When it comes to EA's SSX series, we've done it all. We've ripped through the wilderness to the theme song from SSX Tricky. We've cruised down half hour runs through the unforgiving terrain of backcountry. We've tossed our board aside and slid on a pair of skis, cutting around moguls, making black diamonds look like bunny hills. We've done it all, and to be honest, we started getting tired of the same old experience. Once SSX Blur was announced for Wii, our love for the series was rekindled, as we now (along with the rest of the gaming world) have a chance to experience the world of SSX in its new evolution. Now that our arms are tired and our eyes are burning from far too much boarding, we've come to the conclusion that Nintendo Wii was exactly what this series needed, as SSX Blur manages to become one of the best titles on the Big N's new generation system.
If you're a fan of the SSX franchise, chances are you know the score by now. Players select from a group over overly-stylized characters, grab a board and some gear, and rip down the slopes of a fictional paradise. SSX is a boarder's wet dream, consisting of more jumps, grind rails, and fresh powder per square inch than any real-world park can provide. It isn't uncommon to leap into the air, pull off a series of grabs and spins that would make Shaun White shake in his bindings, and land it all just in time to do it again. SSX is about over-the-top boarding, fast skiing, and an experience that's larger than life.
And until now, the formula has been the same during each of the series iterations. Carving was handled with the analog stick, spinning was assigned to the same analog stick with the ability to "preload" a move by anticipating the jump, and tricks were executed by - to be totally honest - mashing down on every remaining key on the controller and watching your boarder do all the work. It's an amazing series with some unforgettable moments, but when it all comes down to it the technique was entirely brainless.
With Wii, EA has gone all out to deliver a fresh and entertaining evolution of the classic SSX series, and in our opinion the designers hit it on the head wonderfully. Rather than simply tilting a control stick and turning your fingers white from face button mashing SSX Blur brings a play style that's nearly 100% motion integrated, including everything from carving, tricking, and rail grinding, and for the most part it works. With use of the nunchuk controller, players will carve with the tilt of the wrist, and lean with the analog stick, making steering a two-layered effort. It takes some definite getting used to, but after a few runs down the mountain most players should feel very comfortable with the control.
For tricking, the Wii remote is flicked in different directions mid-air, while the A and B buttons are used to break up a move and begin another (as sort of a in-air trick modifier). Performing a grab is as simple as tilting the nunchuck a direction when in mid air, and gripping the Z button. Tricks fill up a classic boost meter (now renamed the Groove Meter), and once full the ability to perform ubertricks (the top accomplishment in the game) with full motion integration is unlocked. To execute an ubertrick, players will have to hold the A button and literally create shapes with their hands. When performed correctly, the intended trick is executed.
Of course this design is all well and good, but the real question that comes to any gamer's mind is whether or not SSX's control scheme truly works. After all, changing something for the sake of changing it is absolutely worthless, so if Blur is going to turn any heads it better add to the experience. After ripping through every run the game has to offer, and spending a ton of time with the controls, we're absolutely loving the design, and aside from a few minor setbacks have enjoyed nearly every moment of Blur. Carving feels very natural, tricking is quick and easy, and performing ubers is a very rewarding added element to the game.
That isn't to say it's perfect. SSX does sacrifice the tactile feel of tricking mid-air, as players will find themselves going through trial and error to get a feel for how to spin and flip without breaking the system or looking like a total jackass. With the ability to break out of any trick at any time with the press of either the A or B button, Blur makes it simple to chain tricks or line up a rider before sticking a landing, but since the Wii remote is motion sensing any flick or jitter from the hand could result in the beginning of a new trick. We found that we had to make a conscious effort when ending our mid-air trick line, as we'd often pull off a huge combo, press the "end" button, and then relax our hands, dropping or tilting them and sending our rider to their flipping doom. In addition, the combination of grabbing and spinning is a bit temperamental, as spins and flips must be put in before grabs. If you grab first, you'll have to break out of the trick, spin or flip, and then grab again in order for the two elements to work side by side. It's odd, but it comes as second nature after a bit of practice.
One of Blur's most plaguing issues, however, isn't going to be the lack of replay value or control, but the sheer difficulty of the game. SSX Blur isn't a pick up and play game, and it isn't newbie friendly. EA has made it sound as though the game is Wii-ified in order to make it more simplified, but it's quite the contrary, and the added motion control for every element of the game makes it one to separate the men from the boys. Ubertricks are hard to pull off, and the tutorial mode will most likely be played for at least 10 to 15 minutes by the average gamer to actually become comfortable with the system's many different moves. Some players may never fully take advantage of each ubertrick as well, since the game demands perfection, or at least some serious coordination. In addition, simple tricking with the use of both the left and right hand, including tilting, moving, and button presses can come off as very difficult for some gamers, resulting in a "tap your head, rub your belly" feeling. This isn't Wii Sports Snowboarding
it's SSX. EA has made a hardcore boarding game, and only the hardcore gamers need apply.
That being said, SSX Blur is easily the most rewarding game in the franchise, as pulling off amazing moves and motion-activated ubertricks results in a serious adrenaline rush. Ubertricks are damn hard, but when you nail the shapes and see your character go into an insane point-yielding combo, all the time spent practicing your freestyle tricking will be worth it. It isn't easy, it won't come natural for many players, but it's an amazingly rewarding feeling to stick landing after landing, trick after trick, and clutch win after win because of your mastery of the game's system. It isn't you hitting the B button and watching an over-the-top animation; it's you pulling off the ubertrick you want, when you want it. The system adds a depth of creativity, improvisation, and flow that no other in the series has had, and for that reason alone it should be considered a worthy addition to the SSX family. Hardcore gamers are going to eat the uber system up, period.
Stepping away from general gameplay, SSX has included a strong overall style that's very reminiscent of the original Tricky design. It isn't quite as over-the-top, but the interface and general mood of the game has a very laid back feel to it, and it comes across nicely from section to section. The interface is made up of large, sharp geometry, comprised of heavy pastel colors that seem inspired by graffiti art (with almost a hint of WarioWare, oddly). SSX Blur is all about hard edges, so you'll be navigating menus full of squares and triangle options, using the Wii remote to point to huge on-screen buttons. Unfortunately, the interface is also hurt a bit by its huge emphasis on style and simpolicity, as a few of the mid-screens (things like the map, results screens, or event selections during career mode) are really, really basic. Still, we'll take the good with the bad, and the overall interface presentation for Blur is impressive and welcoming.
On the slopes, EA has gone to great lengths to ensure that Wii players get the SSX look and feel throughout, and while there's definitely enough style to the game to give it the feel of the series, we can't help but feel that Blur is a bit light on SSX's "in your face" style. Music layering has been included once again, so while you cruise the hill you'll begin adding instrumentals and overbeats on top of a steady rhythm track. The music is actually determined based on your groove meter, so the better you do, the more the music evolves. All the tracks in the game are original, spun by Junkie XL, and though you won't have any remixed fades of classic songs (we still have "Jerk it Out" stuck in our head from SSX 3
amazing), EA radio does make an appearance, so you get the amazingly ridiculous commentary from DJ whatever-the-hell-his-name-is gabbing at you from time to time. Fortunately this only happens while in the navigation portion of the peaks, so once you get on the actual slopes it's back to purely Junkie XL's music.
And while all the necessary elements are there, there's still a feeling that Blur's on-slope design could have been a bit stronger. The music fading isn't as strong during huge tricks (though it's still there), and the groove meter doesn't make noise as it fills like it did in the days of old, so you never get that hard popping feel when you stick a trick and are rewarded with a blast of audio goodness. In addition, while the game supports 16:9 and 480p, as well as Dolby Pro Logic II, the actual track design isn't as "out there" as other SSX titles. We miss avalanches chasing us down runs, or full cities to weave between. Where are the crazy environments? Aside from the overly gigantic drops and cave carving there isn't much that sets SSX's world apart from reality, and while the areas have a ton going on, the most memorable chunk of level we experienced was a gigantic spark-shooting T-rex. There's mostly white, and lots of it.
Still, SSX Blur is an amazing first effort on Wii, and should be a must-have buy for any hardcore (and slightly masochistic) gamer out there. The career mode will take around 15 hours to complete with one rider, though getting all the ubertokens (used to unlock new ubertricks) and beating every challenge will take far, far longer. Each rider also has customizable stats and gear, as well as a list of 25 boards and skis to chose from, so getting 100% in Blur will be nearly impossible for most gamers. The multiplayer action is a definite plus (there's nothing better than nailing an immensely difficult ubertrick, and knowing that your buddy is going to be left in the dust because of it), and for the most part the track design is solid. The slalom courses need some tweaking, as many of the gates are way too close together, so even a maxed out rider will have trouble hitting each one (slow and steady wins the race on slalom courses), and of course we'd like to see more intense areas to trick through. Despite a few moments of shouting "Why!?" at the top of our lungs, the track design and flow of the game is perfectly fine for a first effort.
©2007, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved