If you're into snowboarding games, the Xbox has a wealth of choices. But so far, the sim-oriented Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding and the mission-based Dark Summit have failed to hit the mark. Enter EA Sports Big's boardercross game, SSX Tricky. Part racing game, part fighting game, and completely exciting, Tricky for the Xbox exhibits some the obvious signs of being a port but remains a highly addictive and entertaining experience.
Set one year after the original game, SSX Tricky finds that two of the riders from the original have taken a sabbatical, but they've been replaced by a stable of five young guns with even more personality. The foundation of SSX Tricky is the world circuit, where you must compete against six other riders in a series made up of three runs down the same hill. As you win bronze, silver, or gold medals in each circuit, new tracks, outfits, and boards are unlocked and attribute points are awarded to enhance the abilities of your rider however you see fit. Unlike in 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 it has received more emphasis this time around--helping to make the experience more balanced between tricking and racing. 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 or go head-to-head with a friend in the multiplayer option. Save for the increased emphasis on the showoff mode, 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 to SSX Tricky is its trick system, and because of the Xbox controller's button layout, EA Sports Big has had to remove a few tricks found in the PlayStation 2 version. If you've never played Tricky for the PS2, then you'll likely not miss the tricks that were cut from the game, and even with the omissions, there are more tricks to pull off than in any other Xbox snowboarding game. Pulling off various grabs, flips, and spins is accomplished by pressing combinations of the two shoulder buttons and the Y button. As an added twist to the original SSX formula, 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. 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.
At first glance, the Xbox version of SSX Tricky is the most visually impressive of the three. Bump mapping has been added to more accurately convey the snow's surface, the rider models include self-shadowing, and the textures are a bit clearer. But all these improvements come at the expense of the frame rate, which fluctuates wildly and can almost make the game unplayable at times. Cruising down the powder-packed ravine in Elysium Alps with a few riders onscreen kicking up snow almost brings the game to a halt. Stuttering is a common ailment on many of the tracks in the game, and this is one case where the timing required to play is affected because of it. 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: 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 play 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 appears as if it can hold its own against the likes of Amped in the graphics department--until it's in motion. Erratic frame rates rarely hamper the gameplay experience, but SSX Tricky is an exception to the rule. Even so, the game runs smoothly enough the majority of the time, and the sense of speed it achieves dwarfs that of other snowboarding games on the console. SSX Tricky also includes a wealth of footage chronicling the making of the game. It includes interviews with the development team, footage of Mixmaster Mike cutting it up, and plenty of other interesting clips. It's a nice addition to an already feature-packed game and really shows off the added features DVDs can provide. The Xbox iteration of SSX Tricky is clearly the most visually impressive of the three, but it also has the most unstable frame rate.
GameSpot handed SSX the award for best sound last year, and EA Sports Big seems intent on defending its crown. A wealth 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 you pull off impressive strings of tricks. 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. Because of the interactive nature of the soundtrack, there is no ability to rip your own tracks to the hard drive. Most players won't notice, but those who have been playing Amped will undoubtedly miss the feature.
SSX Tricky for the Xbox looks slightly better than the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions of the game, but its unstable frame rates can occasionally hamper the gameplay experience. Despite this problem, the gameplay has remained 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 Xbox, SSX Tricky is the best option on the console. But if you have a choice, the PlayStation 2 version is still recommended.