I've seen enough arguing over whether Tricky is a true sequel to last me until SSX 3, but there is an obvious common thread linking these naysayers; they haven't played it. SSX Tricky is the finest example of a snowboarding game on any system, boasting tweaked control, improved visuals, added aggression and a boatload of new tricks. Arguably there are only two 'new' courses, but you would be a fool to gloss over the changes. There must still be some people who are new to SSX, so allow me to explain briefly what we are dealing with. SSX is a snowboarding game consisting of single and multiplayer races and a World Circuit mode, with two main sections to the latter - Race and Show-off. In Race mode you have to hurl yourself down increasingly elaborate courses, staying ahead of five other riders for three heats per track, whereas in Show-off mode you are all by yourself, with a certain points total to reach and floating snowflake multipliers to grab. You can just direct yourself with the analogue stick, but the idea is to take advantage of some of the series of jumps along the way to pull off mind-blowing tricks and, as the man said, Tricks equals boost: boost equals speed. You perform tricks by jumping at the right time and using a combination of your directional pads to turn in mid-air and the four shoulder buttons to handle different grabs. The boost button takes on the 'tweak' function during jumps, allowing you to pick up maximum points, while careering into a snowflake in mid-air can multiply the score for that jump by two, three or five, depending on the snowflake. Perform enough tricks and your boost bar will start to fill up, allowing you to improve your speed. Power it up the whole way and you can perform a special 'Über' trick, a masterful new addition to Tricky which are activated by holding a shoulder button for two seconds and then tweaking. They consist of anything from breakdancing on the board in mid-air to twirling it around your neck. Über tricks are signature moves, with a certain number per character, and pulling one off is so rewarding that the prospect of playing through the game with every character just to see them all is fine by me.
Old board, new tricks
Many of the first game's critics took pleasure from the announcement that Tricky would consist mostly of the same old tracks with two new additions. But it's abundantly clear from even a few minutes with one of the 'old' tracks that EA Sports' BIG Canada team took the revamps very seriously. In fact, for the most part any recognition is more déjà vu than anything, and fans will be amazed at the boldness of the changes. Famous sections of notable tracks, such as the hidden cross-country shortcut at the start of Mesablanca, are entirely different, with multiple paths leading off the shortcut to boot. But Tricky's track design isn't merely impressive for the placement of new grinds that stretch across half the level and the enormous number of new and intricate shortcuts concealed behind breakable glass SSX symbols. The biggest and most important improvement has to be the tweaks to the more glitch-prone SSX tracks. Through a combination of insane airtime, boosts and power-ups, you could bear witness to questionable clipping (putting your head through a grinding bar, for example) and respawn problems. In theory the self-right system, controlled by the Select key, deposits you back in a safe position on the course from wherever you are, and is automatically triggered if you end up somewhere silly (such as in a rock crevice). Our litmus test for how thorough EA had been with the bug-testing and reworking was a particular point on Elysium Alps in the first game. Hurl yourself in a certain direction at the right speed and you will need to respawn, so the game puts you in mid-air, crashing towards - you guessed it - another rockface requiring another spawn. This wasted time. So is it gone from SSX Tricky? Yes, and the clipping problems are gone, too. SSX Tricky is also a strikingly solid game to look at, and much clearer than its ancestor. The fuzzy visuals of the first game have been sharpened considerably and the textures, character animations and visual effects have been vastly improved. Fog and mist swirl in the valleys and atop the peaks, and whereas even the sight of this would reduce the original game to half its optimal framerate, Tricky barely breaks a sweat. It's amazing just how many things EA Sports managed to do with snow without stressing the hardware, and they have carved tracks out of just about every kind of mountain at every time of day.
SSX Tricky looks magnificent, right down to the interface, which has seen a significant overhaul. Characters dance around the select screen and entice you to pick them, and once you do you can check their attributes, boards, and even change their outfits. It's a much more graphical user interface, but there are some operational changes too. For example, you can now restart any track - race or show-off - by hitting Start and selecting Restart from the pop-up menu. You could only do this in Single Race mode before, which was annoying. And unlike in the original game, this preserves your place in whichever heat of the race you happened to be on. There is no lives system or anything like that - EA recognizes that you're going to mess up in the first minute or so now and then. Another improvement is the ability to go directly to the event of your choice at the end of a race. In the first game, you often had to head through various menus, but not here. You can choose which track to race on and even see your rank there. One of the most lauded-over features in the new game though is the aggression system. I seem to remember being knocked for six by the likes of Jurgen (now replaced by Luther) anyway, but this is a nice change. At the start of each race you get to see what each rider thinks of you; whether they are a friend, an enemy of indifferent to you. Depending on how much you thump them out of the way during the race (which you actually gain boost for, perversely), they may come back at you. The aggression system adds to the difficulty of each race, because you do not want to line up a perfect jump only to be smacked down and left to trickle off a cliff. Each of the other characters' individual aggression is remarkable, but no more so than the voice acting and sheer personality of each of them. The voice acting is professionally done with the likes of Lucy Lui and Macy Gray amongst the cast. It adds some spice to the game, and the cheesy put-downs and backchat are sublime.
Break-it break-it down
The AI has also been spiced up for the sequel, and it's a lot fairer now. Whereas in the first game the difficulty doubled for the final heat, it's a lot more relaxed now, which means things are less frustrating. It's still not an easy game though, and the sheer volume of things to do and see will keep even the biggest SSX fan occupied for months. That's me, by the way. I've been playing the original game for about a year on and off, and I know it inside out. And yet SSX Tricky, a game built almost entirely upon the shoulders of its predecessor, still appeals to me like nothing you can imagine. From the networks of overhead grinding rails in Tokyo Megaplex to the jaw-dropping freefall into the mist on the very first cliff-top of Garibaldi, this game is a treat. Talk about a complete package, too. DVD extras are included which chart the making of the game, including interviews with the team, voice actors and more, and a little insight into the minds of the programmers behind some of the world's coolest trick jumps. Add to this already inexplicably cool package one of the hippest soundtracks in any game. Amongst the tunes are Run DMC's Tricky (including remix) and a number of other pieces to fit the scenery from the likes of the Beastie Boys. From techno to break beats to pseudo-classical, the game has everything needed to help get your pulse racing. Each racetrack starts off with a simple tune, but as soon as you max out your boost bar Tricky kicks in, climaxing with a yell of "TRICK-Y!" when you pull off an Über trick. SSX Tricky is the height of cool. If I had to pick a few random faults, I probably could though. Let's see... I still think the game's less-than-obvious appraisal of what constitutes a boardable surface needs a bit of polish; if you touch certain surfaces you're knocked flat, whereas others can be ridden like the snow. And I still think there's too much going on in SSX for the split-screen mode to work properly, so it's a shame there's no i.Link option. Another problem is the so-called control tweaking. When you hold the jump key down your position is supposed to be locked so you can set up the angle and rotation for your jump, but in Tricky waggling the analogue stick still moves you from side to side, making it impossible to choose a direction. The D-pad on the other hand allows you to get into position, as the analogue stick used to. The two do have plenty of different functions now within the trick setting, but it's a real bitch having to change your play style after a year.
Never before has there been a better example of a 'cool' videogame. EA Sports BIG have defied their critics and come out with the best snowboarding game ever, a hundred times improved on its predecessor. The same tracks? Pfft, they're anything but that. One of the key successes is the complete abandonment of convention - screw physics, we want to breakdance on the boards in mid-air. SSX Tricky is bigger and better, with more explosions. Everybody with a PS2 should buy this game - it's the stuff of legends.