The lights are on
Why is SSX a success? Anyone could cite a dozen reasons regarding the excellent craftsmanship and pure. fan pandering execution that EA Canada has delivered with its 2012 opus. The soundtrack is incredible (and yes, can be imported), the presentation is slick, the characters are as iconic as ever, and the online structure is deliciously addicting. But the true answer to SSX's triumph rests on the shoulders of one word: love.
Video games are changing. As the industry grows ever stronger, franchises are slowly being consumed by the very power they possess. Bottom lines, dividends, deadlines and budgets are becoming the masters of series after series after series...much to the chagrin of the every day fan. Like Hollywood, fans are endlessly subjected to subpar installments that suck the quality out of a franchise while the producers plan further DLC content or next years "X.5" cash-in. Fans are sold half a game, and then tenths of a game after the fact.
Sure, this behavior has and always will be an issue that plagues any form of art. In defense of industry big-wigs: It takes a shocking amount of money and time to make video games. But sometimes... a lot of times... games come and go that COULD have been masterpieces, but fall short. Instead of being legendary, they sit in the graveyards of gaming history, their headstones marked: "We needed the Christmas release date". Sometimes...a lot of times... all these games needed was one producer that actually loved the game that was being made.
*Waves to Capcom Executives*
Any series veteran will tell you that the first hour or two of SSX is a very mixed bag. The game stands so far apart from 2003's untouchable SSX3, that it immediately puts any fan on the defensive. Tricks are much easier to execute, the control has been streamlined, and the open world structure has been abandoned in favor of course to course, mountain to mountain selection. Fans might also be let down by the lack of rider customization, which has been reduced to simple palette swaps and perks. The first hour or two of SSX screams cash-in, suffering from a classic case of what I like to call "The Easies".
But then, twelve or fifteen...or fifty hours later, the player awakens to realize that they have been sucked in by a tornado of quality and sublime level design. The easier tricking system is quickly forgotten as players find themselves blitzing down mountain ridges that border on catastrophic. The games speed and "loosey goosey" feel settles in so well that it feels like a brand new pair of $500 designer shoes sporting custom-fitted, gel insoles. The lack of open world structure or rider customization is rendered irrelevant as one starts swooning at the sheer variety and staggering number of courses in the game. Veterans will especially learn to love the new (and brutally strict) scoring system that punishes anyone for slowing down, going backwards, or partaking in any number of classic SSX shenanigans.
A player may miss the fireworks, the crowds, and the pinball machine feel of classic SSX's courses, but all of that will vanish the first time they are dropped 200 feet down into the pitch black depths of Kilimanjaro. Speed, terror, isolation, execution, and adrenaline are the new themes of SSX.
It quickly becomes obvious that level design was priority number one for EA Canada. The "Deadly Descents" that seem like gimmicks at a glance slowly become integral to the design of nearly two-thirds of the games tracks. Avalanches, blizzards, trees, rocks, dark caves, gaping pitfalls, sub zero temperatures, and low oxygen environments eventually leave the constraints of their single courses and begin to combine in other courses, creating a laundry list of experiences and courses in the game that can only be described as "unforgettable".
Meanwhile, the player will find themselves wanting to forget some of the courses in the game. SSX is not just the most challenging SSX game in the series, it is one of the most challenging video games of this generation. The game is capable of creating frustration on a level previously reserved only for classic 8-bit gauntlets. Though the first sets of courses in the game will make the player purr like a kitten, the rest will leave them cursing the screen in fits of rage.
If I could relate this game to any other, it would be to Polyphony's Gran Tourismo. Racing, which has been back-burnered since SSX Tricky, finally surges
forward in glorious style. Though tricking still remains as the mainstream champion of the game,
the overwhelming speed and dangerous design of nearly every course in
the game cries out "race me", and will be irresistible to hardcore
mainstays. Course knowledge is the key to survival. Instead of autopiloting down big jump after big jump, players will find themselves holding back on the analog as they slowly
inch their way down courses for the first time, overwhelmed by the fear of slamming into rocks or flying
off a cliff.
This is not because of poor design. It is because of love. It is because the developers of the game cared enough about their project to seriously put thought into it's design. They wanted to create a game that will likely see further DLC and updates because the fans are desperately clamoring for more, not because they felt cheated or shorthanded by rushed development. The challenge of the game, and the titanic level of content will keep SSX on the minds of players for another decade. The producers over at EA, who could have so-easily cashed in on one of video games most respected franchises, instead opted to stand back and let EA Canada craft a masterpiece.
SSX is back.
PSH, you forgot to mention the magnet rails STUPID!!
Hey, non-existent readers!
For a further explanation as to why the level design of this game warrants such a high score, check out my letter to Phil Kollar regarding his review of SSX here:
I agree with you, SSX is back! I almost held back from buying the game but good thing I didn't because it has been a very fun experience.