SSX 3 for the Game Boy Advance is to snowboard fans what Activision's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is to skateboard fans. In this case, SSX 3 is an over-the-top rendition of downhill snowboarding that brings together, in one place, all of the various tricks, boards, and wacky outfits that it normally takes a year's worth of casual television viewing to see. The game duplicates many of the same features found in the console versions of SSX 3 and has a free-flowing 3D graphics engine that is pretty much unrivaled by anything else currently available for the system.
Instead of updating last year's SSX Tricky with new courses and riders, Electronic Arts has come up with an entirely new game that goes to greater lengths to bring the style, depth, and variety of the console versions of SSX 3 on to the portable, "go anywhere" format of the Game Boy Advance. One of the reasons that SSX 3 is such a big improvement over SSX Tricky is that the graphics engine doesn't just look nicer and run smoother; the courses are larger and wider, and the amount of interaction with the environment is much more realistic in this game. In SSX Tricky, the only way to grab some air was to launch off of a ramp or hill. Here, you can use fallen trees, rooftops, and cliffs as well. The number of shortcuts is decent too. As you make your way down a run, you'll find many opportunities to access side routes that often lead to alternate sections of the course.
For the most part, the game looks great, but the pace stutters in spots. This usually happens when all six riders are visible onscreen at the same time, although there are two or three courses where slowdown is prevalent throughout the run. Despite the shaky frame rate, the game never bogs down to the point where it becomes difficult to watch or play. Otherwise, the ambitious nature of the graphics engine is a good thing. Tricks come out smoothly, and the animations for actions like shoving an opponent or wiping out are fairly elaborate. Courses are full of hills, trees, mountains, rails, advertisements, and anything else you'd expect to see on a mountain during a snowboard competition. There's a bit of humor here and there as well, such as how you get to watch your own rider lounge around in a tram before every event.
As for how it plays, SSX 3 for the GBA is basically a "lite" version of the console game and should please anyone who wants to play a snowboarding game on the go. It includes the same 12 riders from the console versions and has two-thirds as many events. The GBA game has 12 events scattered across two mountains, while the console versions have 17 events spread across three mountains. The controls work well, even in light of the GBA's four-button layout. On the ground, you use the directional pad to speed up or slow down, and you use the A and B buttons for jump and boost, respectively. In the air, the directional pad allows you to perform spins and flips, while the buttons activate a variety of grabs. Handplant and boardpress tricks aren't in the GBA game, which is unfortunate, since they're two of the console versions' best new features.
Each time you land a trick, the level of your boost meter increases. You can use the B button to drain the meter to accelerate faster, or you can let it fill, which allows you to perform an ubertrick. After you perform four ubertricks in a single run, you'll spell out the word "uber," which means you can start performing supertricks. Supertricks are exciting, multifaceted tricks that require quite a bit of hang time to land, so the points you earn for performing them reflect that added touch of difficulty. Once you perform five supertricks and spell out the word "super," the boost meter remains full for the rest of the run.
In the game's main mode, you choose a rider and then pick the events you wish to participate in from a map. Events include race, super pipe, slopestyle, big air, and rival race. The nonrace events are competitions to see who can earn the most points. The main differences between them are the types of courses used. In super pipe and big air, you're performing tricks in a giant halfpipe or on a small section of the mountain that's littered with ramps. In slopestyle, the courses are just as long as those used for races, except you're trying to score the most points possible. If you don't want to compete against CPU opponents, there are also anywhere between three and six big challenges per course that you can run. Every time you win an event or complete a big challenge, you'll earn money that you can use to purchase upgrades for your rider in the form of attribute bonuses, boards, or clothing.
The biggest drawback to the way the upgrade system is set up is that you can't do that much with a rider who has baseline settings. In the beginning, the controls are slow to respond and tricks take forever to execute. The CPU's riders also start out with better attributes, which means that you probably won't win many events early on either. Once you eat a few losses and complete some of the big challenges, though, you'll have the funds available to install upgrades that will make your rider move more quickly and perform tricks faster. All in all, you'll need to put in a good half hour before you're able to pull off many of the moves that give the game its energy.
Most players will get their fair shares of play time from SSX 3. You can replay any of the events in the capture-the-mountain mode as many times as you'd like. This is great if you're saving up for a new board or you find yourself having fun with a particular event. There's also a quick play mode, which doesn't have all of the qualifying rounds that the main mode does. Other nice features include a battery save that records high scores, in addition to the cash and prizes you earn. There's also a GameCube link option, which allows you to transfer money between the GBA and GameCube versions of the game. Furthermore, there's and a link mode that allows you and a friend to compete against one another in any of the game's 12 events.
Usually, when a GBA game looks as nice as SSX 3 does graphically, certain other aspects tend to suffer. Even though SSX 3 comes together pretty well, it's easy to see where the developers cut corners. The CPU opponents are buggy and will often ski directly into trees or boulders that ought to be easily avoided. Despite such wild behavior, you'll never experience a situation where the CPU is less than a few seconds off of the pace. That's because the CPU opponents teleport in right behind you whenever your lead gets too big. The game's soundtrack also leaves much to be desired. The music consists of a set of 10 clips that feature a number of popular alternative musicians, but the clips are short and loop constantly. The speech clips that play whenever you complete a trick are somewhat snazzy, but the rest of the sound effects are an assortment of thuds and skids that just merely do the job.
Since there aren't that many snowboarding games available for the Game Boy Advance, you pretty much have to get SSX 3 if you want to play a snowboarding game on the go. It may be missing a few features from the console versions, and some of its rough edges are difficult to ignore, but overall, the sexy graphics and fun design make for a pleasant experience.