Playlist 2012: Introduction, SSX

Looking back, 2012 has probably been the most balanced/diverse year for the amount of time I spent gaming and the kinds of experiences I got to play.

Back when I was studying game design as my major a couple years ago, I’d gravitate around 2-3 games on a single platform for the entire year, which I’d then dissect the hell out of. With a PS3 acquired earlier this year, it’s been easier to bounce between PC and console titles and a variety of genres. To add to that, smaller studios continue to bloom with leaner projects that stack up just fine to the large-scale productions, making it possible to get through more games in a fraction of the time without feeling dissatisfied.

I’ve just about closed up shop on my game-consumption for the year, so I wanted to take a look back and share some of my take-aways from each game, one at a time, in my playlist for 2012.


SSX PS3 | EA Sports | February

ssx

I’m not what you’d call a dub-step enthusiast, nor do I have much appreciation for heavy snowfall. The reboot of SSX had mass quantities of both assaulting my senses as I barreled down international slopes, but I welcomed them with arms outstretched for the kind of adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt in a video game since the original launched with the Playstation 2. lts return to the PS2’s big brother revitalizes much of what made those games tick back in the early 2000’s: speed, style, and level designs that were each over-the-top, igniting competition in a highly addictive loop.

How much of the above characteristics the final game had to offer was a pleasant surprise; sometime before its release, SSX had shed off its former subtitle, “Deadly Descents”, which promised a more grounded and serious take on its world. The developers at EA Sports seemed to have most of their art direction and production cemented in this concept for awhile too, demonstrating early reveals of characters with a practical fashion sense, a muted palette throughout and accurate mountain topographies–none of which screamed “SSX” to fans of the series. Thankfully, the studio noticed too. Future expositions showed color spilled across empty canvases of snow in the violet shadows of Mt. Fuji, characters regained their eccentricity with raucous voice acting and subtle visual flares, the logo went from generic and gray to sharp and frosted, and an incredibly satisfying tricks system paired well with a sound-barrier-breaking sense of speed. SSX has never felt better.

But there are a few exceptions.

Traces of that initially grounded vision can still be found intact from time to time, unfortunately: awkward mountain paths that pay more attention to their real-world counterparts than a fresh and intuitive control scheme, suit upgrades that only hold meaningfulness on niche slopes and lighting experiments that (while inspired) jettison effective visual cues, forcing your race to go horribly wrong. The good does outweigh the bad as SSX‘s momentum and style shine through often enough, not to mention gaining some legs with a deeply integrated online multiplayer community. I do miss the split-screen feature and going head to head with a friend in the same room as me, but SSX remains the only sports-associated video game I can not only withstand, but I gladly return to. Snowboarding video games in general, even the mini-game in Final Fantasy VII, have always attracted me. SSX is no different, and its flaws are not enough to drop a figurative avalanche on my time with it–except for when it literally has you race away from an avalanche (they really ought to take a page from Crash Bandicoot).

SSX shows that it can still hit some new veins without having to go in the opposite direction and mostly succeed. But if you want me to feel the exhilarating zen of stylized snowboarding, remember that you handed me a controller and not a pickaxe. Those are for mountain climbers.

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