And so we come the last game in this article series. I don’t think it should really be any surprise as to what game it is, considering how often I’ve blanketed praise onto it in the past. In fact, it’s almost a little sad that this will be the last time I write up something about it….
If I have to give the “Game of the Generation” designation to a game that I’ve spent a lot of time playing, then including SSX in this series is pretty much mandatory. Even though it was released late in the generation, SSX is easily the game that I’ve dumped the most hours into on these consoles. The crazy thing is that I barely touched the single player; almost all my time with SSX was spent in online global events.
Even stranger is how playing SSX came to be an almost daily event for me. I bought it on release because it looked like simple fun, even though I had never played the series before. It sat on my shelf for about a month almost entirely untouched. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it; I just had lots of other stuff that I wanted to do. One day, a friend and I were sitting on the couch, pretty bored, and he pointed to SSX and asked what it was. I threw it into the console and fired up the global events that I’d heard about pre-release and something just clicked.
I was having so much fun in the online trick contests that I didn’t even realize how much fun I was having. The rushing sense of speed, vibrant and glowing color scheme, the flowing design of the mountains, and the constantly remixing soundtrack—it all worked together to pull me into the experience. It wasn’t mindless in the way it drew me in and I wasn’t zoning out as I played it, like it might sound. I was, instead, absolutely connected to the experience and everything I’ve just mentioned I noticed while I was playing it. I was simply having fun.
How often do you have fun while playing a video game? I started to think about it a couple months later, when I was absolutely absorbed with SSX (and had become pretty good at it, to boot). Lots of games these days are certainly entertaining, but when I say fun, I’m talking about something simpler and purer. I mean the sense of fun where the game makes you cheer (either out loud or silently) at what’s happening on the screen. Or when the game makes you laugh. Not because it’s funny, but because you’re enjoying the experience at a core level. There have been a few such games this generation for me: Burnout Paradise, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, Bulletstorm. But while all of those games eventually died down after a couple months, here we are a year and a half after release and I’m still playing SSX every week. Even more amazingly, I still have barely touched any features except trick-focused global events.
As I’ve already mentioned in other posts, a big part of what draws you into SSX is how every element of it mixes together to form a cohesive whole. As you can imagine, this game would absolutely fall apart if the way you interacted with it was not intuitive. Thankfully, the controls are natural and deeper than you might imagine at first glance. SSX has successfully taken the right stick trick controls of the Skate series and incorporated them into a much faster paced and arcade-style environment. The ability to wind up your tricks for extra spin before you’re in the air makes each jump and subsequent feat feel natural and intentional.
Thankfully, the intuitiveness of the controls allows you to feel like you’re still in full control even when at nearly out-of-control speeds. The way the mountain flies past you and the visuals blur in parts and stay in focus where necessary establishes a genuinely impressive sense of speed. Even trick events, which are traditionally a bit slower than the races, get so fast that it feels like disaster could strike at any moment. But, thanks to the controls, you can avoid potential obstacles and even use them to your advantage regardless of how fast you’re going.
SSX’s sense of speed helps to connect gameplay to visuals and style. Little elements like visual cues on your character help keep you focused on the action rather than looking for UI elements to give you information. When you’re in super mode (called “Tricky”), your hands burn with glowing light that leaves little light trails behind you as you ride. It’s a neat little effect and looks especially cool while you’re boosting (and you should be, as you have infinite boost in Tricky mode). Other cues like red on grindable objects and blue lights on potential ramps give you ideas of what path to take down the mountain on the fly.
The most impressive visual element, however, is that every single mountain looks different. You could walk into a room and see someone playing SSX, and if you’ve played it before, you could easily tell which mountain they’re on. My personal favorite range is the Himalayas because who doesn’t love grinding down the Great Wall of China? The game’s sense of style and carefree attitude come through in the visuals as well. All the characters you can play as look like they’re having a blast. Often, they’ll just start dancing once you finish a run (provided you don’t do poorly). In the same vein, the characters will often shout as they’re flying down the mountain or performing particularly crazy tricks. The timing on these exclamations is perfect, as they nearly always happen when you pull off something absolutely ridiculous, like grinding on the helicopter that follows you along.
The audio is one of SSX’s greatest strengths for far more reasons than just the shouts of the characters. The soundtrack is spot on; not one song seems out of place or jarring. The music is just as high-energy and colorful as the rest of the game. Never before have I been introduced to so many songs and/or bands in a video game that I’ve gone on to start listening to in real life. The most impressive thing about the sound design, however, is that the game remixes the music while you play. If you’re doing spins during a particularly long grind (and you should be!), the song currently playing will get caught and start to repeat the last second or two at whatever rate you’re spinning. If you end up really high in the air for a huge jump, the music will fade down. When you finally impact with the ground again, the music acknowledges this drop and crashes back to full volume in celebration of your landing. SSX is simply a very satisfying game to play because of the way everything in it works together to form an experience.
So, what’s the future for SSX? Who knows? EA confirmed that the game sold well and they’d be interested in developing it further. However, it’s by no means a top-tier franchise so I wouldn’t expect them to push it onto the new consoles right out of the gate. But the potential (and hopefully, promise) of SSX continuing is there, so maybe in a year or two we’ll be cheering out loud as we slide down mountains at 60 fps. A man can dream, anyway.
Regardless of whether the series continues, SSX made its impact on me and still continues to do so even now. Like Demon’s Souls and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I’ll remember SSX for a long time to come and when I look back on this generation of consoles, this is one of the games that I’ll remember most fondly. We need more games that embrace the idea of having fun. You know, games where things like statistics, achievements/trophies, kill/death ratios, and the like aren’t that important compared to the simple joy you feel while playing. Here’s to games that bring us joy.