Much like Resistance was to the PS3's launch this week, SSX was the must have title when the PS2 debuted in 2000. Naturally, the success of the original spawned a handful of equally impressive sequels. Now, almost two years after On Tour's release, Wii owners are being treated to arguably one of the best titles on the system since Zelda. A bold statement yes, and Blur will indeed test your patience and your ability to keep your cool under extreme stress, but, as they say, practice makes perfect.
If you're familiar with the series, then you likely know how it all plays out. Choose a boarder, take to the slopes and try your hand at any one of five events: race, half-pipe, big-air, slopestyle and, new to this year's iteration, the challenging but not hopeless slalom. The idea here is to build up your boarder's stats and accumulate enough points to enter tournaments and earn bigger and badder rewards while carving to the catchy, but limited, tunes of Junkle XL and the witty banter of Radio BIG's DJ something-or-other. Frankly, the formula hasn't seen a heck of a lot of change since the series' debut, but I'm not complaining.
That's not to say Blur is a carbon copy of any of EA's previous efforts. Granted, it features mostly re-designed courses that we've all played to death before, and the game has been disappointingly striped down to its bare-bones compared to SSX 3, meaning no wardrobe of clothing options to choose from (most boarders have only one, dull alternate outfit) and the grab tricks have sadly taken a back seat with only four to choose from as well. That being said, if there's one thing that makes Blur stand out over its predecessors, it's the game's revamped control scheme, taking full advantage of the Wii's motion sensing capabilities, for better or for worse.
With Blur, EA has integrated a system that almost completely relies on the Wii's motion sensing control. By tilting the nunchuck left and right at varying degrees in an S pattern, and in conjunction with the analogue stick, your rider will carve the slopes making for an entirely fresh and, at first, entirely awkward experience. The whole process takes some getting used to and is more hit-or-miss than anything, but to be honest, I found myself switching back to the classic control scheme (where the analogue stick does all the work) after only an hour or so; the new control system just doesn't work all that well. But don't take my word for it; try using the nunchuck to carve during a slalom event and see if you can score anything near a medal.
For tricks on the other hand, it's all a matter of swinging the remote around in the desired direction. Motion the remote up or down to perform front and back flips respectively, side-to-side for spin tricks, and diagonally for flips. When you're ready to land the trick, or just stop it in mid-air to start a brand new chain, simply hit the A button. In the end, as much as you want to believe you're in complete control of your tricks, anything more than a spin or two is simply the result of you flailing your arm around like you're waving down a taxi after a particularly long night at the pub. Think of it as button mashing, but with motion instead.
Rest assured, the trick system may have its flaws, but it's still a blast to pull off insane tricks over equally insane jumps, though nothing's more of a thrill (and relief) than performing one of the game's ultra tough uber tricks.
Uber's are what it's all about in Blur, and if you don't master them, then good luck medaling in some of the later competitions. To perform an uber, you first need to build up your groove meter by executing standard tricks. Once that's full, launch yourself off a ramp, press and hold A, then, using the remote as wand of sorts, draw the shape of the desired uber, release A and watch your character unleash one of the coolest, most rewarding tricks in the game while racking up some serious points.
At first though, you only have access to three ubers, while the rest are unlocked after collecting tokens scattered throughout the game's three peaks. Sadly, the incentive to collect every last token is diminished since they don't transfer over from character-to-character and you can easily score gold in every event/tournament by using the same uber repeatedly. It's really only worth the effort if you plan on going after a platinum medal to unlock the platinum tournament, or if you're determined to see the Yeti skin, which isn't all that special anyway.
However, as much of a rush as it can be to pull off gravity defying ubers, they're damn hard to perform consistently, or at all, for that matter. The game demands that you draw the shape perfectly, and you'll likely spend a solid half-hour or so in the tutorial mode alone just to get the feel for them. But when you've nailed a few, you'll nail them all and some even back-to-back in a single jump (I've managed to pull off four).
Either way, Blur is the first must-own Wii title I've played in a long, long time, and also happens to be a real visual stunner with plenty of flashy fireworks, nicely modelled boarders and a killer sense of speed. That being said, the game does have some questionably designed courses where it seems as though no matter how you take the jump, you're destined to end up with a face full of rocks or plant yourself directly in front of a group of unavoidable trees.
For the first SSX game released in two years and exclusive to Nintendo's console, EA has really made a valiant effort to revitalise a series that, for some, was beginning to show its age. I would have liked to have seen a bit more customization, and it's unfortunate that the grab tricks got the shaft this time around, but those minor blemishes hardly prevent SSX Blur from being one of the Wii's first must-have titles of the year.