SSX on Tour is the fourth game in the series, and the first since 2003's SSX 3. Concentrating on a solid single-player experience, the development team dropped online play, but have succeeded in delivering a game that - while not all that different to previous games in the series - should please existing fans and newcomers to the series. A unique art style and a pumping soundtrack sweeten the overall package.
The biggest change (although it's mainly an aesthetic one) is the option of skis or a snowboard for your character. This is the first time skis have been an option in the series, and while it's a nice addition, it has little impact on how the game plays; being able to choose skis might please anyone with an aversion to snowboards, but you're still going to be pulling the same insane stunts and huge jumps as you speed down snow covered mountain sides
Before you even start skiing you'll notice the rather unique art style the game uses. The game is covered with doodle-like pen drawings - the kind you'd find on the cover of schoolwork folders. These obscure drawings all animate beautifully and bring the game to life before you've even hit the slopes. It's a real contrast to the usual clean-cut, quite formal presentation that most games go for. You'll spend a fair bit of time exploring all the submenus simply to take a look at all the art in the game, be it a guitar wielding unicorn or some freakish half human half monster creation.
This style hasn't really been carried over to the in-game visuals, which look remarkably similar to previous games in the series. Considering SSX has always been a good looking series, this isn't a bad thing, but a little more creativity wouldn't have gone amiss. Technically it's very good, with good draw distances, a solid frame rate (not so solid on the GameCube) and some brilliant effects, such as falling snow and fireworks. It's a great looking game, just nothing that hasn't been seen before.
'Gameplay changes over SSX 3 are pretty minor, but do affect how the game plays.'
The main single-player mode is the tour. You'll have to create your own character (there's some basic appearance customisation and board or ski selection) and then you're ready to take part in the usual SSX events: race, trick, and slope-style. The actual challenges are quite varied, ranging from simple one-on-one races to scoring a set number of points within a time limite. Events that challenge you to grind a certain length before the time runs out, or complete the course with your time on the snow not reaching a set limit (Each time your board or skis touch the snow a timer starts) are great fun, and they way they're used keeps the tour mode feeling fresh throughout.
Gameplay changes over SSX 3 are pretty minor, but do affect how the game plays. 'Ubertricks' are now called 'Monster tricks' and the way they're performed has changed. You still need to build up your boost metre - by performing smaller tricks as you move down the slope - but pulling off a Monster trick is a simple matter of moving the right analogue stick in a direction. It does simplify this area of the game, but it's not really a bad thing; in truth it makes the game more fun to play. The roster of lesser tricks has been increased and a whole new set are available when using skis.
Previous games took place on closed slopes, with just you and the opposition to be seen, but SSX on Tour's inclusion of other skiers is a welcome addition, giving some life to the game. Crashing into them will slow you down considerably, but near misses will increase your boost metre, in an obvious homage to EA's own Burnout series. In fact, SSX on Tour is faster than previous games in the series, making excellent use of motion blur effects as you reach incredible speeds careering down the slopes. Non-racing skiers, some insane speed and some pretty challenging course designs make SSX on Tour no pushover.
Aside from the brilliant art style, the game's audio is a real highlight. There's a great soundtrack featuring tracks from the likes of Bloc Party, Queens of the Stone Age, Motorhead and Iron Maiden. The on-slope atmospheric effects are excellent, too, with wildlife, talking skiers and slight variations in the sound of your skis/board on the snow, depending on what type of snow you're on. All this fades away, though, when you start pulling off huge jumps and using your boost metre. It works really well and helps heighten the sense excitement and the extreme nature of what you're doing.
Multiplayer support isn't really anything to get excited about. Limited to two-player split-screen, it's there if you really want to play with a friend, but it's not something the developers spent a lot of time working on. All three versions of the game are pretty identical in terms of content, but the GameCube version does have one trump card in the form of three Nintendo characters. Mario, Luigi, and Peach are selectable in the quick play mode, and while there addition isn't major, it lessens the blow of more awkward controls and a worse frame rate that Cube owners have to put up with.
SSX on Tour is a very enjoyable game. It's been a while since the last SSX game, and it's nice to see that EA has made an effort to try and give the game its own identity, even if the core gameplay remains pretty unchanged. Fans of the series will lap this up, and the cool presentation and rocking soundtrack should appeal to anyone wanting some thrilling extreme sports action. Even without online play, SSX on Tour is a great return for the series.