With Nintendo recently announcing that 1080 Snowboarding 2 is on hold for the time being, it's a good thing that there are two other snowboarding games scheduled to hit the GameCube in the console's first few months of availability. In addition to THQ's Dark Summit, Electronic Arts' follow-up to SSX, SSX Tricky, has arrived with new riders, reworked tracks, and a heaping helping of attitude. EA Sports Big, the developer behind the game, has managed to produce a sequel that improves on the original in almost every respect and provides enough new content to keep fans of the original from crying foul.
Set one year after the original game, SSX Tricky finds two of the riders from the original SSX on sabbatical, but they have been replaced by a stable of five young guns with even more personality. The foundation of the game is still the world circuit, where you must compete against six other riders in circuits consisting of three runs down the same hill. As you win bronze, silver, or gold medals in each circuit, new tracks and boards are unlocked and attribute points are awarded to enhance the abilities of your rider. Unlike last year's game, where the third and final race in each circuit was much more difficult than the prior two, the AI has been refined so that the difficulty for each race gradually builds to a crescendo for the final run. The showoff mode has returned from last year's world circuit, and once again you must make a run down the hill by yourself in hopes of amassing enough trick points to win medals. In SSX, you could max out your rider's attributes simply by competing in races, but you'll have to complete the showoff mode as well if you want to get the most from your character in Tricky. If you don't have time to dive into the world circuit, you can always choose the single-event option for some quick-hit fun. You can also practice the runs included in the world circuit in the race option, polish your tricking skills in the showoff mode, or go head-to-head with a friend in the multiplayer option. SSX Tricky's game design is nearly identical to that of the original SSX, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The biggest change SSX Tricky makes to the series is the improvement of its trick system. Like in the PlayStation 2 version, pulling off various grabs, flips, and spins is accomplished by pressing combinations of the shoulder buttons and the directional pad. This was no problem in the PlayStation 2 version thanks to the Dual Shock 2's four easy-to-use shoulder buttons, but using the GameCube's stiff Z button for tricks takes some getting used to. Another issue is that there are only three shoulder buttons on the GameCube controller. Because of this, one of the basic grabs must be performed by holding two of the shoulder buttons at once. When your rider's adrenaline meter reaches the top, you have 20 seconds to perform one of each character's four uber tricks. The outlandish uber tricks come in a variety of forms, such as performing breakdancing moves on top of the board while sailing through the air or lying flat on the board and spinning like a torpedo. Once an uber trick has been landed, you are awarded one letter toward spelling the word "tricky." When the entire word is complete, you receive turbo for the remainder of the race, which can often make the difference between finishing first and bringing up the rear. The addition of the new trick system makes an already exciting game even more invigorating, and it forces you to look at the courses in a new way.
Last year's SSX had a lot of personality, and EA Sports Big has decided to up the ante in this regard for SSX Tricky. Before each race, the other competitors are rated as allies, enemies, or neutral. Enemies will attempt to take you down if given the chance, allies will warn you of impending danger or attempt to shield you from attacks, and neutral riders will go about their business with little regard for others on the course. How you treat other riders affects their ratings for future races, so if you anger too many competitors by attacking them, it's going to be difficult to make it down the hill in one piece later on.
SSX Tricky for the PlayStation 2 features marginal visual improvements when compared with the original from last year, and the GameCube version improves very little, if at all, upon that. The texture clarity has been slightly bumped up, though the colors appear a bit drab, and volumetric fog is even more prevalent. Even so, it's obvious that the game wasn't created with the GameCube hardware in mind. All the courses in the game suffer bits of slowdown, and you'll occasionally see an object draw in from a distance. The full motion video sequences that play after winning each circuit have undergone some compression to fit on the GameCube's optical disc and are a bit grainier when compared with those included in the PlayStation 2 version. The courses are absolutely huge. Seven of the courses have returned from the original SSX, but only their names and texture sets have been replicated. Dozens of new shortcuts have been added to every course, and their layouts have been so drastically altered that they feel entirely new. EA Sports Big has also created two completely new tracks for SSX Tricky, including Alaska, a vertical run that provides some of the biggest air in the game, and Garibaldi, a nice but relatively short course for beginners.
The tracks may be lengthy and full of hidden shortcuts, but the real star of the SSX Tricky show is the animation. Regardless of whether you're pulling a simple method or one of the game's astounding uber tricks, the riders animate with a fluidity that few sports games can match. It goes a long way toward making what are impossible moves not only look good, but also plausible in the real world. Cinematics weren't a big part of the first SSX, but that has changed for Tricky. In between races, short cutscenes occur that will show riders interacting with one another based on their aggression ratings. If you've angered someone out on the course, you can bet you will hear about it later, and if you're in close competition with one of the other riders, expect some serious smack talking to ensue. SSX Tricky for the GameCube only slightly improves on its PlayStation 2 counterpart where graphics are concerned and is inferior in a number of ways. While this can be expected of a game that has been ported from one system to another with minimal time and effort, it locks SSX Tricky in the middle of the GameCube graphics pack.
GameSpot handed SSX the award for best sound last year, and EA Sports Big seems intent on defending its crown. A gaggle of celebrity voice talent has been used for the game, including Lucy Liu, Macy Gray, and David Arquette. It doesn't make much of a difference, really, as the voice acting in the original game was just fine, but it's good to see that the developers have attempted to improve on a part of the game that has already received unanimous praise. Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys handled the music for the game, and it's excellent. The tempo of each track being played will change depending on the action onscreen, and scratches are thrown into the mix after especially impressive tricks are stomped. Loops from Run DMC's title track are heard when you land an uber trick or when your adrenaline meter reaches its hilt, and the pitch is adjusted on the fly so that it matches the beat of the song being played. Several of the songs from the first SSX have returned for an encore, so you can expect the same breakbeat-influenced tunes.
SSX Tricky for the GameCube features little to no improvements on the PlayStation 2 version, but that doesn't keep it from being a blast to play. The gameplay is hectic, the new trick system adds substantial depth, and the overall production is top-notch. If you're looking for a snowboarding game for your GameCube, it's hard to go wrong with SSX Tricky. But if you have a choice, the PlayStation 2 version is recommended.