It's been noted time and time again by game writers, pundits, and regular folks on Internet message boards that, following its initial launch, the release calendar for the PSP has been a little chilly. Come next week it'll get a little chillier, but in a good way, as EA Sports Big releases SSX On Tour for the PSP--ahead of schedule, at that. Just in time for EA's announcement that it would be jumping the gun on all four versions of SSX On Tour, we were fortunate enough to try out a near-final version of the game for the PSP, which we hadn't gotten our hands on since EA first unveiled the game back in July. The rough edges the game was showing then appear to have been sanded smooth, and our time with the single-player game has us eagerly awaiting the final retail release of SSX On Tour.
Before we get to what will set the PSP version of SSX On Tour apart from its console brothers (which are also set to hit store shelves on October 11), let's talk about the similarities. SSX On Tour for the PSP will share the same loopy, hand-drawn packaging as its older siblings, giving the whole game a real do-it-yourself aesthetic, like a punk-rock fanzine come to life. It will also feature a similarly strong soundtrack, with songs from EA Trax regulars like The Faint, OK Go, Goldfinger, Bloc Party, and LCD Soundsystem, as well as a suite of hard-rocking classics from the likes of Motorhead, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath frontman and heavy metal hero Ronnie James Dio. You'll even have the option to hit the slopes on either a snowboard or skis--however, the slopes you'll actually be hitting will be a little different, because a number of the courses you'll be racing and tricking your way down have been pulled from SSX 3. Having spent time with both the console and PSP versions of SSX On Tour, we found that the differences between them aren't really striking us in a better/worse kind of way--just different. If anything, it should be a good incentive for snowboarding fans to pick up both the PSP version and a console version of their choice, since it seems they'll both offer fairly different experiences.
The general structure of the single-player game is a little different as well. When you create your snowbound alter ego in the console versions, one of the key decisions you'll have to make is whether your character will be a skier or a snowboarder. Though the character creation and customization options aren't as deep in the PSP version, you won't have to make the either/or decision about what you ride. While the console versions will break down the events in the tour mode by location, SSX On Tour for the PSP groups the events based on the event type and whether the event requires you to ride a snowboard or skis. So, we found ourselves switching between the two from event to event.
We tried several different events, including straight-up races, trick-based big air competitions, and well as checkpoint-based, course-specific challenges, on both snowboards and skis. Our current impression is that there's not a huge difference in how skis and snowboards handle (though we did have some difficulty figuring out how to turn our skier around after he landed a trick backwards), and found that both types have the same kind of tight, responsive controls we've come to expect from the full-grown SSX games.
Save for some occasional slowdown, SSX 3 was a truly gorgeous game, and though some of the more subtle effects have been stripped out of the levels we've seen in SSX On Tour so far, this is still looking like it's going to be a great-looking PSP game. The visuals consistently impressed us with the level of detail, the huge draw distance, and the rock-solid frame rate. Our only misgivings about the game's presentation at the moment are that the camera seems to follow your character a little too tightly, and you can get somewhat disoriented when you lose sight of the horizon in one of the many large, banked turns found throughout the courses.
A few minor discrepancies aside, we can't help but be impressed at how well SSX On Tour brings a genuine SSX experience to the PSP, with the compromises being few and far between. If you're looking forward to this game as much as we are, stick around GameSpot, as we'll have a full review of the game around the time of its release.