Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Taste of Snowboarding Heaven... Hands-On with the SSX Demo

Snowboarding heaven arrives next week with the new SSX and EA was able to release a demo on Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Network earlier this week. The demo contains two tracks with one being a race against CPU opponents at the Rockies and the other being trick-based at New Zealand. There is also a tutorial at the start to get players used to the controls as it defaults to standard, but can be changed to classic like the PS2 games were. However, the classic controls don't feel as classic as they should. Even though the tricks are mapped to the L and R buttons, spinning in the air is only on the d-pad and it can be tough to adjust to that with the left analog stick as regular movement. Sometimes, you will forget that you have to spin with the d-pad during big jumps missing big scoring opportunities. The standard controls, on the other hand, also took some time to get used to after so many years with the classic controls. Tricks can be done with the right stick or the face buttons as I went with the face buttons and they feel fine even though after a hour or two of hammering those buttons during jumps, my fingers were definitely taking a beating. Once you find a control style of preference after some runs, you'll be fine as you progress through the game.

The developers took the racing seriously this time around in this new SSX. Taking the right line really matters as it makes a big difference between being first and second place. The combat mechanics from the previous games are taken out, so you can punch people next to you to take them out for a short period of time, which is why I like the strong emphasis on the actual racing. It took me a while to find that perfect line through the Rockies course as I keep getting 2nd because sometimes following whoever is in first and trying to pass is a not the best idea. I also have to keep in mind that it is still a race and I can't be crazy high in air pulling off sick tricks, but you have still to nail enough of those to infinite boost going on your tricky meter. Speaking of boosting, SSX does a great sense of speed when you get a good stretch going really fast down the mountain. I would also compare it to the Burnout franchise once you go blazing. Then there is the RiderNet feature, this game's version of Need for Speed's autolog where you compare times and scores against your online friends and the leaderboards, but I won't get that much into that until my review of the final game.

The "Trick It" section of the demo is about getting a high score for the gold medal as most of those events go in the previous games. Just like the racing, a planned out line is definitely recommended to get that score, but at the end of the day, you're just going to find whatever ramp closest and try to get as many points as you can out of it. The tricky meter is similar to the uber meter with two levels of tricks. Once your tricky meter is golden, you can do the next level of tricks and even signature ones as well. Keeping that meter golden is the big key in doing well in these Trick It events because ending the combo will reset the multiplier. One of the exploitable tactics in past SSX games was to nose/tail press by any means necessary when you can't find a nearby jump and that still works to a certain extent in this new SSX. Another new mechanic in SSX is ability to rewind especially bailing during a big combo. I'm glad the developers decided that rewinding feels like a punishment as it subtracts points from your score and during races, opponents will just pass you. With that punishment mentality in mind, players like me won't use it that much and rather restart from the beginning of the course to get that perfect full run going.

I should not be talking more about this demo because most of this is gonna transfer over to my review of the final game, but damn I'm totally in love with the new SSX. If the demo is any indication how next week will turn out, this is gonna be arguably my most played game of the year. Plus, its nice to have a trick-based game out again because it seemed like the extreme sports genre of gaming of dying because of the Tony Hawk franchise's downfall and EA's Skate series did well enough, but not enough for that mainstream success. The strive for perfect full runs and trying to dominate RiderNet against online friends is gonna keep players like me going for a long time. I can already tell just by resetting multiple times during races and trick runs to try again (shoutouts to Siglemic). The graphics and soundtrack are also amazing just by the demo alone and I believe they will hold up in the final game. Man I can't wait for Tuesday which is when SSX is coming out on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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