Video Game Picks: SSX

May 19, 2012

Raleigh News & Observer

True story: My 18-year-old nephew, a college freshman and avid snowboarder, recently tore his ACL on the first day of a planned weeklong ski trip and had to return home. (His fraternity was sharing a lodge with three sororities – this seems relevant.)

As consolation, I sent him a copy of the very excellent “SSX” (PS3, X360; rated E; $59.99), figuring he could at least do some armchair snowboarding in the dorm room. He has since reported back that he’s totally addicted.

A reboot of EA’s popular extreme sports franchise, “SSX” (it stands for Snowboard Super Cross) hits that sweet spot of effective game design – easy to learn, hard to master. The control scheme supports hundreds of direction-and-button combos for insane tricks, but if you’d rather just shoot straight down the mountain, you can do that too. In fact, my eight-year-old son prefers to do exactly that, and it’s a testament to the game that he’s just as hooked as his cousin.

SSX features state-of-the-art visual and sound design, and a playful adaptive soundtrack that responds to your actions. Sequence enough tricks in a row, and Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky” gets seamlessly mixed into the beat-heavy rock/hip-hop/techno score. Level-wise, the individual courses feature multiple viable runs down the mountain, with an astounding array of environmental effects and a visceral sense of velocity. SSX literally makes me dizzy, and that’s a good thing.

Hardcore competitors can take advantage of the game’s online multiplayer options, although there is a conspicuous absence of any local multiplayer/split-screen modes.

Heavy Rotation: Last year’s near-unanimous choice for Game of the Year, the fantasy RPG “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” (PC, PS3, X360) has been in heavy rotation for a while now. With its open-world design – a specialty of developer Bethesda Game Studios – this is a game you can power through in a weekend, or dip into for a few hours, for a few months.

The violence and occasional language make “Skyrim” decidedly Not For Kids, but here’s a tip: If you stick to the marketplaces and shops, you can play along with the wee ones by just buying and selling turnips and cabbages, or whatever. Then wander the outskirts of town and enjoy the games gorgeous landscapes, complete with two moons and dazzling Northern Lights in the sky.

New This Week: EA’s perennial golfing sim returns with “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13,” including a new mode for playing as the 3-year-old Tiger Woods – for realsies. Also, the mischievous platformer “Rayman Origins” on PC and race game “Ridge Racer Unbounded” on X360 and PS3.

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