Just about any popular series eventually makes its way to a handheld, and the SSX series is no different. SSX was a launch title back when the Playstation 2 launched, and was arguably the best of the bunch. Unfortunately we can't say the same for the handheld versions, SSX has appeared on the Gameboy Advance twice, and once on the N-gage. None of these releases have even resembled the quality of the console versions, so when we heard the game was coming to the PSP we were understandably worried. After an extensive play test is this another disappointment for SSX: On Tour or have EA finally learnt how to develop SSX for handheld gamers?
The first thing we should point out is that SSX: On Tour is not a port of the console versions of On Tour. The game retains some of the ideas from the console versions, such as the skiing races and the rock look, but overall they are fairly different games. Customisation wise you can only really choose between a male or female character, whereas more customisation options were offered in the console versions.
The main mode in the game is the tour mode which is divided into several categories including style, board bigair, ski race, ski slope, ski big air and SSX legend. There are over 100 challenges in total. Each challenge has different goals, such as winning, scoring big or just surviving an elimination. You're able to score medals in each of the challenges and move your way up the SSX leaderboard with the eventual aim of being ranked number one and being proclaimed a SSX legend. The on tour mode is huge, and whilst it is disappointing that the free roaming aspect of SSX 3 has been removed, this method works better.
Aside from the tour mode, there aren't too many other gameplay modes. There is an option called "now" which is a quick play option, and the game features full Wi-Fi support. Unfortunately there is no infrastructure mode which is a little disappointing and would have been a good addition to the game.
Gameplay wise there have been a few changes to the formula. SSX was originally designed for the Dual Shock 2 controller, so not too many sacrifices have had to be made in the transition to the PSP. The Analog nub is far too sensitive again and you're more likely to use the directional pad to control the game. For some reason it still feels like EA haven't fully adjusted to the analog nub of the PSP, as a lot of their games are very sensitive control wise. There is no right analog stick either, so those who are accustomed to the Playstation 2 controls won't find the controls as easy to pick up and play as on the console versions.
The boost button on the Playstation 2 is the square button, and this is true on the PSP version, however when you're airborne if you press the square button it will execute a move, which means sometimes your character will fall in the snow because you wanted to boost not execute a move. This is frustrating and often results in your character bailing at the worst moments.
Whilst the gameplay generally remains fairly fast without any noticable slowdown, it isn't perfect. The camera can often go a little haywire at times, which is a little confusing. At times you can actually see the other side of a snow wall, which is just nothing which makes the game feel a little glitchy. When the action becomes intense the camera may also lose track of the action which makes it hard to see some of the upcoming track.
Whilst SSX On Tour on the consoles has some uniquely different tracks, the courses in this game are ripped directly from SSX 3. SSX 3 had some deadly realistic tracks, where you often had to fight against the terrain, and this has been retained for the portable version. At times trees may be falling down around you or a helicopter could come crashing into view, this would be a lot more impressive if these environmental hazards didn't happen at the exact same place everytime.
The art style in SSX is a complete departure from what we're used to, and this took a lot of adjustment to get used to. The scenary in the background is impressive, and even though we know it is basically a still photo it really does help to make the environments seem bigger. The courses aren't as multilayered as SSX 3, but there are still a few different routes to take throughout each challenge. There have been some omissions of environmental details as well, but it isn't very noticable unless you're an avid fan. EA have also managed to retain the sense of speed of the console versions, but at the beginning the game feels a little slow simply because your character is slow until you start unlocking some bonuses.
We're a little divided on the soundtrack, the EA pocket trax are back and they are simply getting annoying. The rock style of the game really doesn't appear to suit the techno style that was present in SSX 3. EA have included some instantly recognisable songs on the playlight, including music from Iron Maiden, so it seems like a lot of effort has been put in, but personally i preferred the soundtrack from the predecessor.
Whenever a new song comes on the game will flash up the title and artist in the bottom left hand corner, which is a major annoyance. The dialog box takes up about a third of the screen and flashes up every three minutes or so, we think this is unnecessary and it seems like EA just wanted to tout the fact that they have such a large playlist. If you turn the music off and just want to listen to the mountain ambience then we're pleased to report that it has been captured well and there is a lot of sounds to be heard aside from the sound of you shredding through the snow.
The game itself should last a fairly long amount of time. There are plenty of challenges, and if you're after a quick challenge then you can easily just select the quick play option. The multiplayer is a highlight, and we had no hassles with it, except we're disappointed infrastructure support wasn't included for the game. There are a few PSP games coming out these days that are supporting infrastructure, so it's disappointing that this isn't one of those games. We can imagine that the game would be incredible fun online, so we're hoping that this is included in the next incarnation.
Overall SSX: On Tour has made the transition to the PSP fairly faithfully. The controls aren't as good and the courses are recycled from the previous incarnation, but for the first time ever we can take SSX out in public and not feel like we're playing a severely downgraded version. If you can only buy one version of the game the console versions are still better, but if you can see the value of taking SSX on the road with you then you cannot really go wrong with the PSP version.