Anyone who has paid any attention to the weather reports here in England lately will know that we have been promised some snow with even the potential for a white Christmas this year but as anyone living in England will know the TV weather reports here are usually the stuff of fiction and only vaguely based on reality, I cast my mind back to my younger years when we were told by forecasters that a hurricane that night was an impossibility, nevertheless the destroyed walls and trees at the top of my street and several people standing in the streets wandering where their TV aerials had gone the next morning begged to differ.
So it seems that despite forecasts we must turn to our consoles for any real chance of seeing any snow at all and EA Bigs latest entry in the SSX series SSX On Tour arrives to cater to this nicely, knowing my luck though I will awaken the day after this review goes live to find the whole country under six feet on snow thereby making me look a prize fool.
The SSX Series began its life as the PS2 launched and was held in high regard, since then each entry has expanded on its predecessors and been considered a hit in the genre so lets see if SSX On Tour manages to continue the upward trend or go crashing down the mountain on its backside.
Made of the white stuff
The first thing that struck me and indeed will strike any player is the visual style of the front end, EA have gone all out to try and capture the much clichéd 'Xtreme' vibe with mad black on white doodlings and animations plastered all over every menu and screen background. Featuring guitar playing unicorns and spiral patterns everywhere the whole front end looks as though the Monty Python team may have designed it whilst under the influence of strong hallucinogens but it does compliment the game quite well and is pulled off nicely, the intro is done in the same style and has a chopped version of the classic Iron Maiden track Run to the Hills over it to further set the scene.
Moving on or just fitting in
In a break from its predecessors SSX On Tour invites you to create your own character for use in the main game mode much as in a lot of other games these days as developers realise that players like to create the main character themselves rather than having to choose one from a preset selection, in practice this doesn't affect the gameplay much at all as the omission of online play from the game means that no-one else will ever see your character and due to the nature of the game you yourself will mostly only see their back and the back of their head.
You do get to further customise your characters appearance as you progress but as mentioned just there is no real point.
One feature of the character creation is that you may choose whether to take to the snow on a snowboard or a pair of skis, no matter which you choose the game remains essentially the same and the difference between the two styles is purely visual with the exception that ending up facing the wrong way is a bigger problem for you if your are on skis.
Another change in the game from the last incarnation of the SSX series is that you choose your next level from a menu of available challenges rather than freely roaming around to them, this means its easier and faster to get into the next part of the game and you can more clearly see what you have to choose from, what will happen though is that you will likely clear all the fun and good levels as soon as you have the option to play them and then be left only with a choice of the more dull and frustrating levels which you must clear before you may progress further.
Once you hit the snow there is plenty to be getting on with, the levels usually take one of three forms - a straightforward race, a trick performing challenge or a hybrid of the two (OK 2.5 forms then) but the majority are entertaining to play, you can perform the kinds of stunts usually associated with skateboarding games such as grinds, hand holds, and tricks in the air which are performed after hitting ramps and must be timed correctly to ensure you don't go spiralling down the mountain after a bad landing whilst bashing the square button to stand back up and carry on.
As you successfully perform tricks you will build up a boost bar (no not the Cadbury chocolate bar called Boost) which will enable you to get down the slopes faster, as the bar fills you will be able to perform your Monster Tricks which are accessed via the right hand analogue stick and come complete with slow motion shots of your snowboarder or skier pulling off some crazy moves from a variety of camera angles, these tricks will help you out no end in the 'do the most tricks in the time limit' sessions.
Sights and Sounds of the slopes
The slopes down the mountain which you must successfully navigate are packed with detail in the surroundings and run at a nice smooth framerate and although the frames per second count is not as high as in SSX3 the game still runs silky smooth with no slowdown in single player, there is some slowdown occasionally in two player splitscreen mode though and the graphical detail does drop off slightly in there too.
As you make your way down you can take shortcuts down some hidden sections to get ahead as you race down the often long and winding courses.
Sharing the courses with you are snowboarders and skiers not associated with the race but who just happen to be there on the mountain anyway, colliding with these people will slow you down but enhance your 'hype' which is a cumulative measure of your standing and credibility amongst the snow going crowd in the game.
The ingame music covers all bases from classic to indie rock and some dance at the other end of the musical spectrum and whilst the music may be more varied than in previous SSX games it doesn't alter as much during play, the music still fades out to bring up the rush of the wind as you speed along with a charged boost meter but this effect is not as pronounced as it used to be in earlier SSX titles.
SSX On Tour is one of those games where its stiffest competition is the last game in its series, not everybody is going to be pleased with all of the changes as in particular many players tend to enjoy the free roaming aspect found in SSX3 and many other titles these days, I find that the menu driven level selection helps to move the game along better though. The character creation although largely pointless is nonetheless a welcome addition as at least you do have more control over the way you look this time around and you get to rise up to being to of the scene from nowhere now with your creation, an online component would have been nice but I suspect it may have been taken out due to the fact that many PS2 games online bits seem really tacked on and bad at the moment, in a game that shines with polish in many other areas it may have brought the overall experience down a notch or two.
SSX On Tour will still please fans of the series despite the few mentioned gripes and will win over first time snow racing gamers too with the variety of challenges to be met and fast smooth play on offer.