SSX’s nostalgia effect: looking back down the slopes

Friday, 2 March 2012 14:42 GMT By Johnny Cullen

As SSX launches today in the UK, early indicators are its everything previous games have been and thensome. Johnny Cullen looks back at early SSX installments and why he’s planning a return to the slopes after seven years.

With the inclusion of RiderNet, a competitive side of me is going to reemerge that hasn’t been seen since Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog, the inspiration for SSX’s social aspect. Its been seven years since our last dance together, Kaori. Let us not waste another moment.

Who remembers booting up the packed-in demo disc that came with your PlayStation 2? You know the one. The disc which had an intro set to orchastral music with a montage of games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Zone of the Enders, Tekken Tag Tournament and others.

One of the games was SSX. There was a demo of it. I got my PlayStation 2 a few months after its November 2000 launch for my tenth birthday in January 2001, and while I could have played Ridge Racer 5 and Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2, I played that bloody demo all the time.

Eloping to Elsyum

For two full months straight, all I would play is the SSX demo on the starter disc. It featured Mac hurtling down the Elsyum Alps in France, and I played it over and over and over again until I finally convinced my mum to buy me a full copy of the game, which was a PS2 launch title.

Thinking back, the majority of 2001 was spent playing SSX in my kitchen, swapping between Mac, Moby, Elise, Zoe and Kaori. I don’t think I touched anyone else in the line-up besides those five.

I haven’t played the original SSX in years since I traded it in, but it was the first game I truly enjoyed over a long period.

The characters had unique personalities, like Elise as the bombshell, Mac as the cocky US teen, Moby and Zoe as the bash siblngs – think of them as SSX’s version of the Bash Brothers from the Mighty Ducks films – and the Japanese happy-go-lucky that was Kaori.

And the tracks spoke for themselves, too. The nightime environment of Snowdream, the dusk sunset of Mesablanca, the lush Aloha Ice Jam and the legendary bonkers Tokyo Megaplex all had their unforgettable vibes.

Of course, by year’s end, things got interesting with Tricky. Given to me as a christmas gift, Tricky threw out the door everything I knew about the original SSX and forced me to relearn everything: new tracks, new characters and the inclusion of the Uber system.

Tricky was special. For a start, Hiro and Jurgen were gone, but in came the loveable Eddie, the peaceful Brody, the angry Luther and the incredibly mental Psymon.

A-list voice actors were also brought in to help bring out their personalities, like David Arquette as Eddie, Macy Gray as Seeiah and Lucy Liu as Elise.

And the inclusion of the Uber trick system opened up new possibilities on tracks like Tokyo Megaplex (this was an Uber specialist’s dream), Mercury City, Alaska and my favorite track ever, Garibaldi, where I keep jumping the chicane near the end of the course to go for a trick instead of going down the S path.

The soundtrack was more open this time. It still had some stuff from SSX 1, but the infamous usage of It’s Tricky by Run DMC will go down in gaming history. Not to mention the return of Hybrid’s Finished Symphony (I unlocked Untouched with Tricky after not being able to do so in 1 – it’s still one of my proudest moments as a gamer).

Tricky surpassed its predecesor by a big country mile. So imagine my surprise the bar was raised again for a third time.

Leaving home

Whilst keeping the Uber trick system, which has now become a fundamental part of the series, the book that was written on SSX went out the door again with SSX 3.

Instead of travelling around the world, organisers stuck you on a three-peek mountain, getting rid of the typical courses that fans got used to with the first two games, but had an open-world approach to it.

You could either race or do trick competitions, before going all out in the back country of the peek you were trying to beat at the time in what was called Conquer the Mountain challenges once you had collected an x number of medals.

Eddie and Garibaldi in Tricky.

Character changes seen most of the popular characters from SSX 1 and Tricky make the jump – like Elise, Zoe, Psymon, Kaori and Mac (who missed out on the European release of Tricky for some reason, replaced by a German doppleganger named Marty) – with four new characters coming on board, including cover star Allegra and Griff, the latter the only new character from SSX 3 to make it into the reboot.

SSX 3’s soundtrack went above and beyond those from the past two games, going out on a fully licensed list of artists like Basement Jaxx, Black Eyed Peas, Chemical Brothers, Royksopp, Jane’s Addiction and Overseer. Truth be told, the OST was what ultimately defined how much I enjoyed SSX 3.

The open-world aspect was excellent and the gameplay was still the same SSX formula we had all come to love, but the soundtrack made so much sense. There was no Hybrid this time, but there was The Chemical Brothers and Audio Bullies. And that was enough.

So when SSX On Tour went down too much of a rock avenue in 2005, not just in the soundtrack but also in promotional work, there was no interest. I don’t mind a bit of rock in SSX, but On Tour approached that aspect way too heavily compared to the excellent mix that there was in SSX 3.

With that, my love affair with the series ended. I’ve yet to play On Tour to this day, as well as SSX Blur on Wii.

Then came the reboot announce. I was excited beforehand, but when it showed what was basically Call of SSX at the 2010 VGAs, there was some serious arm flailing of the wrong kind. But Todd Batty and his team at EA Canada gradually shown over the past year or so its made what looks like a proper old-school SSX game, which the demo indicates as such.

And with the inclusion of RiderNet, a competitive side of me is going to reemerge that hasn’t been seen since Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog, the inspiration for SSX’s social aspect.

Its been seven years since our last dance together, Kaori. Let us not waste another moment.

SSX launches today in the UK for PS3 and Xbox 360.