SSX Demo Impressions – Maximum Air

I think most of us can agree that SSX has seen better days.  It used to be king of the mountain when it came to arcade style snowboarding games but after a few recent missteps, the series was seemingly put on hold.  Fast forward to December 2010 when the debut trailer for a game called SSX: Deadly Descents was revealed at the annual Spike Video Game Awards.  Instead of joy, many people were left scratching their heads in confusion as the trailer showed off a much darker tone and less of the trademark lighthearted style.  Fast forward again and thankfully EA has managed to not only prove that SSX was returning to the Tricky and SSX 3 days, but also that it had a great title on its hands.

The long-awaited demo finally hit PSN and Xbox Live this past Tuesday and I couldn’t wait to go hands on with it.  So is this really a return to form or is it just another misstep?  My impressions after the jump…

 First thing you’ll notice after jumping in is the tone.  It’s very lighthearted and fun just as you may remember the old days.  That feeling alone is enough to settle you right in.  The demo begins with a pretty bad ass skyboarding freefall segment.  You pick up with series regular Zoe Payne in a helicopter about to drop onto what you think is a mountain.  Soon enough you’re essentially sky diving.  This is pretty genius because no matter who is playing, there’s zero chance that you’ll mess up.  You get to learn the basics of how to play in an environment that you can’t fail in.  Not only that, it’s pretty awesome.

After that, you’re moved to a more traditional second tutorial where you learn everything from boosting to maneuvering to performing tricks.  Better yet, there are two control schemes so if you don’t like the brand new control layout, you purists can always switch back to the “classic” controls of the older SSX games.  Everything feels just as it should in my opinion.  You can preload jumps, get absolutely huge air, and perform crazy and over the top tricks for massive points.  It’s all here as you remember and it feels better than ever.  It’s kind of like EA’s way of making up for the past few games in the series.  Ah yes, a rewind feature has been added as well, and to prevent people from abusing this feature, you lose points the longer you hold the button down and on race levels it doesn’t stop the clock or other racers. 

After completing the tutorial, you’re pushed out into the main user interface of the game, RiderNet.  Think of Autolog from the more recent “Need for Speed” games.  It’s here you can see what your friends are up to, challenge them, message them, and even see on what mountains they’re currently on.  RiderNet will also let you check on things like badges you’ve earned, your own stats, and managing the soundtrack (including adding a custom one if you want).  Most of these features are locked in the demo however, but you can still challenge friends and see what they’re up to.  It’s quite basically a social network for SSX players.

You’re also only given Zoe to use though you can unlock Mac if you refer a friend.  You know, EA’s annoying way of spamming your friends about the demo you’re playing.  Ok, I admit it.  I blasted this out to just about everyone on my friends list.  Can you blame me though?  I want a strong community for this game so there’s a never-ending stream of competition and fun.  Anyway…back to the task at hand…

You’re given two “drops” to play on in the demo, with one being a Race It event in the slopes of New Zealand and the other being a Trick It event in the Rocky Mountains.  Honestly, if you expect to walk right in and take gold, you’re going to be pretty shocked.  These events will take some practice as you need to really push things to get gold.  Thankfully, you won’t mind going back over and over because that’s just part of the fun, trying to top yourself.  Also, the maps are so well made that there’s just so many paths you could take which makes it feel fresh every single time.  The biggest thing here is that the game is just downright fun to play.  The tricks are easy to pull off and some of them will just leave you out of breath.

SSX is back baby.  After a long hiatus, you can feel confident that this is a game that respects its roots and draws inspiration from them.  Everything is here for a fan of the old series and fans of arcade style sports games.  While not everything is available for players to tinker around with, there’s certainly enough that you’ll feel right at home once again.  From the moment you hear Run DMC come on, you know you’re back.

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