Long. Time. Coming. That’s what this preview has been. A damnably, painfully, teeth-gnashed-to-powder-with-frustration-every-meal-is-now-soup-and-I-sound-like-I’m-hoovering-up-custard-when-I-speak long time coming.
I am, you see, along with Nathan, the joint-biggest SSX fan on the Radar UK team. I nearly screwed up my dissertation due to SSX3, and I’ve been dreaming of a sequel ever since I got my shit together and graduated. And now there is a sequel. But for the longest time it’s felt like everyone in games journalism has been playing it but me. But now I have played it, and now I finally get to write about it. And bloody hell, am I going to make up for lost time with an insane amount of anally-retentive analysis. Brace yourselves…
The most important thing to know: All of the tricks, nuances and skills you’ve picked up and honed in previous SSXes are available and as instinctive to pull off as ever, right from the get-go. This isn’t a retooled, reworked reboot. In core functionality, it’s the SSX you know and love, and you’ll be instantly at home the second you start. Slow, banking drifts are as precise as they ever were, given a bit of slight, careful manipulation of the left stick. Those sharp, almost right-angled cuts through the snow are as immediate and controllable as they ever were, if you give the controls a quick yank.
The cheeky ground-level bunny hops are present and correct. The almost subconscious, muscle-memory mantra of aim/boost/jump-release-into-trick works as smoothly and instinctively as it always has. If you could play SSX before, you can play SSX now. It all just works. All that has changed is the pad layout.
While directional spin tricks are still a case of creating a flowing series of directional shifts in mid-air, they’re now performed using the right stick rather than the d-pad. And that’s basically fine. It allows smoother, more nuanced control, fits in well with SSX’s new, slicker animations, and most importantly means that 360-owners won’t be completely boned by the pad’s rather abstract interpretation of their inputs.
Boosting has now shifted from the face buttons to the right trigger, but board-grabs still operate from the shoulder controls, and Uber Tricks are still a combination of the two. It’ll take a little getting used to in order to reprogram yourself, but screw it. There was once a day when I didn’t know how to play SSX at all, and my Metro City pipe-runs are now things of rare and untold beauty. We’ll all pick it up within an hour or so, and the more purely trigger-controlled Ubers might even end up being a little more instinctive in the long-run.
For all of this talk of control inputs though, it’s the overall flow and physical feedback that you get when flying down a mountain that really dictates whether a game is SSX or not. And while this is still SSX through-and-through, there are some subtle differences you’ll notice if you’ve played the previous games to death.
To use a fairly abstract but completely accurate description, this feels like SSX3 if everything in the game world was coated with a thin layer of butter. But, you know, tasty sexy butter rather than rancid greasy butter. Things just feel a little faster, a little slicker, a little softer and a little more immediate now. Mid-air flip and spin tricks flow together quicker and more seamlessly than before, with less accidental stalls coming about via a messed-up directional inputs. The analogue control helps here, of course, as do the smoother animation transitions.
Ground tricks are now a little friendlier and more forgiving too. As well as linking combos via manual board tilts when on the ground, the right stick also provides a fast, immediate bunny hop when flicked hard enough. Again, it takes a little getting used to in order to avoid pulling off by accident, but it’s no longer the end of the world if you perform an unwanted jump in the wrong place. Rather than coming to an accidental frontside nose-plant and tumbling onto your sorry face, the softer, more forgiving board/snow interactions will often see you getting away with it and surfing away happy, following a little deft stick-wrangling.
That said though, this does lead me onto my one of my main reservations…