SSX was released for the Playstation 2 launch in the latter half of 2000 and was received extremely well by the gaming public. So well that it was the best reviewed launch title for the PS2! It had proven itself as the best snowboarding game made. Not much over a year later, SSX Tricky made its debut on the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox. It brought better gameplay, improved graphics and runs, and killer music. Now, after two years of waiting, SSX 3 has hit the consoles and, in my opinion, taken the crown as best snowboarding game around. I don’t know how they do it! They keep making the graphics on the PS2 better and better. It’s not like the GPU in the PS2 is being improved, right? Even though there are a few frame rate problems and the PS2 is starting to look dated, SSX 3’s graphics are superb and a big improvement over SSX Tricky. If you didn’t read my short take, I mentioned that one of the first things I noticed about the graphics was the sparkling of the snow just like you see when you walk outside after a fresh blanket has just come down on a sunny day. Weather effects are very cool. Each of the slopes has different weather environments, and they are conveyed almost perfectly. It’s dark and grey in blizzard conditions, and bright and invigorating during a nice sunny day. The path you swaft through the snow is realistic and comes with a spray of crystals if you make a sharp turn in deep powder. Laser shows and fireworks go off all around as you board down the slopes. The characters are more detailed and animated. The moves and tricks they make in the air and on rails are more than impressive. The graphics for SSX 3 floored me; just watching someone else play the game is a treat.

Again, the sound and music are much improved over SSX Tricky. This time around the developers tossed in an in-game radio station with a DJ that talks about the slopes and any of the characters you are using. This addition really helps to draw you into the game. As you start an event or run, the DJ talks a bit and starts a track from one of the many artists that landed their talent in the game. Speaking of that, the soundtrack for the game is top notch. It includes artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Basement Jaxx, Chemical Brothers, Jane’s Addiction, Black Eye Peas, Queens of the Stone Age, the list goes on… Very nice. Many of the songs have been remixed for the game’s snowboarding atmosphere and they fit perfectly.

The sound effects for the game are much like SSX Tricky with some added polish. The swish of the snow while racing through soft powder, the edge cutting sound of your board on ice, the air blowing past you as you fly hundreds of feet through the air… They didn’t leave anything out and it all sounds good. Voice-overs are also very similar to SSX Tricky; everyone keeps talking smack and will get you laughing in the middle of a run. And although much of the celebrity voice talent that was around for SSX Tricky didn’t make it into SSX 3 the voice-overs are still very good. The DJ sounds professional and definitely keeps you entertained.

SSX 3’s audio content is extremely well done and polished. And if you’ve got the equipment, SSX 3 is DTS and Dolby Pro-Logic enabled!

The control scheme from SSX Tricky has been transposed to SSX 3 with only a few minor changes. Punching has been moved from the right analog stick to the R1/L1 buttons. This is due to the addition of a new action, placed on the right analog stick, used to link tricks and pump up your scores (much like the manuals in the Tony Hawk series.) By pushing the right analog stick in a direction you make your character press their board down in that direction. Using this to link tricks and grinds rises your combo meter which in turn boosts your score. The board press also makes hitting grinds much easier. Ultimately, this is a great addition. You could completely ignore the new nose/tail press control, pick up the controller, and play SSX 3 just as if you were playing SSX Tricky except for the fact you wouldn’t be able to punch your neighbor. If you don’t like the control scheme, you can tweak it in the options menu. As far as I’m concerned, the old “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” adage applies here. The control scheme works perfectly.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few changes in how the game is played from the previous iterations of the series. The whole game is played on a single mountain with three peaks. You might think to yourself, “Oh no. Smaller runs, less courses!” WRONG! The mountain is huge with each peak containing a multitude of runs and events. The gameplay is based around four core events, each of which can be found on the various runs on the three different peaks. The most familiar event is the Race event which pits you against other racers to be first to the finish line. The second event is the Big Air event, which puts you against the clock to score more trick points against other SSX racers. Next is the Slopestyle event, which is similar to the Big Air event but focuses more on grinds and less airtime. Finally there is the Super-Pipe event which put your character into a mess of trick heavy half-pipes. The competition is stiff, and you will definitely have to spend time mastering some of the nuances of the game to be number one. In addition to the four standard competition modes is the freeride mode. It is this mode where you really see how much work went into the peak designs. All of the peak’s runs are interconnected, so you can ride from the top of the peak down to the bottom exploring the entire peak as you wish. And man, there is a lot of peak to explore. Freeride mode isn’t always a walk in the park though. Some of the higher peaks have blizzard storms and avalanche conditions putting your skills to the test. Freeride mode ain’t just for dinkin around off the clock either. Throughout the game you are challenged by rival characters to race in freeride mode from the top of the peak to the bottom. Winning these can be a real test of ability. Peppered throughout the standard freeride mode are upwards of 150 different challenges that, if successfully completed, earn your character big points and cash.

By performing really well in some of the events you also unlock all kinds of showy gear for your character and earn cash. Cash can be used to improve the stats of your character or purchase new equipment at the lodge. Which brings up the ONE thing I didn’t like about the game: the stats/skills system. In SSX Tricky, each character had certain strengths and weakness as far as how they performed on the slopes. For example, Mac was extremely good a tricks but horrible at speed and Brodi was the opposite, great at speed but sucky at tricks. In SSX 3 each character has the same potential has any other character. Some may actually like this change, but I think it detracts from the “personality” of each of the characters. In the end, it lessens the player’s motivation to play through the game with more than just one character. Speaking of Brodi, he didn’t officially make it into SSX 3 as one of the main playable characters (neither did a few others.) But he and a few others are unlockable by cheat code.

The new Uber move system is a great addition! In similar fashion to Tricky, you fill up a word, UBER, with each special trick you do after your boost bar is maxed out. Once this is done you then begin filling up the word SUPER with each special trick you do. But once you start filling up the word SUPER, the rider is able to perform SUPER UBER tricks for big score and great visuals. If you manage to fill out the entire phrase SUPER UBER, the rider receives almost unlimited boost. In addition to all this, you have the ability to set up which uber and super uber tricks your rider is able to perform.

Finally, multiplayer works almost exactly as previous iterations and is still a lot of fun. With the PS2 version of SSX 3 comes online play and a point/ladder system. I wasn’t actually able to try this out, but from what I’ve heard it’s a blast!

I can’t think of many other games that I would be willing to pay more than $50 to have in my possession. SSX 3’s overall value is exceptional. I will be playing it for years to come due to the simple fact that the game is just fun to play, let alone all of the unlockable content. There’s just something about SSX’s gameplay that is hypnotic and relaxing (if you’re not competing that is.)

As far as replay value goes, the only detraction I saw was what I mentioned earlier about the character stats and skills. The lack of difference in skill potential takes a large chunk of character out of each of the riders. I’m disappointed by this fact, and I hope that in the far off sequel, it is something they will remedy. On the other hand, the insane amount of things to unlock for each character will undoubtedly keep me playing through the game as each of them. Every single character has 300 PLUS (!) items to unlock, including clothes, boards, accessories and more.