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SSX Tricky (PS2) Review

Background Info

Screens(8)


Screens(15)

Buy the Game!
Roughly one year after the PS2 invaded North America, the system's unequivocally best launch title, SSX, gets a sequel: SSX Tricky. And what a sequel it is! Originally planned as a DVD-ROM-based remix of SSX that would offer subtle gameplay tweaks and graphical touch-ups, Tricky evolved superbly into a full-fledged sequel after increased development time. New gameplay elements, additional characters and levels, copious visual enhancements, and monstrous DTS surround sound help keep the SSX name in the spotlight and firmly atop the crowded mountain of snowboarding games.

Presentation/Graphics : 98
Developer EA Canada overhauled the SSX graphics engine for Tricky. Characters have more polygons, better textures, glossier outfits, and improved animation (including new facial animations and tighter lip-synching). Six new characters grace the lineup, joining six of the eight characters from the original SSX; Hiro and Jurgen are no-shows. The lineup is more diverse, with the new characters representing nationalities and backgrounds absent from SSX. While the new character designs obviously appear fresh, the returning characters have received makeovers to remain hip. For instance, Miss "sweeter than candy" Elise, the brash blonde from SSX and Tricky's vocal cover girl, now has short hair and packs even more sass. Thankfully, the characters in Tricky do not have huge, spooky "zombie" eyes like the characters in the first game.

Each character has a selection of stylish outfits, snowboards, and distinguishing characteristics that differentiate him or her from the rest of the pack. The new characters include a white Afro Thunder-like hipster (Eddie), a Latin bombshell (Marisol), a bearish hillbilly (Luther), a spiritual surfer dude (Brodi), a bald-headed fashion diva (Seeiah), and a whacked-out freak (Psymon). To prevent repetition, the developer has given the original SSX superstars--Elise, Mac, Moby, Kaori, JP, and Zoe--new outfits and boards. The colorful and varied snowboard designs complement each rider's attitude, personality, and riding style. Additionally, most riders don fashionable accessories and have clothing that realistically blows in the wind. Even the riders' hair interacts with the wind: Luther's mullet flaps, while Eddie's Afro bounces. Characters celebrate enthusiastically after big tricks, cover their face shamefully after bailing, and look behind cautiously when other riders are on their tail.

While the standard trick animations (i.e., grabs, tweaks, spins, and flips) are a bit smoother than last year's, the new Uber tricks are way beyond anything seen in SSX...or any snowboarding game, for that matter. As exaggerated as some of the regular tricks appear, the Uber tricks take it to the next level, with an array of aerial maneuvers that would make any pro snowboarder extremely jealous. Couple this with the fact that each rider has several unique Uber tricks, which mirror his or her personality, and you have a helluva lot of crazy, high-flying stunts. You really need to see these tricks in action, since words do not do them justice. If you can picture a character mimicking break-dancing moves, bull-riding motions, or inline-skating tricks on a snowboard, then you will have an idea of the pure craziness the Uber tricks exude.

Apparently, after skillfully modeling--or, in the case of the original SSX lineup, remodeling--the characters and fine-tuning the animation, the developer had extra time to devote to the game's fabulous course designs. Venues include the original eight SSX courses--Snowdream, Elysium Alps, Mesablanca, Merqury City Meltdown, Tokyo Megaplex, Aloha Ice Jam, Pipedream, and Untracked--plus two new ones: the elegant Garibaldi and the roller coaster-like ride that is Alaska. Simply put, each venue is an exhilarating, jaw-dropping experience. As good as the original courses looked in the first game, they look even better in Tricky, with new textures, fancier lighting, and extra visual treats. The revamped SSX courses are livelier, have higher-res textures, and offer new shortcuts and paths, while the robust new courses are right at home in the SSX universe. A few memorable moments include flying off an icy cliff and into thick fog on Garibaldi, riding the new rail sections of Tokyo Megaplex, and traversing tortuous tunnels in Alaska after surviving the course's huge drops and gaps. There is so much to see and do on each course that you are bound to see something new upon each session. Various camera perspectives let you tailor your sightseeing, and customizable TV-style replays let you absorb all the breathtaking sights and angles you can handle post-race. If you have the hardware, Tricky supports two widescreen modes: anamorphic (great for Sony Wega sets with the 16:9 Enhanced mode) and 16:9. You have not witnessed the true beauty of Tricky's courses until you have shredded them in glorious widescreen.

All the special effects from the first game have returned, including the colored speed-boost trails, trick-boost sparkles, beautiful fireworks, and powdery snow kickup. Courses have new animated and destructible background objects, as well as a host of colorful billboards, advertisements, and video screens. Remember those glass SSX signs that marked shortcuts in the original game? Well, they have returned, too, and shatter nicely after you smash through them. Fancy lighting brings each course to life and realistically reflects off characters' snowboards and outfits. Two-player action is smooth and displayed via a vertical split screen, with colored spotlights pinpointing each player's position. Crowds of animated spectators fill the stands of each venue and cheer rabidly. Impressive fog lingers in certain courses, but it is used for effect rather than to hide graphical imperfections.

Unfortunately, Tricky's graphics do have imperfections, albeit minor ones. Although the game runs at a mesmerizing 60fps, the frame-rate occasionally stutters, most noticeably during cornering or when several riders are on the screen. The brief stutters never interfere with the gameplay, and they hardly detract from the game's look. Other graphical faults include minor pop-up (the draw distance is solid, but you may occasionally notice an object pop into view), clipping, and flickering background objects. Fortunately, these faults are not severe enough, nor distracting enough, to lessen the overall visual impact of the game.

Presentation/Audio : 100
Audiophiles, rejoice! SSX Tricky is the second title in gaming history to support in-game DTS surround sound (the first being NHL 2002). The game uses DTS Interactive and SurroundSoundScape audio technologies to deliver a dynamically enveloping and completely stunning audio presentation. With four discreet channels and a low frequency effect (LFE), EA Sports' proprietary DTS audio fully immerses you in the game, aggressively shifting and distributing music and sound effects among the several discreet channels--all in real time. Most of the menu music even takes advantage of the pristine multichannel sound, and the opening movie is an entirely new experience with DTS enabled.

Gameplay-wise, for the first time ever in a snowboarding game, you can hear rival snowboarders sneaking behind you, crowds of spectators cheering and chanting from multiple angles, and ambient effects and background objects sounding in relation to your position on the track. Some environmental effects that specifically show off the game's multichannel sound include a noisy subway train on Merqury City Meltdown, squawking crows and howling coyotes on Elysium Alps, and loud helicopters and realistic whooshing on Untracked. In addition, when characters are behind you, their comments, celebrations, taunts, and yells play from the rear speakers. Hearing characters yell at one another from all around the room is especially unnerving. Indeed, Tricky has more directional effects and stronger bass than many action-packed DVD movies encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1!

To experience Tricky in all its DTS glory, you will need the following: a DTS-capable receiver (you can find a decent one for under $200), four speakers (front-left, front-right, rear-left, and rear-right), an optional subwoofer for the LFE (.1) channel, and an optical cable to connect your PS2 to the digital receiver. The other audio modes (mono, stereo, and stereo surround) sound good, but DTS is clearly the standout audio option here. Once you experience real-time multichannel sound from a video game, it is very difficult to return to playing in standard stereo.

Of course, multichannel audio means little if the sound effects, music, and voice-overs are lackluster. Tricky does not disappoint in any of these areas, fortunately. The various arcadey sound effects are crisp and exciting, with equally solid and varied carving, grinding, and whooshing sounds. Sadly, though, a room-shaking "boom" no longer accompanies the landing of a trick. Tweaks and grabs produce distinct sounds, as do the various background objects, like glass signs and steel rails. Further, each venue has unique environmental sound effects, ranging from the soothing waterfalls of Aloha Ice Jam to the zany pinball-like sounds of Tokyo Megaplex.

Tricky features new voice-overs and has celebrity voice talent backing many of its characters. The celebrities include Lucy Liu (Elise), Oliver Platt (Luther), David Arquette (Eddie), Billy Zane (Brodi), Patricia Velazquez (Marisol), Jim Rose (Psymon), Macy Gray (Seeiah), and Bif Naked (Zoe). As the game's 'DVD Content' section reveals, most of the voice actors have commonality with their respective Tricky character, and each actor put a great deal of effort into his or her recording session. Therefore, the characters of Tricky ooze with even more personality and witty remarks than the characters in SSX. The brief "story" segments before and after races further highlight the A-list voice talent. On the downside, minor distortion is noticeable in certain characters' voices, and while there is an abundance of voice-overs, repetition sets in rather quickly.

Tricky replaces the venue-specific pre-race announcers of the original game with a race narrator, who gives rundowns of the courses and reveals changes and additions to last year's venues. Moreover, in World Circuit mode, the narrator comments on the status of your character and your ongoing relationships with other riders. Rahzel once again calls the action and provides plenty of great one-liners, some of which are carryovers from the first SSX. He also gives sporadic updates on your position and compliments and critiques your performance and progress. Occasionally, Rahzel's calls are noticeably tardy. For example, he will call a trick or combo several seconds after you have completed it or shout "Speed boost," well after you grabbed a Speed Boost icon.

Musically, Tricky features many new tracks, as well as remixes of songs from the original game (more than 20 songs in all). Artists include Run-DMC, MixMaster Mike, Bif Naked, BT, Skank, Aphrodite, and others. The songs are more aggressive than the ones in SSX, owing to the game's faster pace and greater emphasis on tricks. Many styles of music are present--including funk, techno, hip-hop, and rock--not to mention a plethora of samples. As in the first game, the music is interactive, reflecting the pace of the race and fading during hangtime. Each venue offers a few songs from which to choose, so if you dislike the current song, you can choose a new one through the pause menu. Plus, you can access the game's entire soundtrack within the DVD Content section and listen to the music in any audio format, including DTS! You may not enjoy all the songs--"Shake Wha' Yo Mama Gave Ya" perhaps being one of them--but you will appreciate the interactive, room-filling nature of the soundtrack.

Now, let's talk about Run-DMC and their energetic song "It's Tricky," which serves as the game's theme song. Not only does the song--lifted from the group's 1986 album, Raising Hell--act as excellent background music, but it also plays an interactive role during gameplay. A short sample of "It's Tricky" kicks in each time you completely fill the Boost Meter, letting you know it's time to bust an Uber trick. (And, yes, you can disable this feature.) The game eloquently mixes the "It's Tricky" sample in real time with the existing background music and sound effects. If you bail hard or fail to do an Uber Trick within 20 seconds, the pitch of the sample lowers several octaves as if a DJ were reducing the speed of a record on his or her turntable. Surely, Run-DMC could have never predicted "Its Tricky" would be used in a snowboarding video game, let alone in such an innovative way.

Interface/Options : 98
Slick DVD-like menus and extras adorn Tricky. The main menu lets you jump into the actual game or peruse a DVD Content section composed of special features usually reserved for DVD movies. Here, you will find a "making of" video, an in-depth look at the voice-recording sessions, brief profiles of the celebrity voice actors, an interactive jukebox, game trailers, and more. The DVD Content section bears more extras than many DVD movies. In fact, the only things missing are deleted scenes and a commentary track. ;-)

Choosing characters and venues in Tricky is fun and akin to navigating a special-edition DVD movie, like T2 or The Abyss. That is, the character- and track-selection screens are in 3D and feature neat effects and transitions between menus. Most of the other menu screens are static, but even they are interesting, thanks to multichannel music and spacey voice samples. Heck, even the loading screens are cool, with background music, animated objects, statistical info, and colorful art and logos completely disguising the little load time that exists. (Remember the long load times in the original SSX?) Unfortunately, saving replays and options between events is still quite lengthy.

Game options range from audio-video customization to control configuration. In the audio department, you can choose among four audio modes (mono, stereo, surround, and DTS), adjust individual sound levels, and select one of several mixes. Video options include two widescreen modes, brightness adjustment, and HUD minimization. Like in the first game, you can completely disable the heads-up display for a clear view of the action. Also, you can set the number of riders (2-6) for Single Event mode, load replays, and save and load options.

During character selection, you can view each character's stats, trick book, profile, and collection of boards and outfits. The game rates each rider/board in the areas of Stability, Edging, Speed, and Tricks. Riders begin with varying stat levels and at Newbie rank (10 ranks in all). As you gain rank, you will be able to raise stats and unlock new boards. Completing each of the six chapters in a character's trick book yields a new outfit. Five tricks make up each chapter, and the game's trick tutorial lets you view, learn, and practice a character's repertoire. Finally, each character's profile reveals his or her background info, likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, and records. Although you cannot design your own character, the characters included have more than enough personality and groovy outfits to keep things fresh.

The control scheme is virtually unchanged from the first game, save for the absence of the camera and rear-view buttons. To switch between the four views (near, medium, far, and overhead), you now must pause the game and select a new view from the pause screen. Sadly, the useful reverse-cam feature has been removed altogether, though the DTS surround sound helps offset this by letting you hear approaching riders. Still, it would have been nice to glance behind to see the goings-on. The default control scheme consists of a Jump button (X), a Tweak/Boost button (Square), and four Grab buttons (L1, L2, R1, R2). The left analog stick controls turning, braking, tucking, and balancing (on rails); the right analog stick dishes out Road Rash-style shoves; and the digital pad controls spins, flips, and rotations (on rails). Once again, a Pro control scheme is available and maps prewinding, spinning, and flipping to the left analog stick. Lastly, the Select button resets your position during those awkward times when you are stuck in an undesirable section of a course.

Gameplay : 95
For Tricky, the developer expanded on the two most exciting aspects of the original game: the tricks and the hits. All the grabs, tweaks, slides, spins, and flips you remember from the first game are back, accompanied by the new and insane Uber tricks. Apart from the new Uber tricks, basic trick execution is similar to the first game. To do various grab tricks, you press combinations of shoulder buttons while in the air, adding an optional tweak with the Square button. To spin and flip, you must prewind before a jump by pressing the X button and holding a direction on the D-pad or analog stick. (Pressing the L3 button while holding the X button cancels a jump, letting you take your finger off the X button without making your character jump.) Once in the air, you release the X button and can add in some grab tricks or additional spins/flips--if you have enough height, that is. Handy Trick Boost power-ups are scattered about each course and briefly increase spinning and flipping. Rail sliding is much more prominent in Tricky, but as in SSX, you must line up perfectly with a rail or object and carefully balance.

The new Uber tricks are done by pressing and holding a shoulder button (or two) for one second, then tapping the Square button. Considering how amazing these tricks are, it's surprising that they are not more difficult to execute. However, before you can attempt an Uber trick, you must completely fill your Boost Meter and cannot bail afterward. (Doing tricks and shoving riders adds boost to the meter.) Furthermore, you only have 20 seconds to do an Uber trick, which is not always enough time to find a suitable launch point. Upon completing the sixth Uber trick--and thus filling each letter of the word Tricky--you receive a Super Boost, an unlimited supply of boost for the remainder of the event. Another way to gain speed is to collect Speed Boost power-ups, which shortly increase your speed but do not add boost to the Boost Meter.

Fighting is the other area of the gameplay the developer has enhanced. You can now score a "Knockdown," which instantly maximizes your Boost Meter, enabling you to do an Uber trick. Knockdowns occur after hitting an opponent particularly hard or smashing into him or her aggressively. The addition of friendship and rivalries among the characters adds depth to the fighting. Each character has at least one friend and enemy, with the remaining characters being indifferent. Characters have aggression meters that display their status (green for friends, red for enemies, and yellow for those who are neutral) and increase or decrease in aggression. Unlike in the first SSX, fighting has a lasting impact, and depending on how you race, you can create enemies or lose friends. Accordingly, a race can be an all-out brawl or peaceful and orderly; it all depends on the number of your enemies present during the race.

The World Circuit, Practice, and Single Event modes have returned with new features, and Time Challenge joins the Race, Showoff, and Free Ride sub-modes of the original game. Practice mode lets you freely shred any available venue or learn tricks via an in-depth trick tutorial. Single Event mode features single Race, Time Challenge, and Showoff events for one or two players. But, like SSX, Tricky is all about the single-player World Circuit mode, where you build up characters and unlock extra venues, characters, and boards.

World Circuit begins with two selectable characters (Eddie and Elise) and a couple of snowboards for each. Each rider specializes in one of three riding styles (Freestyle, Alpine, and BX), affording him or her unique advantages and disadvantages. Likewise, each snowboard is suited for a particular riding style. Race and Showoff are the main events that make up World Circuit mode. Races consist of three heats and award a medal to the first three riders at the finish line. If you fail to place third or better in any heat, you do not advance to the next. The difficulty does not increase drastically between heats like in the first game, so SSX pros and beginners alike should not have too much trouble earning medals. However, because rivalries now exist, the fierceness of the AI can increase dramatically, depending on the temper of your opponents. Having a friend to watch your back can sometimes mean the difference between placing first and placing last. Still, your friends will not win races for you; you still must make good use of your boost and take advantage of any shortcuts or power-ups you find. Capitalizing on your opponents' mistakes is also crucial.

The other part of the World Circuit mode is the trick-based Showoff event. This year's Showoff event litters the courses with extra rails and ramps, replacing certain objects found during regular races with more trick-friendly ones. Just as reversed tracks in a racing game offer new challenges, the extra ramps and rails present during the Showoff event offer new trick opportunities. To earn a medal during a Showoff event, you must meet one of three preset scores while passing checkpoints before time expires. Adding Uber tricks to combos really racks up the points. In addition, you can earn bonus points for big airs and grab various snow crystals to multiply a trick or combo's point value up to fives times its worth. Duplicate tricks are worth fewer points, however, so variety is important.

Replay Value : 96
With several new characters, two new venues, dozens of crazy Uber tricks, and fluctuant rivalries, Tricky has significantly more replay value than SSX. Factor in the several boards and outfits you can unlock for each character and you have more than enough to keep you busy through the winter. New character-specific Ranking movies provide incentive for raising each character's rank from Newbie to Master. And while it's always fun to visit any of the huge, shortcut-filled courses in single-player mode, Tricky's two-player mode is competitive gaming at its best. Lastly, you can check out the DVD Content section for more than an hour's worth of special features (counting the running time of the jukebox).

Overall : 98
SSX Tricky is a near-perfect follow-up to SSX. It has improved gameplay, fantastic DTS surround sound, stunning graphics, and DVD-like menus and extras that put the DVD-ROM format to good use. Put off saving for that new snowboard and buy this game now!

By: Cliff O'Neill 11/7/01



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