After months of nothingness and just before the madness that will be the Mass Effect 3 release, EA have brought a little gem to market in the form of SSX, with limited advertising and cautious optimism. I believe even EA didn’t expect the success they are seeing; a number of retailers told me their allocation was 2 or 3 copies per store. CEX are in the embarrassing position of having no pre-owned stock, that which they base their business model on as, I quote the LotR-shirt-wearing assistant: “It’s better than people were expecting and they’re not bringin’ it back”.
I agree – this is a fun, fun game and I think it testament to the game’s quality that a snowboarding game can sweep to the top of that chart in the same week as a Mario game was released, and in the wake of the Vista launch titles.
Universally, EA seem to be a hated company. Zero day DLC, Origin, online passes – they’ve been making it easier for the haters. They also own some of the biggest franchises, meaning there is not much reason for them to be pioneer. But for every copy-and-paste sports game, they have had their fair share of innovation. People are quick to forget such ventures as Skate, Burnout Paradise or Mirror’s Edge.
Problem is, none of these were real money spinners and banging out a Battlefield every year will bring in the bank. Business is business, which is why it’s strange that EA have decided to reignite a niche franchise, especially in a time when being individual doesn’t sell. But haven’t they done well!
Some background – The SSX series on the whole has been a total mishmash of solid but inexplicable games. The original SSX was a serious affair with an emphasis on racing, but it sold a dismal number of copies. Tricky came next and was great, but lost the racing to make way for ludicrous tricks. Razzle-dazzle sells and SSX Tricky went on to be much more successful, the main reason bizarrely being nostalgia for the game’s titular Run DMC song. The only other time I can remember a song selling a game instead of gameplay was the excellent launch trailer/title screen for Borderlands
SSX then went serious again for the following releases SSX3 and SSX On Tour (which charmingly had the Mario family as playable characters on the ‘Cube release). 3 ditched the A to B race format and ventured into the open world with challenges and collectibles added. This was a well-executed game, but sales took a dive again. And no need to talk about the waggletastic Wii release SSX Blur – it was just a shoddy game and thankfully the only one.
The 2012 reboot takes all that was good from the above, adds to it some new features and updates the graphics, and presents a delightfully unexpected experience. EA have ticked all the boxes – Chock full of content, it handles well and doesn’t drop frames; great difficulty curve, good online, hours of game time but can still can be satisfying played for short periods and although there are no jetpacks, there are wingsuits. Everybody wins; we get an exciting and fun game and for EA, a commercially successful venture.
This is what I’d hope they focus on in the future – quality content you could play in front of your mum, and an experience where you don’t feel cheated when you lose but rather you just restart and have another go. Unfortunately, I fear this title may be a fluke on the current-gen consoles and after a few weeks I expect only the die-hards will be left playing. All the cool kids will be back on their shooter of choice, slagging each other’s mums off. These are the real money makers, and nothing is going to change that. An adult rating on a game seems to make it infinitely more desirable and publishers seem to pointlessly add cut scenes or quick time events to achieve the maximum shock value. What we end up with is this counterintuitive situation where the games rated 18 are prepared and targeted for 12 year olds, whereas the real products for the mature gamer could pass with a 12 rating. Maybe a bit off point, but if the slow-mo executions in Skyrim were removed, could anything else in the game really be passed off as controversial?
So what have I taken from SSX? It really is a breath of fresh air from the other big titles of frequent. In a market reliant on swaggering macho-ness, SSX proves you can achieve great things while flying free of lowest-common-denominator clichés. Also, fucking fantastic soundtrack 😉