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SSX On Tour (Xbox)

 

By Michael Palisano

SSX On Tour takes the series in several new directions, with expanded tour modes, additional tricks and several new gameplay modes. The game also presents players with a new look and feel that's a bit grittier and less polished than previous games. There's still plenty of space for big air and speed boosts, but the game's tracks are now a little bit more realistic, though still quite long. The biggest addition this time around is skiing, which supplements the usual boarding style and plays just as intuitively as before. In addition, there are more player customization features plus options that allow you to create your own mixtapes. These changes are smartly implemented and enhance the gameplay, making SSX On Tour the best in the series to date.

While the basic formula hasn't changed that much since the last installment, EA Sports' latest snowboarding title, SSX On Tour features several welcome additions to the franchise including a brand new skiing mode that adds a new type of racing to the experience. The first new addition most players will notice is the character selection screen. In addition to the standard cast, SSX On Tour now allows you to create your own custom character from scratch and use them on the race. This gives you plenty of flexibility and allows you to choose the gender, race and clothes for your character. After you win a few races, you'll earn buzz points which you can purchase more items after races to further add to your own unique personality with additional outfits, boards and skis available. In addition, there are other extras included such as videos and artwork that you can unlock. This cool feature comes in especially handy when you go online and race against other characters. SSX On Tour also allows you to create custom mix tapes of the songs you like, as well as choose which type of music you want to listen to. Once you have gotten these preliminary options out of the way, it's time to hit the slopes, where you'll face plenty of competition on your way to becoming a world famous racer.

For veterans of the series, this year's SSX installment features an entirely new mountain with 12 new courses to race down. While it isn't entirely alien, the layouts offer more of the massive jumps and rails, with fewer gimmicks than previous games. However, SSX On Tour's visual style has been overhauled, with hip-hop style logos blasted on the snow, giving the game a distinctly different feel this time around. When you reach the mountain menu, you'll find that it has been divided into a dozen smaller courses. You can choose which course to race down, and there are many different race types available for each course. These range from the usual racing heats where you have to beat an opponent to the finish line, stunt courses where you have to top your opponent's score, and combination modes where both speed and style are counted. Players will find both racing and trick courses, along with half-pipes and stunt tracks. This gives SSX On Tour plenty of variety. There are also several clever modes where you have to maintain a certain amount of air for a period of time before the timer runs out, grind rails for a set period, knock out opposing skaters, or play the avoid the ski patrol that wants to catch you. Playing through the Tour Mode unlocks additional modes, such as tournament play, and boss battles against crazy characters. As you play and beat these various courses, you'll unlock additional characters to play as along with additional clothes and items. There are numerous routes that the player can take to get to the top in the Tour mode, giving SSX On Tour a great sense of open-endedness. However, it isn't quite as free-form as last year's edition, and the clearer path makes for a more focused gaming experience.

Playing the game is fairly similar to the previous SSX titles, you have several indicators on screen, including you boost bar, which you can fill up by performing stunts. When you perform stunts, they are named on the left side of the screen, along with the number of points you've gotten for them. The game also lets you keep track of how far ahead of opponents you are, in either meters or time, and the percentage of the course that you have completed. The interface is fairly simple to understand, and the controls are fairly straightforward as well. Performing special moves requires you to press down on a button, the release to jump and spin as you glide over the mountain. As you perform tricks, you're trick meter will also increase, and when it's full, you can perform a special move by performing an easy button combo, giving you a massive injection of points as well. The trick system remains excellent, with a great variety of grabs, spins, grinds and other moves you can perform. The main technique you need to master is the ability to skate with style. You are penalized for repeating the same tricks, so varying your style adds up to more points. In addition, you'll find numerous power-ups along each path, which can provide you with an instant speed boost, or unlock additional moves and tricks. Finding these isn't always easy since they're usually hidden in a hard-to-reach location. The courses themselves also provide a challenge, since there are multiple paths and secret locations throughout each race.

This system is just like the ones seen in the previous three games, but EA has taken SSX On Tour to the next level with a new addition called Monster Moments. When these happen, the screen switches to a slow motion mode, where you can perform some pretty amazing tricks instantly. The gameplay is remarkably smooth from this perspective with the snowboarding portions instantly familiar. However, the new Skiing mode performs slightly differently, with more attention needed to maintain your characters' balance on the slopes. While it feels slightly different than the snowboarding sections, these skiing moments have a very similar set of controls and functions that are easy to learn. While you may find yourself slamming into objects or crashing, SSX On Tour makes recovering much easier than before by allowing you to press down on the X button rapidly to get up. You can also switch the character's position quickly using the right analog pad to change their direction, which is quite helpful if you get turned around. It's important to remember that you can still ski when you're backwards, and this can even be used to add to your points. The tricks system is remarkably flexible, so you don't need to panic if you see you're character facing towards you, its definitely something you can take advantage of if you have the right skills.

From a visual standpoint, SSX On Tour remains a slick looking title, with the realistic courses presenting some absolutely breathtaking angles as you soar over the game's courses. The game offers a tremendous sense of speed that's only enhanced as you go into higher speeds, which causes the screen to blur. Each course is remarkably detailed, you can see the lines in the snow from other skiers, glistening crystals in the mountains along with some impressive weather effects such as snow that add to the realism. This high level of detail means that players will be able to make out fine details such as branches and leaves in the trees. SSX's look and feel is also quite impressive, with a newly funky hand-drawn look to the menus and cut-scenes giving it a cool alternative feel. The game's soundtrack is also surprising, since it features much harder driving songs from classic rock groups and hip-hop artists, adding to the game's underground feel. These changes make SSX On Tour seem like a new franchise, but the changes are mostly skin-deep, since the solid gameplay mechanics and structure are mostly intact.

While the game looks a little bit different, many of the SSX trademarks are very noticeable. The controls remain fluid and allow you perform impressive stunts quickly without getting bogged down in overly complex movements. You can progress quickly through the races, and the various types and goals for each helps to keep things challenging throughout. The courses themselves are massive in length, with a single heat taking over five minutes to complete. However, this length is more realistic than most sports games and allows you to fully immerse themselves in the action. The sheer number of courses and tracks included means that you'll spend a lot of time exploring and conquering the game, giving it an extensive amount of replay value. Thanks to all the changes, this latest SSX remains fresh and entertaining. SSX On Tour gives the franchise a much-needed facelift, with a harder-rocking edge, but doesn't change the essential appeal of the series.

Grade: B

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