SSX 3 is a snowboarding game released by EA in 2003 for the Xbox, Gamecube, PS2 and Game Boy Advance. There was also a Gizmondo release in 2005 for some reason. It forsakes the disjointed levels of the previous games and instead lets the player conquer a mountain of linked courses.
The game's mountain is divided into three peaks, with the highest letting you ride all the way down to the lowest. The courses aren't interlinked in an intersting fashion (this isn't Dark Souls), because snowboarding courses only need one start and one goal.
The transitions between levels aren't that special, just small zones with grindrails or the odd tunnel. But what they lack in spectacle, they make up for in potential. By making the game this way, you can start in any course, ride down a bit, explore and then start whatever competition you're near.
And just to add a cherry on top, there's a race and a freestyle competition down the whole thing. In order to show this off (plus some other things), I recorded a video of one of the worst runs I've ever done of the race. Re-recording is bothersome, ok?
At least the footage-quality is good.
If you draw a line through the series' various trick systems (and ignore On Tour & Blur, since I haven't played them), you'll notice that tricks get less rigid and easier to pull off as you go along. I think 3 has the best balance, since tricks are very reliable when compared to the earlier games but still recognizable from one another when compared to the reboot.
The first thing of note is how easy it is to do a good trick. You pre-wind a flip, jump, do the flip and possibly do some grabs. It's just fantastic. Going up on rails and staying on them is finally easy enough to be enjoyable. Once you fill up your boost guage, your tweak button gives way to Über Tricks.
This is where the fun begins, but 3 goes even further than Tricky ever did. There are 2 levels of Über. Once you land enough of the first level to spell out Ü-B-E-R, you get access to your own set of custom tricks. These are worth loads of points, look awesome and are difficult to pull of properly. And should you spell out S-U-P-E-R afterwards, you get rewarded with infinite boost for quite a while. It's a really fun system.
Other additions include handstands for better control over rails, Monster Tricks for point bonuses, easy manuals for combo chaining and grind Über Tricks.
The system has some decent room for mastery. The basics aren't hard to master, but once you get to later courses, it gets really hard to score decent medals. The biggest thing that separates a noob from a lord of the snow is one's ability to keep one big combo through a competition and scoring Monster Tricks.
These tricks are my one gripe with the game (outside of Peak 3 only having one race course), since they're so hard to make use of. They are named after the bands in the soundtrack and you unlock them by completing achievements. But in order to actually use them, you need to perform dominant-foot-specific tricks and finish with the correct Über Trick that you need to keep equipped.
It's quite a lot to keep in mind for every big jump and I've only ever managed to do a simple one or done them by accident. If there ever was a meta during the game's online hey-day, I suppose it would revolve around Monster Tricks.
I don't know who it was that dreamed up Radio Big, but they deserve a healthy helping of praise.
It's a radio channel from a sandbox game customized to perfection. I say this for a few reasons.
It's hosted by DJ Atomika (I think he first appeared in Sled Storm, another EA Big game, alongside Psymon.), who is a good mix of radical and chill. He serves as the voice of the game and plays that part well. He gives advice, introduces the character you're playing, plays songs and tells stories from around the event.
It's just a cycle of voice clips, but they do a damn good job of making him seem real. I chuck this up to the writing, acting and the sheer amount of lines. Not to mention that they're reserved for ”downtime”. So you only hear him when you're between courses, usually when going to a station to spend your money.
This keeps the lines from being repeated for a quite a while. In fact, I think a regular playthrough doesn't repeat lines, it's only if you go back and forth a lot that you'll hear repeats.
But that's only half of the secret sauce. We can't forget the soundtrack. Tricky is remembered for the one excellent song, but I think SSX 3 surpasses it on this front.
I'm a Metal guy almost exclusively, but I still find joy in a majority of these songs, even though the genres aren't to my liking. Nostalgia might be to blame. I don't even really know what genres comprise of. R&B? Funk? Hip-Hop? Rap?
Even the music playback shows signs of craftmanship. Songs are segmented so every part of a course plays a specific part. This means that one song will play for the whole course. If you're in free ride mode, Atomika will then switch to the next one once you get down. And just to make it a bit more awesome, the music fades if you manage to get big air so you can have a little quiet moment before crashing down.
If my video felt boring to watch, it was probably because I turned off the music. The OST is a minefield of licensed music, game-exclusive remixes or not. I implore you to put on a song from the soundtrack and sync it to my footage. It makes a world of difference. Hell, even the GBA version tried its best to keep the music intact!
While the world at large isn't that interesting outside of the continous flow of courses, the courses themselves are quite impressive. There's usually at least two paths through a course that cross over eachother, letting you decide the way you want to ride. Metro City is the most complex level, managing to hide an awesome train track that lets you grind for what feels like an eternity. It's pretty great.
And even if there aren't any big path choices present, you can count on there being small shourtcuts around every corner. It's ridiculous just how many secret nooks there are to find by exploring or failing jumps.
I do wonder how well some of these tricky shortcuts were tested though. Some of them can feel very random. I might just be bad, but I feel like the dexterity required to land certain shortcut jumps is too much to ask. I suppose they didn't want to automate anything like in a Sonic game and just relied on the physics.
In my time on this Earth, I never truly understood the importance of games letting you play as someone you feel a connection with until I gave thought to this game. I not very sentimenal, so that isn't so strange. Being a straight white guy with literally all of the protagonists ever made ever sharing traits with me probably didn't help either.
But as I read the comments on soundtrack videos for this game, I saw so many people speak highly about characters I never played. And that felt wrong for some reason. And then it struck me, I do care about who I play and SSX 3 is even more awesome than I thought!
The cast is quite diverse, even sporting a Japanese woman who only speaks in her native tongue. It could've gone further, but I think there's someone here for everyone. When I first played the game, I was obsessed with only using Griff. But as the years have gone by, I'm come to like Psymon and Elise more. Funnily enough, I never cared for the Swedish guy. Who names their kid Viggo anyway?
Can I get a tv show about these people? Pretty please?
It amazes me just how much character the game wrings out of the cast, in spite of there literally being no plot. There's extensive bio pages with fun facts and voiced lines during gameplay. The lines aren't annoying, but just frequent and plentiful enough to give you an idea about who you're playing as. I feel like they never go to parody levels of XTREEEEME, but YMMV. Except for Psymon. Shine on, you crazy Canadian bastard. "FRENCH TOAST AND SYRUUUUUUUUUP!"
And we can't forget all of the options you have to customize your character. Clearing medals unlocks clothing and special (Read: goofy/sexy) pieces can be bought at the shop. It's a pretty decent selection, opting for unique pieces over recolours most of the time.
There's also a leveling system of sorts, one I missed for the longest time. It's accessed in the lodge, just like the other things you can buy. It's a nice goal to max out a character for a run, but I'm unsure if the courses can really handle such a varied array of potential speeds. Sometimes it feels really easy to overshoot small jumps with a maxed character.
For extra flavour, you can also buy Über Tricks and songs for your custom playlist, which is nice.
This ties into the two previous points, but deserves its own little section. That's what my format is for anyway.
While playing the game, I am very impressed with the things the it does to make the world come to life. Atomika gives you tidbits on other characters and even takes song requests from them! I know it isn't much, but it's so cool to get an idea of what songs characters like and imagine that they're out there shredding snow alongside you. Atomika's stories help with this matter too.
And just to take things further, other characters send you some messages as you progress. They even talk smack if they pass you in a race! And if you punch them (hopefully with your unexplained charged lightning fist) to earn a full boost, they text you mid race and stay pissed for the next few courses!
All this helps elavate the game to greater heights.
Scattered about the mountain, there's loads of snowflakes worth money to collect and challenges to complete. The snowflakes do an excellent job of hinting towards shortcuts and are frankly an excellent way of earning money. If you're in free ride, you even get paid a bit for every trick. You can LITERALLY grind for money! Bless this game.
The Big Challenges are a mixed bag. They are quite varied and often fun, but get absurdly difficult. Special mention goes to the ones requiring accuracy or fancy jumps. I find it a bit much to ask for you to collect tokens the size of your character when speeding down the mountain. The controls are good, but you can't exactly turn on a dime with a snowboard. That's something I learned when I tried traversing forest paths meant for skiis myself. It's kinda scary to ride where you don't have enough space to brake.
Thankfully, you only need to complete a few challenges for bronze collectible medals on every peak, so it isn't a big issue. Unless clearing them all unlocks a rad hat, then we might have a problem.
All right, time to do something that no man should ever have to do. I'm gonna defend EA. But only a little!
Having not had my PC for that long, I'm still very happy about juiced up ports of old games that arrive on the platform. It just feels so right to see games given new and often better eternal life there. It's sort of the Valhalla for games. Falcom ports/localizations especially. Give me my PC port of God Hand, you Capcom bastards! The art crowd got Okami, so I deserve my Dragon Kick fix! Don't forget Viewtiful Joe either!
An SSX collection sounds perfect for this kind of thing, but I understand why it hasn't come to be. Besides EA being busy trying to trick kids into a gambling addiction, it just isn't worth it to try and get this game ported. The big factor is the music.
The money is a part of this, licenses are pricey. And you'd need to get ALL of them again. But they are also timed, unless you manage to get an infinite license, which is both pricey and unlikely. So even if they did release SSX 3 again, we'd be limited to physical versions after a while and the game wouldn't be able to live on forever.
But there is a silver lining here. The eagle-eyed of you in the audience with decent internet should've noticed that the footage I recorded looks good. Damn good. Almost suspiciously so.
Somehow, SSX 3 is one of those games that emulates perfectly, outside of the intro FMV. The game looks awesome once you bump up the resolution and I'm glad it'll be preserved as such. The world needs great games, and for them to stick around even more.
I absolutely love this game, if you didn't notice. Just wanted to make that clear before we part. Wouldn't want there to be any risk of you not playing this game. That'd be such a tragedy. Leave those to current-day EA.