Over the top

I’m always going to have a soft spot for snowboarding games.  Cool Boarders was my first game on the PSOne which I had picked up in anticipation to start snowboarding in reality.  I love both activities even when one only involves sitting in front of the TV and the other is not nearly as audacious as depicted in games.  That’s because even if you’re not snowboarding through an old plane crash site on the side of a mountain, you are still on top of a waxed piece of fiberglass that’s going to move more quickly than your self-preservation instincts would prefer.  Adrenaline makes up for whatever lack of spectacle there is, and spectacle is precisely the reason why snowboarding games are entertaining while you sit on the couch.

So it should go without saying that I’m excited for the release of SSX this week.  It’s been a while since I played any snowboarding games, but after spending some time with the SSX demo it looks like a great return to form that brings the genre to a new gaming environment.  Games like SSX play to the strengths of the medium by acting to convince players they are doing something that they couldn’t do in reality (even if they were professional snowboarders.)  In this regard there is a similarity between SSX and Call of Duty.  Both will nudge you in certain ways as to ensure you will see the game from the most dramatic perspective while also trying to maintain an atmosphere of spontaneity and illusion of player control.  SSX does this by making the game more forgiving when it comes to player precision when moving in the environment.  If you don’t have a rail lined up 100% correctly for a grind then the game literally does nudge you into alignment.  Or if you release the analog stick to stop flipping in the air but you are actually going to belly-flop onto the ground, then the game makes sure to finish turning the character for you if it thinks you were close enough to getting it right.  These were things that would have surely wrecked runs in earlier snowboarding games, but instead of making the game artificially easier these “nudges” will keep the player from being distracted from the real goal of the game which is to perform inordinately complex tricks and chain them together in ways that take advantage of the level.  There are a great number of subtle details that come together so quickly that each time the tricky meter completely fills up you’ll want to cheer out loud.

I’m not sure how many people will care to look at games like SSX with a critical eye for the medium.  There are some interesting perspectives to glean from it that aren’t quite as overt as its sense of spectacle.  I’m eager to pick it and pick it apart though.


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