The SSX demo landed yesterday, with the full title arriving, at last, on Tuesday, rebooting EA Sports' much-loved snowboarding series. The last SSX release was the Wii-only Blur in 2007; before that, SSX on Tour in 2005. It's long enough that even some old hats may feel like newcomers in the seven-year layoff this game has had from traditional controls.
That makes the demo a useful reacquaintancing for both types of gamers, and a fun ride that's worth the download time you'll have to spend to get it. For veterans, a "classic" SSX control set is included in the game (and accessible within the demo). And for straight beginners — count me among them — the puppeteering is very sensible, whether you choose to use the right analogue stick or the face buttons to perform your grabs and uber tricks.
The SSX demo will give you two events and two characters (the second, Mac, comes once you spam a friend with an invitation to try the demo.) You'll see the game's traditional race mode and a trick race, in which the winner is determined by high score rather than position. The survival mode, which involves outracing the avalanches seen in trailers and teasers up to now, will have to wait until the main release.
With such a beautiful, wide-open environment and the open-ended freestyling available to your rider, I felt an impulse to really spam the controls and gorge myself on sick air (do they still use that term?) But if the SSX demo taught me anything, it was the need to exercise some self control in the aerial portions — in the race mode anyway. While going airborne and racking up logic-, gravity- and death-defying tricks will get you into Tricky (or even Super Tricky) mode, where speed comes faster and boost is unlimited, overdoing it sent me biffing hard into course hazards or side boundaries. SSX does a good job of presenting its course as near open-terrain, which is great. The drawback is that course familiarity is hard to develop even after a couple of runs, what with the multiple branching paths, cutoffs and tunnels.
So take it easy on your basic controls, not just the tricks. You can see in this video where I'm about to overtake the top rival out of my friends list for first place on this run, and then completely oversteer at the entrance to the tunnel, losing my line. Again, the good news out of this is those who have become adroit flick-steerers in racing games with a twin analogue should be well off in SSX where there is, really, no braking, only drift.
Visually, this is an impressive game. You get two stock interstitials in the demo but I scarcely imagine that's all it's got to offer. The main gameplay served up a daytime race down the Canadian rockies and a night-time trick run in New Zealand (you wear a headlamp for this. I'd probably still break my neck if the whole mountain was lit like Lambeau Field.)
The demo also gives you a look at RiderNet — the SSX equivalent of Need for Speed's Autolog, does a solid job of serving up engaging asynchronous multiplayer. In that video above, you see me gunning for the top rival out of my friends list. You'll see him (and others) ghosted on the course, with their paths marked if they're otherwise out of sight.
Sports demos typically aren't pick-up-and-play enjoyable, as you're given a slice of a very deep experience and the overall game usually depends on familiarity with the control set or outside knowledge of the sport. SSX is a different creature, and one worth checking out. It's definitely grown on me; we'll see how much it takes root when the main game releases on Tuesday.