SSX: We miss you. Please come back, just like this

Craving to carve the mountain once more

SSX for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is only three-and-a-half years old, but lets be honest: we havent had a proper, joyous SSX about bright color, big music, and even bigger air in over a decade. Starting with the original on PlayStation 2, EA Sports Bigs snowboarding game took the glutted extreme sports genre and revitalized it with a splash of wonderful absurdity. No real world snowboarder could pull of the aerial feats commonplace in SSX, let alone in the middle of a cloud of fireworks, but the series had an intense tangibility in its best moments. At its peak, nothing else felt like SSX and we miss it terribly.

We want you back, SSX. This is everything we loved about you that we want to see in you on modern day machines.

The open world

SSX3 was the game that paired the smooth momentum and deep satisfaction of pulling off tricks in SSX and Tricky with an evolving mountain you could explore at will. SSX 3s open range remains distinct, revealing depth through alternate routes and by connecting individual races and challenges into a seamless whole. By the time you hit the All-Peak race, you know every dip, every jump, and every tree intimately. Today when seemingly every game is an open world, a new SSX with the structure of 3 would be damn refreshing. Just imagine the weather.

DJ Atomika

The soothing voice in your ear as you tricked your way down the mountain at breakneck speed, Atomika always had your back. His updates and announcements made you feel like the peaks were all part of a single, connected space, with your rivals racing down Happiness while youre practicing your grinds in Snow Jam. The tunes Atomika spins were the perfect complement to your snowy stylings, pumping you up and urging you to go faster, soar higher. (Though the ability to remove certain songs from his playlist was particularly helpful whenever Jerk It Out came up.) The Junkie XL remix of Fischerspooners Emerge will always evoke the adrenaline rush of catching really, really big air and nailing that perfect trick, and is there a better song to race to than N.E.R.D.s Rockstar?

Never go out of bounds

For all of SSX 3s openness, it was still tightly designed. If you could just go anywhere on the mountain, the races wouldnt have felt so driven. This isnt a real mountain after all. If it was, Elise would pull off a sweet grind, head off into the woods and then get stuck in mud and rocks. The game smartly laid out boundaries marked by irregular blue signs and if you strayed too far it set you back on the path with only a slight penalty to score, time, or race placement. SSX 2012s mountain, while bracingly sharp and chilly in its capturing of real mountains and weather, also sadly forced you to restart every damn event if you went out of bounds. Obviously a modern SSX can offer even more space than the classics thanks to technological advancements, but an ideal sequel would balance realism with the flexibility and intelligence of those old boundaries.

That audio design

SSX 3s soundtrack is sublime. Just a perfectly curated collection of beats, bass, and soothing, atmospheric ambience. It fits and amplifies the games breezy, airy, giddy vibe of extreme fun without limitations in a gloriously jubilant, blisteringly eclectic way. Its bona fide landmark in licensed video game soundtracks that has still, 12 years later, not even been approached in terms of quality or creativity. But you know what makes it even better? The damnably clever – witty, even – way that the games dynamic audio design squeezes every last drop of exhilaration out of every track in its roster. Thread and weave through a tight, shimmering cave or tunnel, and the bass and reverb will crank up, surrounding you with your environment by piping it directly through your ears. Launch into a big air, and the heavier elements will drop away, until eventually the entire track falls to the earth below your skyborne feet, replaced only with clean breezes and birdsong. Until that is, you hit the ground and the party kicks back off once more.

Track design as dynamic rollercoasters

SSX3s track design is a masterwork of intricacy, instinct, pacing and pathfinding. Where other racing games will present their depths by way of lines to be perfected, apexes to ace in order to shave fractions of seconds off race times over weeks to come, SSX at its best is at once more open and free, and far more creatively demanding. Traverse an area a couple of times, and youll think you know it. But you dont. Youve only seen its surface layer. The greatest success (and fun) does not come from honing. It comes from exploring. Hit that grind-rail you hadnt previously noticed, and you might spot a pylon cable if you leap off it just right. Wouldnt it be cool if you could grind that? Guess what. You can. Then theres that railway track that youll find if you crash into that secret tunnel, from that hidden rail, from that hidden jump, from that secret shortcut between buildings. Actually forget exploration. SSX is more about hacking a track, peeling it apart like an onion and finding new track upon new track hidden in plain site in the same space. Thats what we need from a new SSX. Lets scale it up even further and forget the last games mountainside vagueries.

The boarders

Characters in sports games – the ones that arent modeled after real-life athletes, that is – tend to be fairly interchangeable, but the boarders of SSX 3 have distinct personalities and styles. You dont choose your in-game representative based on their stats or gear, but on their swag. For me, the perfect SSXer always be Elise, whose easy confidence never falters, even when a beefed landing leaves her face-deep in powder. Take myyyyy picture! she yells whenever she does something really brag-worthy, which is exactly how were supposed to feel as we master SSXs slopes one by one. SSXs characters are a marvelously diverse assortment of superstars, misfits, jerks, and cutiepies that dont feel like they were designed by focus groups. Keep it that way.

Pure, unadulterated snowboarding

Maybe it seems strange to single out snowboarding as one of the best things about what is ostensibly a snowboarding video game, but SSXs signature sport got lost under some cumbersome accoutrements as the series went on. On Tours skiing wasnt unwelcome. Nor were the wingsuits in SSX 2012. With every new accessory, though, SSX lost some of the perfect balance in its core flow of movement on a board. Carving a line, hitting a buttery jump and spinning as it crests. Thats the good stuff, not buying an extra pick axe or air purifier in a menu for microtransaction cash. And not that its a worry at this point in popular development, but the sooner we all forget SSX Blurs atrocious motion controls, the better.

The deceptive depth of half-pipe trick competitions

SSXs smooth, weighty boarding isnt just about broad-strokes, downhill spectacle though. The half-pipe trick competitions of the series earlier entries are damnably satisfying, desperately strategic timesinks, and we need them back. Like everything in a good SSX, it seems simple at first. Two big jumps sitting opposite each other, a timer, and a bunch of points to score. But like everything in a good SSX, youll be discovering the hidden depths of cleverly stacked design in minutes. Momentum leads to bigger jumps. Bigger tricks lead to more boost, which leads to extra air, which in turn leads to hidden means of launching yourself, even whole new, airborne pipes. And then there are the various trick and point boosters carefully littered around the arena, which youll soon learn not to hoover up willy-nilly, but to collect methodically, at exactly the right time, as you plan your route to carve across the pipe to hit them at just the instant needed to really make your biggest moments sing.

Minimize loading

In the age of modern PCs, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, monumentally fast computing machines across the board, speedy loading times remain an issue in most games, particularly those sporting big open spaces to play in. If SSX brings us back to the mountain top, graphical fidelity, scope of the mountain, and fancy real-time weather effects should all be balanced around giving you swift, instant access to events and free boarding on the mountain. Every entry in the SSX series, from the pinnacle of SSX 3 to the awkward modernity of SSX 2012, suffered from painfully long loading times.

Keep your online play off my mountain

Look, we get that big, connected, internet-powered video games are a thing, but sometimes that stuff just gets in the way. A new SSX has to focus on what made the previous games great. Namely focus, presence, and ownership of the environment. To that end, we dont want certain events – or even areas – fenced off into the online-only realm, nor do we want a particularly vast swathe of the game to be online-enabled at all. Races, leaderboards, and ghost downloads. Thats it, please. And give us the ability to participate or deactivate that stuff at will. We dont want to be cruising the mountain, taking in the air and the vibe to the delicate sounds of Royksopp, only for some wayward stranger to invade and bump us off the lip of a crest. Those wastrels have no place in SSX, and nor does that behaviour.

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