Saturday, March 10, 2012

Old School Game Reviews: SSX Tricky

Welcome to the third edition of the “Old School Game Review”. The last two games I covered were Sega Mega Drive titles, “Streets of Rage” and "Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe". This time? I'm going back 10 years instead of 20, and talking about a Playstation 2 title. To celebrate the release of the new title in the series, my third Old School Game review is the amazing, SSX Tricky.

Not familiar with the “Old School Game Review”? It’s basically a gift wrapped game review so in theory it’s nothing new. But what is different is that before I divulge into the review I talk about what makes this game so good, and some facts and memories the game gave me. Oh and what counts as an old school game? My ruling is the game has to be at least ten years old.
When did this game come out? 2001
What console was it released on? Playstation 2
What else was it released on? Nintendo Gamecube, XBox, Game Boy Advance
Compilations? None.
Other interesting facts? Well this game was released less than 10 years ago in the UK... if you bought the Gamecube, XBox or GBA versions. But I bought the PS2 version so that's my excuse! I'm not cheating with my criteria!
Best memories? Probably doing the first course, Garibaldi, with a score of more than 1,000,000 for the first time. I don't know what the official world record is, but this is the biggest score on YouTube at 4.6 million, which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Still, it's an amazing task to get a score of 1 million. I think my all time record is around 1.3 million, although it's been a very long time since I had the data on my memory card (oh those were the days... when you used memory cards... it felt like yesterday!).

Now onto the review!

For me, SSX Tricky, 10 years later, is still the best snowboarding game of all time.

SSX Tricky is the sequel to the original SSX game, which was released a year earlier as part of the new EA Sport BIG selection, a set of sports games that were unrealistic in style. SSX Tricky was basically SSX 2.0, with many of the tracks and characters making returns from the original games. But labelling SSX Tricky that way and thinking that it's nothing more would be a big mistake. SSX Tricky takes everything that was good about SSX, and mashes it up to make it bigger and better in every aspect.

The SSX game series are, as we said earlier, an unrealistic series of snowboarding games. The main course of the original SSX is a snowboarding race, and you can do tricks on your snowboard to try and give your character a speed boost for every successful trick pulled off. So you raced hard, did tricks off the big jumps and used your speed boost and try to finish the races in first place.
This is not going to end well...
SSX Tricky builds on this in a much bigger way. Much bigger. You see, you can still race against the other competitors, there's a "Race" mode for that. You can still use your tricks to gain speed boosts as well. But... the tricks are bigger and wilder than what was available in the original game. Not only that, but if you store your speed boosts to the top of the bar, the song remixes to include "It's Tricky" by Run DMC and you have access to what are called Uber Tricks. Uber Tricks are what make SSX Tricky special. They're incredibly flamboyant, melodramatic tricks on your snowboard that take a while to pull off, but look absolutely awesome. You also score much more points for pulling these off as a reward.

You'd be mistaken to think that so much emphasis on tricks in this game means there would be an actual trick orientated game wouldn't you? Well there is. On one end you have the "Race" mode, and on the other you have the "Showoff" mode. The purpose of "Showoff" is to, well, show off your tricks. More accurately, it's purpose is to give you the opportunity to get the biggest score tally possible. "Showoff" mode has big coloured icicles across the course, and doing tricks successfully through these icicles gives you a multiplier on the score given for the tricks done. The colour codes are yellow for a double multiplier, orange for a triple multiplier, and red for a quintuple multiplier. These icicles are pivotal for getting the highest scores in "Showoff" mode.

So you have "Race" mode and "Showoff" mode. You can access these options through "Single Player" and "Multiplayer" mode. But if you start from scratch only have access to a few tracks. To unlock more tracks you have to play the "World Circuit" mode. With "World Circuit" mode you, one by one, take on the courses in either "Showoff" mode or "Race" mode, it's completely your choice. With "Showoff" mode, you have to get a certain score to get either a Bronze, Silver or Gold award. Getting at least a Bronze will unlock the next track on "World Circuit", and it will also be available on "Single Player" and "Multiplayer" modes. For "Race" mode on "World Circuit" you will have to race the track three times, and will have to finish in the Top 3 in each race to qualify for the next one. After the third race, your placement will have to be in the Top 3 again to get a medal - Bronze, Silver and Gold again.

Getting a medal in "World Circuit" gives your character skill points to develop the attributes that are important to SSX Tricky - Edging is your sharpness for turning corners, Speed is your, erm, speed, Stability is how hard it is for you to get knocked off your snowboard and Tricks is how quickly you can do your tricks. If you get a Bronze medal you get two points to add to your attributes, four for a Silver, and six for a Gold.
There's the checkpoint! Caution signs? Booby traps? Hmm...
 The characters in SSX Tricky are brilliant. You have lots to choose from, and you have to unlock a good few of them by getting gold medals in "World Circuit". All the characters specialise in different methods of SSX - some are very good at tricks, some are very good racers. There are 13 in total and all have different personalities - Moby and JP are arrogant players from England and France respectively, where as Marty and Kaori are quiet and shy players from Germany and Japan respectively. My favourite character however is Psymon, who is completely nuts but says some of the funniest and random lines in the game like shouting "French toast and syrup!" at the top of his lungs mid jump.

Another thing about the characters in this game is that for the only time in the entire series for SSX, there's an al-star cast who do the voices. You have Lucy Liu who does Elise's voice, of Ally McBeal and Kill Bill fame, Billy Zane who does Brosi and is famous for his roles in Titanic and Twin Peaks, David Arquette who does Eddie, famous for his role in the Scream film series, and singers Bif Naked who plays Zoe and Macy Gray who plays Seeiah. This all-stellar cast of voice actors to a great job and add to each character's personality really well. It's arguably one of the best jobs done by a group of celebrities in a video game in honesty.

The controls are quite slick in SSX Tricky, and once again are an improvement on the original SSX. You can use the D-pad or the analog stick to move your character and can sort this out in the Settings menu to change it to your preferences. You move with either, and you flip or turn your board with the D-pad, and with the shoulder buttons you can grab your board. You can press multiple shoulder buttons to do more complicated grabs with your board, which usually give you more points. Combining a turn or flip, or both (to make your character twist diagonally) and multiple shoulder buttons gives you by far the most points apart from the Uber tricks available if you fill your boost bar to the top. Regardless of how many combos you do, how many flips and turns you include, it's important to make sure that your character is as vertical as possible for landing, otherwise your character wipes out on the course, making your score not count on that 'trick'.

If you're racing, you can knock characters over by pressing the analog stick either left or right depending where they are to your character. Be warned though, characters often target you for revenge in the races if you continue to attack them. But if you knock a character flat off their board by using this technique, you're rewarded with a full boost bar straight away which can be useful. Your characters also have relationships with each other - some are friends with you while others are your enemies. For instance, Psymon fancies Zoe, so they are considered friends. Luther is a bully and picks on the cute Kaori a lot, so they're enemies. Your relationships can get better or worse depending on your actions on the track, if you hit them a few times they'll target you in the next few races for revenge. On the grand scheme of things this isn't that important but it all adds to the game that is SSX Tricky.

One of the finest parts of SSX Tricky is the pretty damn good soundtrack. "It's Tricky" by Run DMC as mentioned before, is the title track of the game, and the original song and the remixed versions on the game all make the game that much better. It's a fabulous song and thoroughly works with the style of game SSX Tricky provides. There are also some good electronic dance and rap songs on the soundtrack too, and Bif Naked, also mentioned before, has a track on here. A few tracks by Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys are also featured, and Mix Master Mike is also a secret character in the game... if you use cheat codes. Over the gameplay are parts of commentary provided by Rahzel, who is a beatboxer, who does a fantastic job of putting over the action and doing some random beatboxing once in a while. He did a similar job in the original SSX too.
Luther (top right) is totally going to land that trick. Eddie's afro is impressive huh?
As you play through "World Circuit" you unlock snowboards and character costumes to customise your character's look. The snowboards are all in different shapes, and each character has a preferred board type. Some boards are best for tricks, others for races and some for in between. If a character uses a board they're unfamiliar with, they usually struggle a little more with this board, but do get access to a different set of Uber tricks if they fill their boost bar up. Once again it all adds to the game that is SSX Tricky. If you get a gold in every "Race" and "Showoff" track on "World Circuit", you unlock a chrome outfit, which looks pretty cool.

If you ever want to take a breather and try things out in your own time you can always use the "Practise" mode. You can do it in either a "Race" mode style, but without any other competitors on screen so you're taking the track on in your own time, or you can practise certain tricks on one large jump. The latter also includes a tutorial to help you do certain tricks that are compiled in each characters individual "Trick Book". The "Trick Book" is a tick sheet of sorts, to fill up to hone your skills of performing tricks. If you complete a character's "Trick Book" you unlock that character's best snowboard in the game.

Overall "SSX Tricky" is an amazing game. It pains me to know this game didn't sell very well. It's completely unjustified. For me, even 10 years later, "SSX Tricky" is by far not only the best SSX title in the series, but the best snowboarding game ever created. It mixes fine snowboarding racing, and over the top tricks. It has a brilliant soundtrack and the characters are all great and will appeal to lots of different players. "SSX Tricky" gets so many things right it's almost perfect. It really deserved more people to play this grand game, but with the new SSX game just coming out, at least new players will get a taste of a new, fresh title to play. But if you ever want to get a retro SSX title (I feel old typing that, it was 10 years ago though), this is the one to get. "SSX Tricky" trumps every snowboarding title out there before this release, and arguably, after.
Rating: ****1/2 stars

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