Version tested: Wii
When Nintendo got up on stage at (insert trade show/press conference/railway platform of choice) and told the world it wanted to make gaming simpler and more approachable, somebody at EA clearly wasn't listening. SSX Blur is about as accessible as an Arctic supply station with no doors. Even if you've played all the other SSX games top to bottom and then caught the chairlift back up again, you'll still need to plug around an hour into the tutorials if you want to do anything more complicated than standing up.
It's one of those Wii games that requires the use of both hands. In your left is quality, in your right is a confusing mess. The nunchuk is used to steer your rider down the hill, as you might imagine, but not necessarily in the way you imagine - while the analogue stick can be used for subtle tweaks, the real steering is done by twisting your hand around as though you're leaning into the turns, while jumps are performed by flicking it upward. It's a good system, and after five minutes or so you won't have to think about it at all to get the most from it, which is as it should be. Binding the boost function to the Z-trigger makes sense, too.
On and indeed with the other hand, you're supposed to be doing flips, sideways rotations, ubertricks, bail-outs and even throwing the odd snowball, and this is where things are a bit less helpful. The idea of using hand-gestures to activate tricks isn't a problem, but SSX has always been about doing big combination moves, and here things falter. If we're honest, combination grabs and rotations were always a bit of a button-mash, even on the Dual Shock, but it wasn't all that difficult to inject a bit of variety by clawing for a different combination of shoulder buttons when you leapt off a cliff. On the Wii, that instinctive injection of variety is impossible to achieve, and most of your success will either be down to intense concentration or luck. Grabs, meanwhile, have to be performed in a different phase of the combination - separated by hitting the A button to disengage from a rotation or flip - as they are controlled by slightly awkward contortions of the nunchuk wrist. Prior to landing, you have to press A or B again to straighten up, rather than simply releasing.
Before that though, you might want to deploy an ubertrick, and these are really badly done. The idea is to jump, wait for a prompt and then point the Wiimote at the screen and draw one of a number of shapes with the pointer to start the display. Sounds good in theory, but while the initial Z-shape ubertrick won't trouble anyone, the more complicated ones - heart shapes, and other combinations of tiny loops and straights - are near-impossible to pull off with any elegance or certainty of success. Ubertricks, as you would imagine, score a lot higher than anything else, since you have to charge up your boost meter first in order to make use of them, and they become very important in some of the game's later show-off tournaments, as the AI sets commanding targets scores before you have the chance to join in.
The net result of all this control confusion is that SSX Blur demands just as much mastery as its predecessors, but sets the bar for entry much higher, and never gives you the sense you're fully in control of clearing it. By the time you reach the third mountainside you may be proficient enough to set high scores with the best of them, but the necessary feeling of total control is absent, leading to a sense of detachment with which the other SSX games - for all the occasional shoulder-mashing therein - never had a problem. Practice can teach you to avoid the more obvious pitfalls, but it never makes perfect.
The courses themselves aren't badly designed - they're a mixture of those seen in past SSX games - but they've been shaved and stuffed in a Wii suit, when they should have been purposely built with the vagaries of the controls taken into account. The best bits are the massive jumps, the deep, swooping turns and the sense of speed - and these should have been emphasised over the shortcuts, intricate grind-rail matrices and other elements that demand precision, and thus struggle to gel with the control scheme.
That's not to say that SSX Blur is a particularly bad game, though. Indeed, it's still a relatively satisfying one once you get your head around the basics. As you cut a path through the content, you'll uncover a wide range of tournaments, which you can either work your way to by carving around the resort hub on each of the game's three slopes, or access directly from the menus, and the difficulty curve for these is fairly well-judged. Graphically the game inherits the PS2 originals' distinctive, slick aesthetic, and apart from the odd droop in frame-rate and some questionable load-times, the Wii makes light work of the processing graft, filling out the screen with the sort of detail SSX fans will have come to expect. It even finds a bit of time to showboat, covering the player in snow when he takes a tumble. And you can turn off the stupid DJ, too, for which I'm tempted to add marks.
More thought might have gone into the interface, though. It sounds like a small point, but in a game that uses the Wiimote's pointer to navigate menus, why bunch all the buttons so closely together? And for goodness sake don't put "Continue" and "Give Up" right next to each other when the latter doesn't even want a confirmation prompt to dump you unceremoniously back to the level hub. Accidentally quitting midway through a tournament is bound to happen once or twice if you're not mindful, so be careful out there.
For all its faults, Blur will win praise in some quarters for allowing you to do what SSX generally ought to allow with a fancy new control scheme. Ultimately though, it doesn't really live up to its billing however you choose to look at it. Within the context of the series, it's a rather unnecessary addition that - for all EA Canada's good intent - only really succeeds in somersaulting its square-edged bottom through a round hole onto a powdery downward slope of faint praise. It's "quite good", but having to relearn how to play through things you've already done in a slightly less convincing and measured manner is never going to be the best of fun. Even outside the SSX context, it's merely a nicely imagined approach to arcadey snowboarding that doesn't quite gel thanks to ill-fitting levels and slightly random trick controls.
All of which is a shame, really, because it's clear that these chaps could do a very good Wii snowboarding game from the ground up, given the time and resources. Perhaps that's what EA will try next, and I do hope so, because there's much promise here. In the meantime, SSX Blur is worth a go if you can put up with a few moments of frustration and the feeling of being slightly detached from your achievements, but those in search of a good snowboarding game would do better to stick with the good snowboarding games that EA has already made.
6 / 10