SSX On Tour Review / Preview for the GameCube (GC)

SSX On Tour Review / Preview for the GameCube (GC)

Since debuting with the PS2 back in 2000, the SSX series has created an avalanche which has wiped out the competition. Once at the peak of their popularity series such as Cool Boarders and Nintendo’s own 1080 Snowboarding found themselves covered under a mountain of white stuff due to the powder flying off the boards of EA’s SSX. Well, maybe that’s not exactly how things played out but it all makes for an interesting opening paragraph.

SSX On Tour continues the shreddin’ attitude and over the top arcade gameplay that kicked into high gear with last years game and continues that tradition. From the moment the intro sequence zooms onto the screen to the tune of Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills, you’ll instantly know SSX On Tour is attempting to cover some new ground. I’ll give EA some props – I can’t believe someone over there decided to pay for some heavy metal music royalties. I can only assume EA has already used every single rap tune ever made or they couldn’t find a hip hop tune that could even be remotely related to skiing or snowboarding. “Run To The Hills”….ski hills that is. Talk about a weak connection. But at the very least it’s different. And so is SSX On Tour; but in a good way.

The art direction of the games presentation is so off the wall – littered with stoner-type doodles – that immediately you get the “Wild On” vibe. This is a party on a hill. Perhaps we should run to it…. While On Tour’s menu presentation is insanely fun to look at, the actual game is crisp but doesn’t manage to best SSX 3’s slicker artisitic direction. The action still takes place on one mountain which is littered with shortcuts and other paths for you to investigate. The character animations are topnotch (especially during the newly titled Monster Tricks) while the real stars of the show happen to be the little extras like falling snow, spraying powder and cool effects lighting.

The heart of the game is of course the On Tour mode, which functions as a career mode. Gone is the emphasis placed on celeb voices and whacky characters (although you’ll see quite a few familiar faces); On Tour allows you to create your own skiier or boarder (you must select one or the other, they can’t be switched willy nilly). While the create a character feature is pretty simplistic, it’s the On Tour mode that will garner most of your attention. Since the core of SSX has always been more about racing to the bottom of the hill rather than pulling off insane tricks, On Tour doesn’t change things up too much in that department. Boost will allow you to pull off Monster Tricks which are executed at the touch of the R analog stick which in effect takes the challenge out of performing cool stunts, but as I already said, that’s more of a bonus anyway. The races you’ll undertake in On Tour do manage to keep things fresh by forcing you to complete various objectives which will test your skills as you speed down the mountain.

And speed down the mountain you will. On Tour boasts by far the fastest action ever to hit the digital slopes. It wouldn’t even be crazy to insinuate that On Tour manages to even behave a little like EA’s latest acquisition Burnout, because there are a couple of little flourishes that you might recognize from Criterion’s monster racing title as you overtake a few lackluster opponents. Speaking of which you’ll be thrilled to notice that EA Canada managed to allow you the freedom to pretty much go anywhere, and that includes visiting some areas of the mountain where other less Xtreme-oriented winter sports enthusiasts happen to congregate. Have fun messing with them!

In the “Go BIG or Go Home” Dept. astute fans of SSX 3 (PS2 version) will indeed notice that the online portion of the game no longer exists. I guess EA felt that if they couldn’t improve the multiplayer mode, it was best to scrap it. Considering that EA is literally the king of online, it’s puzzling as to how and why they couldn’t manage to improve upon something that didn’t seem to require too much retooling. Perhaps they’re waiting for the next gen titles due to the enormous size of the mountain. That would make sense. Split screen still exists and for once, I actually tried it out – fans who read my stuff will know split screen and I don’t get along. While I found it distracting to have two completely separate things going on at once I did manage to note that the visuals were pretty darn impressive on all systems – save for the Cube who had some trouble keeping up in both single player and two player.

Cube fans may have received the short end of the ski pole in terms of some visual degradation and framerate but Nintendo purists will once again be able to hit the slopes with Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach who also were exclusive characters in EA’s NBA Street V3 on the Cube. Please note: The Nintendo characters are ONLY available in the Cube version of SSX On Tour. Playing with Mario and the others is fun, but it’s not exactly a dealbreaker. I’d still recommend either the PS2 or Xbox version if you have the opportunity.

Musically, I lied. Since this is EA you can expect to hear some hip hop tunes, but the soundtrack does manage to appeal more to the metal heads than most of their products. You’ll be doing the index finger, pinky heavy metal salute to Dio, Scorpions and Motorhead. Wow, Motorhead in a videogame. Bizarre. Speaking of the classic heavy metal hand gesture, be sure to keep your eyes out for all sorts of cool doodles on the slopes, dudes. Sound effects in On Tour is pretty impressive stuff too, although it’s not exactly inspired audio genius for the soundtech to impress us with a variety of environmental sounds once your character hits deep powder, ice, wood etc – but he manages to impress nonetheless.

Those who are looking for more Tony Hawk style challenges which are entirely based on skill, might not dig the On Tour vibe with it’s easier than pie trickstylings, but those who know that it’s all about getting to the bottom first and looking awesome while doing it will really get into this one. At it’s core On Tour remains extremely faithful to the series and is a fantastic evolution of SSX 3 without losing site of where the EA was taking the franchise. If you’ve finally forgiven EA for Tricky, it’s time to plunk down for a lift ticket. In fact you might want to…ahem….run to the hills.

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