Review Name: SSX Blur (Wii) Category: Console Genera: SSX Blur continues EA Big’s long-running SSX franchise of over-the-top snowboarding games. It has all the elements that an SSX veteran would expect from the series: impossibly high speeds, ridiculously big air, elaborate tricks and a general disregard for the laws of physics. What makes Blur special, however, is the fact that it was built from the ground up just for the Wii, and remains a Wii exclusive title. This turns out to be a distinction which, ultimately, makes Blur a game worth playing.
Blur’s gameplay is structured much like other extreme sports games. The player controls a skier or snowboarder from a third person perspective Most of the game’s content can be found in Career Mode, which allows a player to take a character through various events, challenges and tournaments, earning character stat boosts and unlocking new courses, equipment and outfits. The events include half-pipe, slopestyle, race, big air and slalom, with each course supporting one or two different events and the courses themselves spread across three different mountain peaks. Alternately, the player can choose not to enter events, and instead free ride down the mountain, collecting tokens which can unlock new tricks, and finding challenges, which are mini-events with varying objectives, such as grind 450 meters of rail within the time limit or win a one-on-one race. The events and challenges are all generally fun to play, and no one activity really feels like filler.
One complaint made in many reviews of the game, however, is that the slalom events are notably more challenging than the others. While this is true, they are definitely not insurmountable for a player willing to spend a bit of time learning the course and finding the right speed and rhythm. In addition to the career mode, SSX Blur also has a single event quick play option and multiplayer support, which allows two player split screen race and slopestyle events, and two to four player hot-seat play for big air, half-pipe, and slalom. The multiplayer modes are limited but functional, only allowing the players their choice of character and course before setting them on the slope in a head-to-head match.
Technically speaking, the power of the Wii allows for a bit of a graphical boost over the SSX games for the PS2. The extra capabilities of the newer console are manifested mostly as special effects, like speed blur, sparkling snow, and the glowing trails left by spinning and flipping characters. The technical quality of the geometry and texturing of the models and landscapes is sufficient but not impressive. While the visuals aren’t a technological showcase, the overall artistic design of the game is quite good. The general appearance of each mountain is fresh and clean with enough variety in the landscape to be interesting. The visual style of the game has been toned down from the in-your-face attitude of the early SSX games to create a more subtle and mellow flavor. Instead of having fluorescent colors and bright city lights, Blur’s mountains are depicted primarily with shades of blue and white. The mild visual style also applies to the characters themselves, who have more of a cartoon aesthetic than before. There are some nice details as well, like the snow that covers a character after he bails in the powder. One element that really stands out is the character animation, which is uniformly smooth and believable throughout the game. The overall look is an attractive, if not spectacular, package.
The musical soundtrack by Junkie XL is made up of a range of DJ style hip hop and club tunes. One unique part of the game is the ‘groove meter’, which, while functioning like the special trick bars in past games, also affects the music depending on how full it is. If the character lands several tricks in a row and keeps moving fast, the bar fills up, and more instrumental tracks are layered into the music. If the player bails or comes to a stop, the music stops too. While it is genuinely rewarding to hear the full sonic range of some of the game’s tunes when the groove meter is full, it’s also irritating to have the musical flow come grinding to a halt whenever the character stops. The sound effects suit the game well without being remarkable. The characters wordlessly grunt or yell when appropriate. There is also a DJ/Announcer that declares event results and comments on various topics while freeriding. While some players may find him amusing, those who have heard too much of the DJ can turn him down or off in the options menu.
SSX Blur, being a Wii game, has a control scheme unlike any game before it. This is where opinion divides on this game. What makes the control scheme unique, even for a Wii game, is that it is decidedly not easy, intuitive, or simple. It takes a good thirty to sixty minutes of play for the average player to get a really good feel for the controls. Ultimately, this means Blur is not a casual, pick-up-and-play game, but is more geared toward experienced gamers looking for something novel and challenging. On a practical level, the controls are divided between the nunchuck and remote, with the nunchuck mostly used for on-ground control and the remote dedicated to tricks.
Steering is accomplished by rolling the nunchuck left or right, with the analog stick used in tandem for extra sharp turning. The options menu also allows the player to shift all of the turning control to either the analog stick, the nunchuck tilt, or any balance between the two. While on the ground, holding the Z button activates a speed boost, and holding B and then making a throwing motion with the remote while releasing the button will launch an auto-aimed snowball at opponents. Flicking upward with the nunchuck or pressing the A button on the remote causes the character to jump. Once in the air, flicking vertically or horizontally with the remote initiates flips and spins, and tilting any direction with the nunchuck and holding the Z button executes various grabs. In addition to the range of typical moves, there are also ubertricks, which, as any SSX fan knows, are spectacular physics-defying stunts that are necessary for generating enough points to ace trick-focused events.
The implementation of ubertricks in Blur is totally different from the other titles in the series. Instead of being activated by button combos, the ubertricks in Blur are performed by holding the A button on the remote while drawing certain shapes in the air. The simplest ubertricks require drawing a loop or a Z, while the most complex ones use both the remote and nunchuck to draw mirrored patterns. This is where most players will have trouble with the game. The ubertrick detection is finicky, causing many players to unsuccessfully attempt a trick dozens of times before performing it with any consistency. The process can be accelerated somewhat by use of a special section of the tutorial menu that allows the player to attempt the shape repeatedly while it tells the player if it was detected successfully. While this method of learning ubertricks generally works, it’s not exactly fun. The upside, however, to the difficulty of performing ubertricks, is the satisfaction of accomplishment when the player has enough skill to nail one ubertrick after another with consistency and rack up a record half-pipe score.
The game is, for the most part, technically seamless. Minor glitches sometimes surface, such as when the character gets stuck in an awkward place or somehow is able to stand against the vertical wall of a half pipe without falling. In one instance I witnessed the character fall right out of the rendered world and respawn back on the course after a few seconds of free fall. None of these problems happen often or have a significant impact on gameplay. The splitscreen mode, however, has some more pressing issues. The game’s performance drops notably when two players are playing. While the single player game runs well over 30 frames per second the majority of the time, splitscreen seems to run within the range of 15-25 FPS, damaging the game’s sense of speed and fluid movement. In addition to the framerate drop, the view distance is also reduced for splitscreen play, meaning that trees and boulders can sometimes be seen popping into existence as the character approaches them.
This game is easy to recommend to families and those concerned about the content of their games. The ESRB gives SSX Blur an E rating, with a ‘comic mischief’ descriptor. The game’s violence consists of snowball throwing and high speed wipe outs. And unlike previous SSX games, all of the female characters in Blur are dressed modestly. I didn’t notice any issues with language or spirituality, but on the moral/ethical side of things it’s worth noting that the game does encourage a ‘do whatever it takes to win’ attitude which includes knocking down other players and taking shortcuts to get the gold medal.
Minor technical issues aside, SSX Blur is an easily enjoyable game for any player willing to spend some extra time and effort adjusting to the difficult control scheme. While the complexity of the controls and the basic multiplayer makes this game a poor choice for casual party gaming, Blur offers a large and rewarding single player experience for dedicated players.
Game Play (16/20) Graphics (8/10) Sound (7/10) Stability (4/5) Controls/Interface (4/5) Violence (9/10) Language (10/10) Sexual Content/Nudity (10/10) Occult/Supernatural (10/10) Cultural/Moral/Ethical (9/10)
Final Score (87/100)