TBT – SSX Tricky
Snowboarding is adrenaline rush all its own. Unfortunately, video games have had trouble translating the sort of thrill one experiences when physically speeding down a mountain to doing it with a controller and television. Most snowboarders are unable to perform the crazy twists and tricks you see in the X Games, and video games have more or less tried to portray snowboarding realistically in this regard. The problem with this is if I wanted to experience snowboarding as it is in real life, I’d go snowboarding. However, when I’m playing a video game, I don’t want my character nor my skills to be limited by reality.
I’ll be honest, I harshly misjudged the game myself when I was younger. Back in 2001, I received SSX Tricky as Christmas present from my grandmother, and let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled with her choice of gift. After she left, I handed the game to my parents and told them it looked stupid and that I refused to play it. My parents placated me by saying they would exchange it. Instead, it sat on our refrigerator for months unopened. My mother would eventually tell me to suck it up and actually try to the game before judging it – turns out SSX Tricky wasn’t stupid, I was.
SSX Tricky succeeds where are other games have failed by not presenting itself as a snowboarding simulator, but an arcade-style race game where you can perform breath-defying tricks and flips, many of which the best snowboarders in the world could only dream of pulling off. Performing these tricks yourself is easy enough due to the game’s fluid controls. But what if you mess up and fail to land properly? Well, your character just bounces right back up, vocally complaining but otherwise ready to keep on shredding. Though it’s not as if there are no consequences, if your wipeout is utterly horrendous the screen will fade to white and you’ll respawn at a nearby checkpoint.
The pure, white mountain ranges and slopes that are typically perfect for snowboarding might be beautiful when viewed in person, but can easily be seen as generic and boring in a video game setting. SSX Tricky gets around this problem by bringing their ludicrous handling of logic and gravity to its course designs. Littered with speed boosts, endless rails to grind, and crazy obstacles, almost every course in game would be impossible to exist outside of a virtual setting. There are a few that come off as run-of-the-mill, though they can only be considered basic when comparing them to the game’s crazier courses, such as the Tokyo Megaplex, which is essentially a giant pinball machine inside an indoor snow park masquerading as a snowboarding course.
SSX Tricky’s roster of characters are just as zany as the courses. Decked out for the most part in attire that would not be considered ideal snowboarding garb, each character has their own distinctive style and mannerisms that are displayed on and off the course. Each character has a lot to say; whether it be verbally sparring with a rival before a race, calling encouragement to a friend during it, or just complaining about failing the same trick over and over again, the characters personalities are always on display. And unlike other video games that attempted to make voice actors out of Hollywood celebrities, this isn’t a case of phoned in performances, instead the cast (which includes Lucy Liu, Oliver Platt, and Billy Zane, among others) bring a refreshing sense of life to their characters. SSX Tricky goes even above and beyond with their characterizations by including biographies and interviews that serve to flesh out each character further. Though the differences between characters aren’t purely cosmetic, each of them have their own individual set of skills that effect how they handle on the slopes.
There are several different game modes to check out in SSX Tricky, though Freeride and Single Event are essentially designed if you plan on playing with a second player, while Practice is for learning the basics. World Circuit, however, is different; not only does it have you competing to win medals to advance to the next circuit, but is also the only place where you unlock courses and characters. You can choose between two different in types of events in World Circuit, one is a trick competition that allows you to go through each course solo in an attempt to earn points, while the other has you racing against five CPU’s to place in the top three to keep advancing through the various rounds until you reach the finals.
I personally prefer the race variation of World Circuit, in part because of SSX Tricky’s affinity system that tracks your characters relationships with the other racers. Naturally, each character starts with their own preexisting set of friends and rivals. For example, super-narcissist JP starts off friendly with his lackey, the oafish mountain of a man Luther, but cannot stand rocker girl Zoey; these relations can fluctuate, though, based on your actions during a race. If you are aggressive and like to spam the shove button, you’ll start making rivals fast, whom will not only let you hear about it after the race but begin giving you a taste of your own medicine during it. The problem with the system is that it’s difficult to reconcile with a character, while unintentionally angering them is something that happens too often. To put is simply, this was one feature that was way before its time; if EA Canada had continued working on it and carried it over into future sequels, this could have a been a great storytelling device to keep the time between races more interesting. Unfortunately, it didn’t even make the cut for the franchise’s next installment, SSX 3.
If there’s one thing you can’t go without mentioning when discussing SSX Tricky is its excellent choice in soundtracks. All the tracks are good, though it’s the game’s usage of Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky”, which plays every time you fill up your character’s trick meter, that stands out. I don’t think it would be a reach for me to say this song and game have become synonymous to anyone that has put enough time in with it.
In the years since SSX Tricky’s release, it remains the best snowboarding game around, bar none. The game has aged phenomenally for a sixteen year old game; the character models and their respective trick and boarding animations still look as good as ever. If there’s one place the game has faltered graphically due to its age, it’s that the courses lack the scope and texture quality that you expect out of environments nowadays. It’s not a big deal, but more of just an unfortunate reminder of how EA squandered the franchise’s chance of going bigger and crazier with their courses in the 2012 reboot SSX by eschewing the series trademark silliness and instead opting for a grittier, more realistic approach to the series. A decision that not only sucked the franchise of its soul, but also probably put the final nail in its coffin.