Thirteen years! By God, time flies. For perspective, when this came out we were all still walking around with Nokia 3210s – those my-first-mobiles with the tiny green screen and Snake. And I honestly feared SSX Tricky would now feel just as much a product of its time, with polygons peeling at the edges and the gameplay all cobwebby and sad.
Good news! SSX Tricky happily sticks two fingers up at Father Time, its stunts and slopes still a blazing masterclass in how to build fun. It was and is one of gaming’s best racers – the only downer being that it’s a reminder that the blockbuster snowboarding genre has all but melted away today.
The original SSX debuted EA’s ‘Sports BIG’ label, and BIG this still is: a dizzying fruit machine of bombastic sound and light aimed straight at your pleasure centres. Pull off a serious stunt and the ground flies miles away, your boarder flips like a playing card trapped in a vent, fireworks explode, air horns wail, the crowd roars, faux B-movie quotes play (“He fears nothing, not even the gods!”)… it actually makes me feel cool, even though in actuality I’m rooted to a sofa, lifting my bum slightly before each jump to will my rider into the sky.
What the heck happened to racing games like this where you fly downhill constantly? The forward momentum of SSX Tricky whips you along with it, and drives an exceptional sense of risk-vs-reward. You desperately want to avoid the lurching halt of a failed stunt or a clonking collision with a tree – but you just have to attempt the finger ballet that’ll glide you smoothly into that tunnel or up to grind that mid-air rail. And success is all the sweeter for the game’s best-remembered bit: Run DMC dutifully yelling ‘‘It’s tricky!’ as you fill your stunt meter - in time with whatever music is playing, no less.
The tracks, loosely based on those from the earlier PS2-only SSX, are amazing. They belong to what feels like a lost era of whimsical racing playgrounds. It starts sensibly: snow, trees, the usual. Then it gets a bit off-kilter; we’re talking swinging rope bridges and glass barriers in the middle of the track. By the end, it’s a daft wonderland of snowed-in skyscrapers and alien teleporters. And you get to feast on a spaghetti-tangle of secret routes: slyly hop over a fence or suicide off the side of a banked turn, and the crafty developer was waiting for you all along with a hidden freefall or deep-snow shortcut.
Yes, SSX Tricky is trapped in that outdated BIG vibe, a hangover from late-’90s X Games fever. EA tried so very hard with the characters, but even having played the game fresh I can’t remember anyone except Eddie and his hateful hair-pumpkin. It doesn’t help that the voice cast of then-celebs now reads like the next Celebrity Big Brother – Macy Gray! David Arquette! Someone or other from The Mummy Returns! – and the end-of-race arguments between racers are like a BioWare cutscene rewritten by a five-year-old and animated in plasticine.
But that’s about it for moans. This is still the SSX to treasure above all others, even though I love all the sequels in their own way (except the recently rebooted one – never got on with it). SSX is the series that it’s okay to love despite a main mode that forces you to play every race three times in a row – maybe even because of that, because I voluntarily imprisoned myself in SSX Tricky opener Garibaldi for hours this time around, perfectly happy to give in to the game’s puppy-like enthusiasm for you to play around and explore absolutely everything.
There’s a ‘making of’ video on the disc, and the game’s executive producer says, “If we do it right… you forget you’re playing a videogame.” He could not be more wrong. SSX Tricky stands up now because it basks in its videogaminess. Frankly, we could do with more games where your rider is flying towards a UFO, 100 metres above the ground, spinning his board around his neck, and landing with a colossal thump to assorted ‘80s coin-op bleeps. But we don’t want the Nokia 3210 back, just to be clear.
Influenced by… Boardercross
SSX’s producer invented this Olympic sport in 1991.
Influence on… Bioshock Infinite
Booker’s skyline jaunts are inspired by the descents.