As 2015 slowly comes to a close, the last thing any of us needs is more video games to play. Yet, like a sucker, I found myself looking into PlayStation Plus' latest offerings just a few days ago—because hey, digital hoarding can be just as satisfying as the real thing.
Truth be told, our industry moves so fast that a single year can often feel like 20. And it doesn't help that the PR cycle most games are beholden to makes them relevant up until their release—by then, it's time for publishers to concentrate on promoting their next thing. So you'll have to understand if I needed to pause for a few seconds once the letters "SSX" crossed my screen. Sure, the series has been around for 15 years, but there was a reboot? And no one told me?
Oh, right: I used to own it.
If you don't quite remember SSX, the series emerged in 2000 as one of the greatest PlayStation 2 launch games. And I'm pretty sure it stood as the only PS2 game I actually owned until Zone of the Enders released in the Spring of 2001. Being a major Japanese RPG fan back then, I never thought I'd buy a $300 console that would sustain me for months on a snowboarding game, but SSX was so surprisingly good, I didn't really mind. I even picked up the updated edition, SSX Tricky, despite hearing its titular Run D.M.C. song roughly 12 million times on a loop during my early-aughts GameStop gig. And I was indeed petty enough to ignore a game completely if its segment on our in-store VHS tape proved too annoying to tolerate during multiple shifts. (Sorry, Aggressive Inline!)
Now, I don't think I'm alone in completely ignoring the 2012 reboot of SSX. I brought it home from my former workplace, played a few tracks, and inevitably left it to collect dust until I purged a bunch of unwanted games from my life months later. So, downloading it on a whim this week, I didn't expect SSX to capture my attention for long. And I especially didn't think I'd sink more than three hours into it that night—especially with all of this year's massive, open-world games waiting for me to return to them. But, in a world that's been lacking a real snowboarding game for nearly four years, I guess you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.
This take on SSX has its problems, of course. Being a semi-modern EA game, it exhibits a few of the publisher's signature issues that were just starting to appear in their games. There's some irritating monetization going on here, not at all justified by the RiderNet "service" which miraculously remains online. In what seems like an act of mercy, the only thing for sale in SSX is in-game currency, made more valuable by the fact that it's a somewhat grindy experience. Granted, these tracks are meant to be played over and over again, but I'd much rather be given the choice to immediately move on to the next one, rather than having to meet certain money and experience thresholds to make progress. It's the kind of gating that only provides the illusion of substance—even if the act of unlocking stuff can sometimes be fun.
None of that really gets in the way, though, thanks to how satisfying SSX is to play. That may sound like an incredibly vague description, but SSX's version of snowboarding takes a difficult act that requires a formidable amount of skill, and applies it to a controller in a way that feels completely natural. Effortlessly cruising through these downhill courses brings to mind why I love Platinum Games' work so much: They're mechanically complex, but if you master said mechanics, you can pull off superhuman moves without breaking a sweat. In SSX, it's incredibly rewarding to make a huge jump, improvise as many moves as you can during the descent, then maneuver your board into a position where it can touch down perfectly. And, from the series' beginning, SSX's clever (but not complicated) sound design has only accentuated the exhilaration of pulling off a death-defying trick. The current song always fades out when you're airborne, then pops back in upon landing to perfectly punctuate your success.
It's strange to think that, just four years later, SSX is a game that probably couldn't exist. Despite their vast reserves of cash, publishers like EA and Activision have only grown more conservative with their releases since the last console generation, making the production of a simple snowboarding game seem like an outright gamble in our modern times. And unless I'm making a major oversight, my research tells me SSX is indeed the last major snowboard game to ever see a release, which is a tragedy for people like me who enjoy sports games when they're not so "sportsy." But even if we don't see another one for some time, this reboot isn't a bad swan song for a style of game I miss dearly. Just be sure to bring a tolerance for dubstep—this is a 2011-era soundtrack if I've ever heard one.