With my allocation of time and money being spent in other directions these days, I’m getting pretty picky about my video game selections. If it’s not a AAA title or a $2 indie game, I’m probably not buying. One series that always gets my attention is SSX. I’ve been dieing for a good snowboarding game, or sequel to the original Xbox masterpieces, on a current generation system, since Shaun White Snowboard failed so miserably to impress me. SSX was always about 2 thing: back country powder and insane tricks. The new SSX doesn’t disappoint, but it is one of the most aggravating pieces of fun I’ve played in a long time.

When I was describing it to my brother, I put it like this: “SSX is the best 2/3 of a game I’ve played so far this year”. That’s literally a true statement. Not because 1/3 of the game isn’t complete, but because 1/3 of it is pure aggravation in a can and you want it to be over as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that third is also the part of the game you’ll have to play over and over and over again. That third is called the “Deadly Descents.” That was originally the games sub-title. SSX: Deadly Descents.

The basic breakdown of the single player is this: You open up a new mountain range. Each mountain range has a small, medium and large peak. The small and medium peaks are all about racing and tricking and doing the things that made the game so popular. The large peak is special. It has special characteristics that make it deadly. Some mountains are icy, some are rocky, some are prone to avalanches, some are really cold (no kidding!). Each presents it’s own challenges in order to survive. “Avoid the avalanche”, “Stay in the sunlight”, “Steer around the rocks”. These mountains are designed to kill you over and over again. Sadly, all they add to the game play is a break in continuity that’s equal parts annoying and unnecessary. The mountain I’m on is rocky, avoid the rocks, check. Took me 2 tries. Next!

Some are just plain stupid. “Cold”, “Darkness” and “Oxygen” come to mind. The “Dark” mountain in particular was little to no fun. If you enjoy being blindfolded and stumbling down a flight of stairs, this mountain is for you.

The problem is that these Deadly Descents add next to nothing to the game. Each character has “special equipment” that you can (using in game currency) purchase to help you down the mountain, but once you’re done with the mountain it’s needed for, it’s never used again. There’s so little replay value to those particular runs that (with the exception of boards), there’s little incentive to purchase beyond the bare minimal to get it over with.

Those runs are unfortunately a stain on what is otherwise a brilliant and fun game. The other mountains, the ones leading up to the larger ones, are fun, well designed and very replayable. After finishing the single player campaign, you’re left with two other options: Explore (free ski) or World Events (online). Free skiing is clearly the winner here since that’s what half the fun of the game is, just skiing around. The online events are an odd mixture of sports betting and multiplayer competition. You choose your run, “buy in” and pay for it, then IF your run is good enough, you get a chunk of the prize pool at the end. The downside is that a few exploiters have figure out ways to get ridiculously high scores on runs, so you’re never going to get “gold” in an event, so buying in is a waste of money. There are a few free runs with sponsored prize pools, and that’s where you see the most other people. Runs I saw last night were along the lines of “8000 riders, prize pool $2,600,000.” Yeah, you’re not going to get a piece of that.

So, that leaves us with Explore mode, which as I mentioned, is really the bread and butter of the game. Once you’ve finished them in single player, every mountain and run is open to you. I found myself playing runs I enjoyed over and over again, wishing I could do so with a friend. Alas, in one of the most common mistakes most developers make these days, they removed the split screen options. Every single other SSX game had this option. Every one of them. I own them all. It was actually one of the few games I could get my wife to play with me. She loved it. We could race to the bottom of the mountain, have a good time and we’d play for hours. That’s gone. Apparently in this day in age, if you don’t have friends with the same systems, who buy the same games, and who play at the exact same time, they’re not “real” friends. Heaven forbid you actually have people OVER YOUR HOUSE and want to play a game. We’ve gone from original Xbox “Fusion Frenzy” with 4 players on the screen at the same time, and Halo with 4 player split-screen, to single player only but “online enabled”. Yeah. Marketing spin. Love it.

I mention all these things because they’re important factors in deciding to buy a game, and should be taken into consideration, and yet I have to admit I really enjoyed SSX. The normal, basic race and trick events are as pure and as perfect a sequel to the original as I could have asked for. Yeah, I would have preferred a bit more “back country” and a little less “lets trick off the Great Wall of China”, but that was a stylistic choice from the developers. The mechanics are solid, the tricks are as easy to pull off yet as hard to master as the originals. It’s a lot of fun, just far from perfect.

I can’t honestly recommend it as a multiplayer game, but if you’re bored and looking for a new single player challenge at least 2/3 of it is good fun.

Final Score: B