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by EA

ssx01-01.jpg (4417 bytes)Nearly 4 months after launch, SSX is still the only killer app for the PS2. I recently noticed in a flurry of launch week coverage that we missed SSX. I had played it with so many of the other launch titles, but was underwhelmed to say the least. The PS2 launch was such a let down it seemed to color every title that I put in Sony’s homely little black box. I did a couple of runs on SSX and was content to call it Coolboarders with better graphics.

ssx02-01.jpg (3940 bytes)I’ve had a little time since the launch and my disappointment has been tempered somewhat with the realization there are actually a couple of pretty good games out for the PS2, and one great game. To compare SSX to other snowboard games might not really give you a clear idea of what SSX is. It’s more like Crazy Taxi and San Fransico Rush with some Tony Hawk thrown in for good measure. As a video game reviewer I feel a certain sense of responsibility to proclaim a great game to the world (even if it is a little after the fact) and to offer a public penitence for my inability to see that there is at least one great game on Sony’s new system.

ssx03-01.jpg (4559 bytes)SSX is that perfect blend of realism and hyperrealism that I look for in so many games that I play. I don’t often want to play games that are so much like the real world that I don’t get to escape, but when the games are too unrealistic there isn’t any sense of risk or personal investment. The physics and handling of the racers seems fairly grounded in reality (with just a little tweaking here and there) but some of the tracks, on the other hand, are so incredibly outrageous that you can’t help but feel like you’ve crashed through the looking glass. This isn’t for sim purists. It is an in-your-face over-the-top race/trick game with lots of fireworks. This is a great game.

ssx04-01.jpg (3998 bytes)The real stars of this game are the tracks. Besides being huge, they are also incredibly well designed. The game starts off with just two open tracks that are entertaining but not particularly mind-blowing. It’s like the designers didn’t want to overload your senses too soon. In retrospect, I’m really appreciative of how the tracks progressed not only in terms of difficulty, but also in terms of sheer wackiness. Things really start to get out of hand with the third track where you’re racing through snow covered city streets. The final track is an insanely huge iceberg complete with ice caves, tropical islands and penguins. SSX takes a considerable amount of concentration to focus on the racers and the race and not get overwhelmed by the passing scenery.

The graphics are impressive. The detail in the tracks and riders is unparalleled. Surprisingly it wasn’t the fireworks that go off throughout the tracks that really impressed me; it was the little details like permanent tracks in the snow or how the fire hydrants in the city would erupt when you bumped into them. There is no noticeable slowdown in the graphics, which is really impressive when you consider how much is happening on the screen at any given moment. I particularly liked the intuitive camera work. The camera seems to pull back at just the right place so that you can truly savor your jumps and tricks. It is the only title on the PS2 guaranteed to make jaws drop.

ssx05-01.jpg (3478 bytes)On top of solid racing and an inventory of dozens of tricks, there are a ton of little perks peppered throughout the game. The tracks have some of the most enjoyable shortcuts that I’ve seen. Imagine cruising through a snow covered desert landscape (don’t’ ask), then falling down an abandoned mine shaft and grinding the old rail tracks. You’re going to scour the tracks for shortcuts not because they’ll shave seconds off your best time, but because they’re so darn fun. I also liked being able to shove other racers off their boards without penalty. What’s a racing game without a little mischief? There could have been more characters, but it really wouldn’t have made the game any better or any worse. The characters that you have to choose from are varied and interesting enough to keep you playing for hours.

Is it a race game or a trick game? I don’t know. The simple fact that it is impossible to define makes it a great game. Greatness always breaks a little from tradition. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded why I play games. I put so many games into my consoles that I just have to get through in order to write the review. Playing SSX was rediscovering the childhood joy that video games should be. The future doesn’t look so bleak for the PS2 with Starfighter, The Bouncer and Zone of Enders coming out within the next few weeks--thank heavens we have at least one game on the system to tie us over until the others arrive.

ssx06-01.jpg (4191 bytes)I have to admit to a certain level of Dreamcast myopia. I forgot in my rush to defend Sega that it’s not about the system. It’s about the games. It’s always been about the games. It’s just that the Dreamcast has had a better record than others in that department. But with Sega’s newfound "platform agnosticism" the great games will be shared all around. It took me a while to admit that there was actually a great game on the PS2, I just hope it doesn’t take that long for the next good game to come out. The PS2 has a long way to go before having a library that even begins to approach the Dreamcast in terms of originality or gameplay, but if SSX is any indication, the potential is there. I just hope they don’t screw it up with endless variations on Final Fantasy or Metal Gear.

Jason Frank


Ups: Great graphics; amazing courses; easy control; lots of replay value.

Downs: A little arcade-y for sim snowboarding fans.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2


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