Trax, as previous selections left me queasy, but to my surprise, the selections here are actually very good, mixing some good modern rock with classic metal tunes from the 80's, including Def Leppard's "Let It Go" and Iron Maiden's all-out "Run To the Hills". You can even select the kind of soundtrack you prefer so you can skip the crap. Greatness.
On top of this, aside from the boisterous single player mode, SSX On Tour also provides multiplayer support through Ad-Hoc, so you can challenge some friends in a number of events. It's kind of limited in terms of how many people you can take on at once, but it still provides a competition that puts a fresh face on the one-on-one affairs.
SSX On Tour could've looked a little better, and probably would have benefited from some slight gameplay tweaks, but it's very playable and thoroughly enjoyable, and considering how badly the series has stumbled in handheld formats over the years, that's a mega-plus for me.
What's Hot: Classic SSX snowboarding goodness. Now with skis!
What's Not: Some very slight frame rate problems.