Rewind Review: SSX 3
While 1080° Snowboarding was the go-to game for snowboarding action on the N64, and Shaun White Snowboarding provided the first "realistic" snowboarding game; it was the SSX series developed by EA Sports BIG that went out of the way to make a sports game look cool.
While SSX and SSX: Tricky made some changes to the standard format that 1080° Snowboarding put out, it was SSX 3 that marked the biggest change to the formula. However, the question now is: does SSX 3 still hold up after over 13 years?
As with all Rewind Reviews, SSX 3 will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse the game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today.
Now let's strap on our boards and tune in to EA Radio BIG for some punk rock tunes as we take on the three peaks in SSX 3 on the Nintendo Gamecube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.
I would normally include a plot section for a game, but frankly SSX 3 doesn't have one. In fact, the only game in the series to have something resembling a plot would be SSX (2012). But let's leave that nightmare for another day, shall we?
One of the things that draws me to SSX 3 is the cast of characters. While every sports game typically has their professional celebrities or generic characters representing various ethnicities, SSX 3 goes out of the way to create a cast of characters that has virtually no roots in the real world.
The first example that comes to mind is Psymon Stark (above) whose main character trait is having a serious case of schizophrenic psychosis. That's not me making this up, the character literally has this mental disorder. In fact, half of his character customization options involve various animal traps (that he has been caught in), straight jackets, chains, and even classic horror film props such as a hockey mask. This character belongs in an insane asylum just as much as the backcountry slopes of Peak 3 in this game.
Other characters include the "kawaii" Japanese superstar, Kaori Nishidake; the Canadian blonde bombshell, Elise Riggs; the Brooklyn adrenaline junkie, Zoe Payne; and even the child prodigy, Griff Simmons. All of these characters have their unique quirks and personality, and it really adds to the game's feel - especially when the characters are racing down the slopes while heckling one another. People who think Heroes of the Storm's character interactions are impressive are certain to love this game.
Another beautiful aspect of this game is the tight controls, near-perfect camera angles, and the highlight of the series: over-the-top tricks.
Controls in this game feel like an arcade game should feel: rewarding to skilled players, and punishing to those who don't try to learn the mechanics of the game. Unlike the most recent addition to the series, SSX 3 does not allow players to simply let go of the controller for a second to land a trick.
In fact, releasing your controller while in the air is likely to have disastrous results. Shredding through the snow also feels great, and nothing in the game feels as though it is out of your control. There is a feature where players can upgrade their stats with the cash that they accumulate during their "Conquer the Mountain" run, but the changes aren't so great that one feels as though they are at a severe disadvantage or that the game got too "easy".
As for the reason why I mention the camera angle, this game is one of the few in the series that actually captures the energy of the insane situations your character can face. During long drops the camera zooms out to capture the true distance of the drop; during Superpipe events the camera zooms in at your peak height to capture the awesomeness of your UBER tricks; and during races the camera finds just the right angle to make you feel faster than you actually are. Camera use is one of the things that have been lost in the series - as well as many third-person games as a whole - that this game executes almost perfectly.
Long before open-world games became the standard of gaming, SSX 3 had a "one mountain" sales pitch. Instead of having a menu-style hub like its predecessors, SSX 3 sought to turn the entire mountain into one giant track that simultaneously acted as a hub to all the events on the 3 peaks. While this is by no means impressive by today's standards of gaming, it still stands as one of the few extreme sports games to feature something remotely resembling this.
What makes this feature great is that players can freestyle down all 3 peaks in search of collectables, or they can do the race or trick events that look for a best time/score down the mountain. It's a fun inclusion that no other SSX game has pulled off since, and it is an outright shame that they returned to the default menu-selection in future titles.
The UBER Trick system is also something unique to the SSX franchise. When the player's UBER meter is full, characters can execute unique UBER Tricks that range from simple foot-out-of-bracket grabs, to completely insane tricks such as Zoe Payne's in-air breakdancing. It is one of the biggest attractions for fans of the series, and one that I truly appreciate even now.
While it is an appreciated inclusion, the ability to mix and match costumes in SSX 3 is a little weak. Many character-specific items are part of a "set" that doesn't look quite right when paired with another, while a vast majority of the gear is generic and cross-character. The various gear you can equip ranges from character-fueled items (such as Zoe Payne's motocross gear) to whacky (such as the aforementioned Psymon Stark straight jacket), and the outright fan-service (Elise Riggs' 100% Canadian snowboarding bikini).
Elise shows the world what it means to be a true Canadian snowboarder... If that means wearing a bikini while going down a snowy mountain...
Another slight failure on SSX 3's part is that the bonus characters in the game are nothing but skins that are applied over the character in session. That means that the skeletons of the bonus characters are rigged to the animations of the character you are currently playing which can lead to some... interesting... results. Thankfully, we don't get any graphical nightmares, but it is somewhat funny to see Saskwatch spin about a cable-car handlebar like a 13 year old kid.
Despite all that this game did right, there are some fairly poor design choices in SSX 3 - particularly when it comes to trick events. The main fault is that it is virtually impossible to beat the single player event scores without going out of the way to prolong your runs. This typically involves exploiting the acceleration of the Superpipe to move backwards, thus allowing you to pull off an infinite number of tricks until the timer runs out - something that I'm certain you would never see in live sporting events.
The worst culprit is the Big Air events (above) since they rarely give you enough time - or space - to pull off the stunts that will get you a platinum or sometimes even a gold rank. Considering that there are unlockables only found by getting platinum or gold, this can be a frustrating process. Big Air events do not allow you to exploit backtracking (with the exception of Crow's Nest) which can cause this mode to break down to expert levels of skill or simple dumb luck at times.
Other than that, there isn't really anything to really complain about for this game - other than the fact that the Gamecube version is missing some tricks due to its lack of a second L trigger. However, the Gamecube version does make up for this by having much better loading times than the Xbox and PS2 versions.
SSX 3 is a beautiful game. As I've stated time and time again, stylized games hold up much better than games that look to be realistic. Even without considering the fact that this game was released in 2003, SSX 3's visual presentation still holds up against the odds. While I cannot testify for the PS2 version, the game looks great when paired with a component cable to remove all of the blur that comes with an old analog connection.
Characters are by far the highlight of this game. Each feels quirky, and has a strong silhouette that separates them from the crowd. Voice acting is much better than one would expect from a sports game, and it really highlights the benefits of having paid actors over professional athletes that have no idea what to do with a microphone, let alone act.
The soundtrack of the game is one to die for. Much like how Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has great punk and metal tunes, SSX 3 has a great blend of techno, punk, and pop that makes you feel excited to hit the slopes. The game sports a great variety of 90s and 00s bands and artists including, but not limited to: Fatboy Slim, N.E.R.D., Autopilot Off, Yellowcard, and The Chemical Brothers. Here's a sample of what to expect in the video below:
While some would argue that SSX: Tricky and SSX: On Tour are better games for their own reasons, SSX 3 is the superior game for players looking to get something different out of their dose of snowboarding action. It provides players with great backcountry snowboarding, as well as over-the-top UBER Tricks that no one could dream of pulling off in real life. SSX 3 stands for what sports video games ought to be about: doing the impossible in the mundane. Such a sad loss it is that EA closed down their EA Sports BIG department in 2008.
While I typically don't review sports games, I had to make an exception for this downright fun title. If you aren't a fan of sports games, maybe this one will grab your interest. I know it did for me, and it can be typically found at flea markets for $5 since sports games rarely sell.
For its unique approach to sports games, putting the extreme in extreme sports, and providing a downright memorable experience, SSX 3 earns RR-Sama's 8/10.
For those looking for more nostalgia-smashing reviews, check out the full series of Rewind Reviews here. As for those still waiting for the Half-Life 2 trilogy review, I ask for your patience as video editing takes a while. Be sure to stay tuned to the GameSkinny front page, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or right here at my GameSkinny profile for the latest!