Do the motion controls groove with the game? Read the review to find out.
SSX is a fairly well established franchise by this point. Starting out as a launch title for Sony's Playstation 2, this arcade snowboarding game has grown more over the top with each installment. As such, it's kind of nice to see EA Montreal pull the reigns back a little bit with the Wii-exclusive SSX Blur. The game features a "best of" set of tracks from the last two entries in the series. It's also received massive overhauls in visuals and sound. The tricks, which might not be as visually stunning as they have been in the past, feel more impressive thanks to the Wii Remote's motion sensing capabilities.
SSX Blur puts players in the shoes of one of twelve characters, each out to "conquer the mountain" and prove his or her own on the SSX circuit. This is done through the game's Career mode. One of the coolest things about SSX Blur is its lack of menus. Once you choose a character and begin the game, it is entirely possible to play most of the game without ever seeing a menu screen. This is thanks to the free-roaming nature of the mountain. Split into three peaks, each more difficult than the last, the mountain is full of options. Players can even ride from the top of peak three to the foot of peak one if they wish. Along the way, they'll pass the starting points of the game's twelve different tracks, most housing two events each, making for a total of 22 different runs.
You compete in different events including Race, Slopestyle, Big Air, Half-Pipe, and (new to the franchise) Slalom. The Race event pits you against five other SSX riders to see who can make it to the bottom of the run first. You might not think tricks are important in a race, but they are. Finishing tricks adds energy to your Groove Meter, which can be used to boost your rider's speed and leave opponents in the dust. Slopestyle events have riders competing to see who can score the most points by nailing as many tricks as possible down a track. Big Air and Half Pipe are similar, giving you a short time and distance, but a ton of air to land a massive score. Slalom is a precision event that requires boarders to navigate their way down a track while passing through a series of gates.
All of this is pretty worn territory for SSX games, especially considering that the territory in Blur is literally worn. All of the game's tracks come from the prior two games in the franchise, SSX 3 and SSX On Tour. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as the tracks included are all excellent. However, with EA Montreal dipping into the vault, it would have been nice to see them reach a little further back and include at least one track from SSX or SSX Tricky. It also would have been nice to see at least one city track included.
In addition to each individual event, there are also tournaments to compete in. These tournaments may be the best thing ever added to an SSX game. No previous game in the series has ever combined multiple event types into one single event. In the past, being really good at races, slopestyle, or any other event might be enough to conquer the mountain. Tournaments challenge players to be good at all of the events. If you dominate the race event only to fall on your face in the big air event following it, you won't get anywhere. This blending of events helps tie the entire mountain together, creating the most cohesive SSX experience yet.
The one blemish on the game's near-perfect event structure is the Slalom event. It's new to Blur, and obviously nowhere near as refined as the other events. In Slalom, players must guide their rider around a series of flags, making alternating passes on the left and right sides. It's a good idea, but the execution is sloppy. The gates are often placed extremely close to one another, and one wrong move can cause you to miss a whole string of them. The only way to get through all (or even most) of the gates is to proceed excruciatingly slowly, which zaps all the fun right of the event, leaving you with tons of frustration. Thankfully, there are very few Slalom events on the mountain, so they are mostly avoidable.
SSX Blur might look more childish than its forefathers, but that doesn't mean it's any easier. Peak 1's events might be easy for SSX vets, but those new to the series should find even a half-decent challenge here. Peaks 2 and 3 amp up the difficulty even more, with killer tracks that require split-second thinking just to stay upright. Your rivals also get more aggressive as time goes on, especially after you chuck a few snowballs at them. Once you get to peak 3, they won't let up in the slightest.
While the mountain might not have changed much, the rest of SSX Blur has changed drastically. The whole game has been given a bubblier look. The characters have all been re-tooled and slightly cartoonified. This style actually fits their outlandish personalities a little better than their adult bodies did. Then there's the music. Junkie XL, electronic musician extraordinaire, has crafted all the beats for this installment of SSX. The game's music is also tied to the new Groove Meter. The better you play, the more the meter fills, and the more complex the music becomes. What starts out as a pretty simple beat can turn into a sonic assault after you land a few massive tricks.
By far the biggest change to the series is in SSX Blur's motion controls. They are quite complex and will take even the best gamers at least an hour to fully grasp. The developers have split the game's control in half, with the nunchuk controlling everything you do on the ground while the Wii Remote takes care of movement in the air. Steering is handled by the nunchuk. Rolling it right and left moves your rider accordingly. Tilting the analog stick lets your rider lean into those really sharp turns. Tilting the nunchuk back will slow your rider down, while pushing the analog stick forward will tuck your rider to gain more speed. The Z button triggers boost, and the C button is used for board-presses and also pivots your rider if they are using skis. Finally, flicking the nunchuk upward shoots your rider into the air, which is where the remote takes over.
Moving the Wii remote in different directions sends your rider into a spin or flip. Pressing the A button will right your character to come in for a safe landing, provided you give him enough time to right himself. Now, this might seem simple, but there are also grabs. While EA describes the nunchuk as the "on the ground" device, it is more accurately described as the "on the board" device, as it controls grabs once your character is airborne. Holding the Z button and rolling or tilting the nunchuk will create one of four different grabs. Combining spins, flips, and grabs together is a surefire way to build up lots of boost. Once you've gotten enough boost, you can move on to Über Tricks.
Über Tricks were introduced in SSX Tricky, and have been a staple of the series ever since. These tricks are so crazy, that they aren't even possible on a real snowboard or pair of skis, as they involve your rider removing their feet from their braces. In previous SSX games, the hardest thing about Über Tricks was making sure you had enough time to pull one off and land safely. That is the easiest part of Übers in SSX Blur. Somewhat fittingly, EA Montreal has made Über Tricks almost as hard to pull of as the characters make them look on screen. Once airborne, Übers are accomplished by holding down the remote's A button and drawing pre-defined shapes in mid-air. Some of the simpler shapes are loops and Z patterns, but the unlockable Übers are a good degree more difficult, sometimes requiring both the nunchuk and remote to be moved in difficult patterns in tandem.
The three paragraphs above should give you an idea of how complex the controls really are. The big question, then, is how well do they work? Thankfully, for the most part they are spot on. Speeding down the mountain and passing obstacles is an absolute blast, and feels totally natural after a short time with the game. Normal tricks are equally fun and simple to execute. The characters no longer pull off the outlandish moves from previous games, nailing tricks with so many descriptors there is literally not enough room on the screen to list them all. Instead the tricks you complete look more simple and realistic. This doesn't really matter though, as Blur's controls make it feel like you are actually doing something, as opposed to slamming down on the shoulder buttons like in previous SSX games. This holds especially true for the Über Tricks. They are hard. It takes a good amount of time and practice to really get them down, and even then you might not pull them off every time. It is totally acceptable for Über Tricks to be this difficult. It only serves to increase the challenge of the game, and in turn, the personal satisfaction gained. However, the Über recognition could still use a lot of work. There will be moments when you are certain that you have inputted the shape correctly, only to watch nothing happen on screen.
SSX Blur is a worthy heir to the franchise throne. It's hard to go wrong with some of the best tracks in the series, retooled with a fresh new style and groundbreaking motion controls. It's one of the first Wii games to go beyond a gimmick and show players what the system is truly capable of. It might be a little too rough for some gamers, and your mom would certainly have her ass kicked by it, but for the rest of us it's a fantastic game.