There were a handful of snowboarding games to come before EA Sports Big's PlayStation 2 launch title, SSX, but once this seminal snowboarder hit the powder, they became irrelevant. Eschewing the usual Mountain Dew-fueled flavor of its forerunners, SSX had a more flamboyant style, which came through in its flashy, colorful visuals and the aerial trick system that broke the laws of gravity and physics. The series just got better as it progressed, and SSX 3, which hit all the major consoles in late 2003, is still the best snowboarding game available. SSX: Out of Bounds for the N-Gage is roughly a scaled-down version of SSX 3, which is fundamentally appealing, but the N-Gage hardware isn't able to keep up with the game's ambition, and the experience is marred by technical insufficiencies.
Taking place on the face of a massive three-peaked mountain, Out of Bounds presents you with a series of challenges, including high-speed downhill races, downhill trick contests, half-pipe trick contests, and a couple of one-on-one variants. The variety of the action and the rate at which the challenge ratchets up help keep the game engaging. There are a good half-dozen unique challenges per peak, and playing through the game's main single-player mode can easily chew up several hours of your time. The "conquer the mountain" mode is where most of the fun in Out of Bounds is kept, though the game has Bluetooth multiplayer support for up to four players, as well as N-Gage Arena support, with obligatory and yawn-inducing ghost race downloads and a few pieces of gear for your rider that are otherwise inaccessible. There's also a single event mode, which closely mirrors the contents of the main mode and comes off as irrelevant.
The motley crew of daredevils, DJs, fashion models, and psychopaths that you can ride as has always been crucial to the intense flavor of the SSX series, but the chunky polygonal models and the lack of voice samples for the riders keep their personalities from shining through and make choosing which rider you'll play as feel like a superfluous exercise. The riders might not trade expletives on the slopes, but there are some environmental sounds and a surprising number of actual licensed songs lifted from the SSX 3 soundtrack, including those from Jane's Addiction, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's a good selection, and the game lets you customize which songs actually play, though the whole game sounds tinny coming out of the N-Gage's monophonic speaker hole.
The courses themselves pick up some of the slack left by the characterless characters. They include stylized metropolitan areas, icy caves, and untouched, powdery slopes. The full polygonal graphics are about on par with the best that the N-Gage has produced so far, though problems become apparent once the game is in motion. The choppy frame rate is the most noticeable problem, since a good sensation of speed is vital for the style of play. But a more significant problem is the draw distance, which you can pretty much always see creeping in at the top of the N-Gage's relatively modest screen. Aside from wrecking the illusion that you're riding down a massive mountain, it makes it easy to lose your sense of direction. Much of the time, you're just flying blind.
Realism is the least of the game's concerns, as is evident by the speed boost and by the over-the-top trick system itself. Making smart use of the speed boost button is key, since it allows you to move down the mountain more quickly in the races and launches you higher into the air for bigger tricks in the score-based challenges. The game moves nicely, and it makes full use of the N-Gage's 12-key phone pad, assigning a unique aerial trick to virtually all of the keys. It's a good-spirited gesture, but unfortunately the riders are small on the screen, and most of the time it's difficult to tell one trick from another.
SSX: Out of Bounds has good intentions, but it's just shy of being good enough to recommend. If you're willing to suffer the frame rate problems and the poor draw distance, there's enough of the SSX spirit in Out of Bounds to provide some fun.