When Nokia announced at E3 that it had cut a deal with Electronic Arts to bring the superlative arcade-style snowboarding franchise SSX to the N-Gage, it raised a lot of eyebrows. After all, the SSX series' best features are its smooth landscape rendering and its ability to impart a tangible sense of speed--neither of which seemed to suit the mobile console in the least. However, after playing a pre-alpha build of the game at a recent Nokia press event in Vancouver, we were impressed by the developer's obvious efforts to instill these strengths in the N-Gage version. Although it's still very early in the process, it appears that SSX: Out of Bounds might eventually be a very enjoyable casual sports game for the N-Gage.
Like its console counterparts, SSX: Out of Bounds will come packed with a bevy of riders, tracks, and mind-bending tricks--not to mention numerous game modes and race types. For instance, there will be 10 playable characters in the game, as well as 11 racing environments. SSX: Out of Bounds won't skimp on the all-important tricks, either: EA and Nokia are promising a repertoire of 28 sick moves, including 14 "normal" tricks, seven "uber" maneuvers, and seven "super-uber" techniques, for when you really feel like causing a scene. The game will also feature four different play modes. There's the normal race mode, where you try to beat your CPU opponents down the mountain, as well as the slopestyle mode, which factors trick points into the mix. SSX: Out of Bounds will also contain an exploratory game mode known as "conquer the mountain," although that feature's function is unclear at this time. In addition, if you feel like racing your buddies, you'll be able to pop over to the rival challenge mode, which will use Bluetooth to set up two-, three-, or four-player races.
Nokia personnel stressed that SSX: Out of Bounds will not be a port of any existing SSX titles. The game engine is being programmed from the ground up to play to the N-Gage's strengths, and the in-game experience will be a mixture of existing SSX elements and brand-new content. For example, the game's 22-song soundtrack will feature exclusive new beats from groups like Vancouver's Swollen Members. Another unique feature will be the game's use of N-Gage Arena. The presence of shadow racing, high-score lists, and downloadable content, including tips and tricks, has been confirmed.
Our playtime with the pre-alpha of SSX: Out of Bounds was limited, but we were still able to get a feel for how well Electronic Arts is executing this visually complex game on the N-Gage. The game ran at a surprisingly smooth frame rate given its rough state, consistently averaging around 20 frames per second. The graphics were still in need a lot of touch-up work, especially in the area of improving draw distance, but the game was already very recognizably an SSX title--the helical trick meter was in its usual spot on the right side of the screen, and the obligatory recovery gauge popped up whenever we bailed on a trick.
In all, SSX: Out of Bounds is shaping up to be a faithful rendition of the franchise for the N-Gage, and we have high hopes that the final product will succeed in capturing the free-riding fun of the console titles. We'll bring you a full review of the game as soon as it comes out in November.