4/9/2007 7:14:50 AM
SSX Blur Nintendo Wii Review
By Rich Dixon
I can remember when I first learned to snowboard. I'd been skiing for most of my life, and occasionally I've been known to rollerblade, so I didn't expect it to go too badly. Sure, I'd heard all the horror stories, about how you finish your first day covered in bruises, but it's just a mountain covered with snow, and I'd been flying down those things for years. I expected to fall, certainly, but I also expected to more or less get the hang of it that day. I couldn't have been more wrong. I did manage to keep a good attitude throughout the day -- unlike my sister, who quit for good after the first hour -- but the next day I found myself seriously wondering if I had cracked my ribs. I was in a lot of pain from all the falling, but the biggest challenge to overcome was the frustration. Your first day snowboarding you fall, get up, and fall again. Everything is hard, and everything is accompanied by the feeling that you're in mortal danger because your feet are bolted to a piece of wood and the instructions you're receiving don't make a lot of sense. Lean forward to control? That's crazy; leaning forward will make you fall. So you lean backwards to maintain your balance and then the board flies out from under you and you bang your head on the ground for what feels like the hundredth time. It's painful, exhausting, and very, very frustrating.
Enter "SSX Blur," which is a little too close to the real thing. The SSX series makes no attempt to simulate snowboarding; this is an arcade snowboarding game that comes with all the exaggerations and physical impossibilities that you'd expect from arcade racers like the "Need for Speed" series. When you go off a jump in an SSX game, you don't just jump, you practically shoot into orbit. So when I sat down to my first day of virtual snowboarding, I wasn't expecting an exercise in frustration, I was expecting something that aimed to be fun and easy in its basics, with a few challenges thrown in for those who wanted them. Unfortunately, what I found was a whole lot of frustration.
You get your first taste in the tutorials. This is the first Wii version of the franchise, so of course the controls are all tied to the motion-sensing controls. You turn by tilting the nunchuk attachment to the left and right, and make tight turns by adding the nunchuk thumbstick to the mix. That part works well enough, though I found the steering tutorial to still be an exercise in frustration (note to the developers: when people playing your game for the first time fail the tutorials repeatedly, you need to change the tutorial -- they're not there to challenge us). You jump by flicking the control up, which also works well enough when you remember to do it; I guess I'm old school, because I kept trying to jump by timing button-presses. It's when you get to the tricks, though, that the real frustration of snowboarding comes to the fore. "SSX Blur" is designed as if it was intended for the Nintendo DS: you perform tricks by pressing the A button and forming shapes in the air. This might work fine with a stylus, but in my experience it almost never worked with the Wii motion controls and so this is a game where you fail to do what you want, over and over again, even though you're doing everything you're supposed to. That, my friends, is a recipe for frustration, and frustration kills the fun of a game faster than anything.
It wasn't long before I had more or less given up on the tricks, and I went looking to see if I could just freestyle my way down the mountain and have fun doing the things that weren't broken or fiendishly difficult. And I found a few races that were fun enough, though the tournaments seemed a little quick to dump me out and prevent me from racing further when what I really wanted to do was screw around a bit and have fun. When you start the game only certain areas are accessible, and unfortunately some of them -- such as the half-pipe -- are only of interest if you've mastered the trick controls. There's one race you can run, which will unlock a tournament, but until you win the tournament that's about as far as you can go in the game. What's missing is a free run down the side of the mountain where you can just snowboard and screw around and do nothing in particular except have fun. That's what I was looking for, that's what I didn't find, and as a result that's why I didn't really enjoy this game. If there's one thing an arcade-style snowboarding game should be, it's fun. Leave the frustration to the sims.
In sum, "SSX Blur" is a game that shows some promise if you're willing to sink a bunch of time into figuring out the tricks and getting them to work with the Wii controls. If you want something that's less frustrating than the real thing, look further.
Graphics: 7. Nothing breathtaking, though some of the snow effects are nice.
Sound: 6. I expected the DJ to be annoying, but man -- that guy was working overtime.
Gameplay: 7. Not as fun as it should have been.
Replayability: 7. A good amount of unlockable areas, if you have the patience for it, and there's never really a point where you'll be done with the half-pipe.
Overall: 7. In a few years, developers may have figured out how to use the Wii controls in a game like this. "SSX Blur" is not that game.
SSX Blur Nintendo Wii Review