While SSX Tricky was a great game, the glut of snowboarding games on the market at the time, combined with the fact that it was the series' third game in a short period, led many to the feeling that the series needed a break. EA agreed, and gave SSX a much-needed break. After a year off, the series is back, and if our time with the game is any indication, it's as good as ever.
This isn't generally something that warrants discussion in a preview, but SSX On Tour actually has some pretty cool menus. They're hand drawn and mostly in black and white, with splashes of color here and there to bring out options. It almost looks like a 5th grader's sketchbook come to life, and it just looks cool. The whole game has a unique sense of style, and it fits nicely.
The action takes place on a single mountain, but that doesn't mean you'll be doing the same run over and over. There are 135 challenges, almost 50 medals to be won, and twelve all-new tracks. You'll be carving up the snow on groomed runs, as well as blazing your own path on uncharted territory. I was only able to play one course in the game, but it had all the characteristics of a course you'd expect to find in SSX – big jumps, plenty of shortcuts, and lots of rails to grind.
In the demo, you can choose from a male or female character, who you'll be spending lots of time customizing with licensed gear, and then select whether they are a snowboarder or a skier. There's actually not a huge difference in how it feels to board or ski, though it's pretty easy to end up backwards on your skis. You can still ski when backwards, but you'll have to find time to spin around so you can get maximum speed and air off of jumps. One big addition to the way the game plays is that you can now recover from a trick that has gone awry. If you screw up a trick, mashing the square button repeatedly will prevent you from taking a nasty spill. You don't get any points for the trick, but you do save yourself lots of time if you're able to stay upright. It feels right at home here, and it's something so simple that you wonder why it wasn't in the series from the get go.
The courses have the traditional SSX feel to them, with plenty of fireworks, lots of casual skiers and boarders meandering down the mountain, and other effects to distract you along your way down the mountain. Right now, the framerate is decent, but there are areas where there's some slowdown. The build I was playing was a little dated, so there's reason to be optimistic that most of the hiccups will be cleaned up in time for the game's release.
The music is just what you'd expect from an SSX title. This is one of the few games where the much-maligned EA Trax add to the game – there's lots of punk, rock, and hip-hop to keep you grooving down the mountain. Gone are the celebrity voices, so David Arquette fans will have to look elsewhere for their fix. I actually really enjoyed the celeb voices in SSX 2, but On Tour is no worse off without them.
If you were a big fan of any of the previous SSX games, On Tour is poised to deliver all of the action you've to expect, plus new tricks, characters, and of course skiing. Not only that, it's only $40, and it's looking to be a great value at that price.