Snowboarding games come in one of two flavors: arcade-inspired fun fests and life-mimicking physics simulators. While there’s certainly a crowd for both types, I’m of the persuasion that real-life snowboarding is painfully realistic as it is, so when I sit down in front of a game I want to pull off moves like a physics-defying god. SSX On Tour mixes a bit of both styles, and as the game starts out it’s easy to think it leans more toward the realistic side. But advance a few ranks and buy a few boards, and you’ll soon realize the game drips with arcade flavor.
SSX On Tour feels at first like a sim because you’re not even a Novice when the game begins. Seriously, the first rank on the Tour, which you have to earn by practicing tricks and taking-on smaller individual competitors, is Novice. Then Amateur. Then Rookie, etc. In the first few rounds, the big tricks, big runs and more-capable boards (and skis) are way out of reach. As a result, this makes most of the early runs and competitions feel boring and, at times, frustrating. What’s more, the Quick Play menu option only includes the competitions you’ve unlocked during the course of your Tour career, so even the Tour-free gameplay mode can feel limited at the beginning.
The learning curve doesn’t exactly help matters, with a plateau-like advancement system in which players start out bad but eventually learn skills and start feeling like a master. But, just as you achieve a state of snowboarding or skiing nirvana, you’ll advance a rank and meet much tougher competition, which in turn makes you feel weak again. This process repeats throughout the game, but gradually you’ll welcome the competition rather than abhor it.
And please, for the love of big air, try to endure these early frustrations. Although the fancier boards and tricks seem initially out of reach (they are amazingly expensive), these humbling early stages will be nary a memory once you buy better boards, learn more tricks and unlock the Freeride option. With those options in tow, SSX On Tour gets exponentially more fun, and you’ll finally realize that the game isn’t a simulator in an arcade’s clothing, but an out-and-out big-air festival.
Regardless of your feelings for the game early on, SSX On Tour is designed for big air and big tricks, but only once you reach a certain point in the game. You see, like previous SSX games, the runs and competitions in On Tour take place on one huge mountain, not individual, disparate runs or several smaller peaks. As such, the later competitions and advanced runs involve mastering more and more parts of the mountain. And believe me, the 20-minute peak-to-base run is a seamless, trick-happy, radical ride. Once you’ve unlocked more-advanced equipment, anyway.
With the big air and big tricks come big additions to your boost bar, which can be used to catch up to the competition in a race, to build up speed for the ramps in trick competitions, or to build the bar big enough that you enter slow-motion sequence in mid-air, which lets you do more complex tricks and earn more points.
Still, the tricks at times can be hard to pull off, with the need to wind them up via the D-pad while still steering with the left thumbstick and pivoting (or tucking) with the right. SSX On Tour can also be somewhat unforgiving in the scoring category, because it doesn’t give you points when you repeat a trick back to back. Look, I’m all for creativity, but what if I really like the look of the double-backflip-to-720 move? Why should I be penalized? A better scoring system might have been to award reduced points for each subsequent repeat, not deny them altogether.
Graphically SSX On Tour doesn’t disappoint, although the camera does get stuck at times behind ledges and trees if you’re not careful. There also appears to be an issue with clipping, but several instances could easily be pawned off as having landed in deep powder. The animations, though, are a riot, and the sense of speed is augmented by a Burnout-like blur as you speed down the surprisingly varied environment (resorts, ski lifts, halfpipes, roads, tunnels, forests and death-defying cliffs are al part of the massive hill).
In a surprising twist for a game this late in the cycle, SSX On Tour has no online options, with multiplayer action limited to two-player split-screen. Split-screen is a mixed bag, though, because while it’s nice to compete with someone, it can be hard to follow the action when your field of vision is halved. And to be honest, the out-and-out fun of the Freeride mode will make you forget about the lack of online play and, in fact, probably even the split-screen options.
SSX On Tour, in spite of its initial frustrations, packs a lot of fun into a game with no online options and with what amounts to a single, albeit massive, level. If you can stick out the first few stages, ignoring how out-of-reach the tricks and boards may seem, the good times are bound to follow.
- Gameplay: 8.8
- Tricks can be hard to pull off at times, but the mid-air stunts make up for it once you’re airborne.
- Graphics: 8.8
- Pretty good stuff, with varied environments and character models and tricked-out animations.
- Sound: 8.7
- One of the best EA Trax soundtracks in a while, although the selection can still feel a bit sparse at times.
- Replay: 8
- Freeride is really where it’s at, but for some people, that might not be enough.
- Overall: 8.8
- The game hits its stride late, but when it does, it hits it big. There’s a lot of fun here for the patient gamer.