Believe it or not, SSX On Tour doesn't mark the first time the series has been ported to a handheld – there's actually an SSX GBA game out there that isn't half bad. What this does mark, however, is the first time a reasonable facsimile of the console versions could be pulled off on a handheld. While it's not an exact port of the PS2 version, SSX On Tour for the PSP is an impressive game, though it won't do anything for you if you're growing tired of the series.
Instead of a big, wide open mountain, the challenges and races are presented in a similar fashion to the early SSX games. This simple approach works well on the handheld, though the actual way things are displayed leaves a lot to be desired. You simply pick whether you want to race or compete in a stunt challenge, select the course and event, and you're on your way. There are also some mini-challenges where you're required to grind certain things, jump through hoops, and a variety of other things. These aren't too interesting, but they're a decent diversion if you only have a few minutes to play.
New to the series this year is the addition of skiing. 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 controls didn't lose much in transition to the PSP, save for one major issue; the boost button is also a "grab" button. This is a huge problem as while you are boosting it results in you grabbing your board every time you get the slightest bit of air. Eventually you learn to take this into account, but even then you're likely to wipe out because of this issue. Most of the tricks look the same, and there are plenty of other grab and tweak buttons, it's pretty doubtful people would have gotten upset if one of them was taken away so there could be a dedicated boost button. Most people seem to use the d-pad when playing the game, but those of you who prefer analog will probably have a hard time getting used to the way the analog nub feels when controlling your character; it feels a little sluggish and inaccurate.
You won't be hopping on the internet to play against buddies from across the country, but On Tour does support multi-player via local WiFi. There are several different modes to choose from, and while the menu system is a bit cumbersome, the games are lag-free and a blast to play.
SSX on Tour actually has some pretty cool menus, though on the PSP version they are sometimes difficult to figure out. They're hand drawn and mostly in black and white, with splashes of color here and there to bring out the options. It almost looks like a 5th grader's sketchbook come to life, and it just looks cool. Unfortunately, this is one of the only changes to the game's style that works well. The characters have even less personality than they did in the console versions, and while you won't miss them yelling out catchphrases every time they do a trick, it would have been nice for there to be some way that they for them to feel alive.
SSX On Tour's frame rate is very impressive and does a nice job of conveying a sense of speed. It will occasionally stutter, but given how smooth it is most of the time, a little hiccup here or there is forgivable. There's also quite a bit of clipping, especially when you're in an area with lots of tress. There aren't as many fancy effects on the PSP as there are on the PS2, but there are some nice little touches like fireworks and lens flair. The courses look nice, and the draw distance is impressive – there's not much else you could have asked for here – the graphics are impressive.
While it wasn't an issue on the consoles, here the camera is often problematic. It seems to be situated lower and a little closer to your rider, which can make it difficult to see where you need to go. This is particularly an issue when you're making tight turns, or off the trails.
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. Def Leppard, Hot Hot Heat, Jurassic 5, Goldfinger, Queens of the Stone Age, Blackalicous, and many others are part of the well rounded soundtrack. You'll get no celebrity voices here, 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're still a fan of the SSX series, then there's no reason, other than the $50 price tag to not pick up the PSP version of On Tour. It's a technically impressive game that manages to capture most everything the series is known for. If you're growing tired of the series, and you're hoping that playing it on the go might re-kindle your interest – it's probably not going to happen, and it's not worth dropping fifty bucks to find out.