In the 26-odd years I’ve spent on this planet, I can only recall playing two video games with my dad.
I think you’d struggle to find a man anywhere who is less interested in the world’s largest entertainment medium than my father, so trust me when I say that the fact we have played two together is significant.
One of these games is Wii Sports. I beat him at golf, which he didn’t take well. I was far handier with a Wiimote than I was with an actual club, much to his annoyance. There was a rematch, five rematches – ten. I’m pretty sure money was involved. He may still owe me, actually. Anyway.
The second – and more relevant to the gushing article you’re about to read – is SSX Tricky, the ludicrously off-the-wall arcade snowboarding game that I’m fairly sure anyone who owned a console in the early ‘00s will at least be familiar with. It was vibrantly colourful, effortlessly cool (in the eyes of an 11-year-old anyway), and its ridiculous trick system gave it the fiendishly moreish score-chasing hook that is still at the core of gaming’s appeal. I’d play it for hours on end, by myself, with my sisters, my mates, my fucking dad. Everyone wanted in.
The game was developed by the now-defunct EA Sports’ Big studio, which was where the company could entertain its less traditional ideas. Remember the original FIFA Street games? Yeah, that lot. If it was inherently absurd and had no interest in the laws of physics, then it would probably be a Big game.
Back in those days, the limitations of technology meant that realistic, po-faced simulations of extreme sports were swerved by developers in favour of cranked-right-to-the-top silliness. The SSX series, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Jet Set Radio of the same era, seized upon the popularity of its respective sport at the time and exaggerated everything that made it fun. In a video game you can go faster than real life would ever allow, hit much bigger heights and pull of positively stupid combos, even if you don’t fully know how you’re doing it. In a game, doing the worm on a snowboard in mid-air is totally achievable. The SSX games practically made you a superhuman doing a real-life sport. That was its magic.
In all of your years with a joystick in hand, how many opening sequences can you honestly say you remember? Or to rephrase the question, how many times have a hip-hop group as big as Run-D.M.C. made one of their songs not only synonymous with a single game, but the unofficial anthem of an entire series? I don’t think it’s happened a lot. Let’s just reacquaint ourselves:
Aside from perfectly selling the game’s wacky look-at-all-the-crazy-shit-you-can-do-ness, that title intro perfectly illustrates another of Tricky’s strengths: its character roster. Excluding Mario Kart, there aren’t too many mutiplayer-focused racing games in which any of the characters you play as have staying power or the imaginative design that makes them memorable.
I can still reel off Tricky’s stars now: you had tattooed nutcase Psymon, a man who would almost certainly demand a Slayer song be played at his funeral; ginger afro-headed Eddie, decked out in ‘70s gear and partial to the aforementioned mid-air worm; Elise, who we were told somehow balanced being a business tycoon and supermodel with her death-defying competitive snowboarding. That’s just a sample of the eclectic mixture of mountain-wreckers the game let you take control of.
Good characters would be worthless, though, if the tracks weren’t up to scratch. Luckily, Tricky was no slouch in this department either. A number of them were situated in vague recreations of real-world places, but each one was meticulously designed to ensure you were never more than a few seconds of play from a ridiculous jump, shortcut or impossibly long rail to grind. The game’s rush came from knowing your farcical acrobatics could be maintained throughout the level – it came from knowing that spending ages flicking through the manual (something many of us miss from games of yesteryear) to learn every outlandish ‘uber’ trick would be rewarded with utter mayhem on screen. SSX Tricky had little interest in downtime.
None were less than decent, but for me a few tracks still stand out, even after all these years. Tokyo Megaplex was essentially freestyle snowboarding in a pinball machine, where vents launched you into the air and onto narrow, snakelike pipes that – if you were skilled/jammy enough – could carry your rider over the other racers below. At ground level, it was about hitting speed boosts, whizzing off kickers and avoiding getting smashed to the ground by the brightly-coloured obstacles of death.
The best of all, though, was Alaska, brand new for SSX Tricky (a lot of the others were remixed from the first game) and all about that Big Air Bonus.
Tricky wasn’t the last game in the SSX series – far from it, in fact. Follow-up SSX 3 arguably topped its predecessor with its wide-open mountain and 30-minute run. Skiing was introduced in 2005’s SSX on Tour, we got waggly motion controls in the Wii’s SSX Blur, and the series’ last entry in 2012, confusingly just called SSX, definitely had some of the previous games’ arcade spirit. But an injection of realism meant it felt like a bit of an awkward halfway house between two approaches to a snowboarding game. It lost some of that zany SSX charm. I played all of these games, but for me – and I’m willing to admit that part of this probably owes to nostalgia – Tricky was the best SSX has ever been.
I’ve dabbled in other snowboarding games, too. The short-lived Amped series veered much more towards lifelike simulation, which was fine, but it just wasn’t as fun as SSX. I’ve gone back to 1080° Snowboarding via the Nintendo Wii U’s Virtual Console, and impressive as it is that that game still holds up today, it doesn’t have SSX’s gleeful stupidity. The most recent game in the genre was *very serious extreme sports voice* Steep, released towards the end of 2016. It had staggering scale, exploration, wingsuits and GoPro product placement absolutely fucking everywhere – but it wasn’t SSX. More specifically, it wasn’t SSX Tricky. Because nothing else is.
This is, I think, the unavoidable problem for snowboarding games. They all bring something different to the table, but most gamers can’t help but make comparisons with SSX in its PS2 glory days. “Good but it’s not SSX is it?” says literally everyone. I can’t think of another genre that finds it so hard to escape the legacy of one series. Nothing quite manages to scratch the itch.
If EA were to announce a brand new entry into their fading snowboarding series tomorrow then I’d naturally be interested, particularly with the processing grunt of the PS4 and Xbox One behind it. I certainly haven’t given up on its progression as a franchise, despite finding the reboot to be smash-your-controller-into-a-thousand-pieces difficult at times and giving up on it fairly quickly for that reason.
But what I really want, reader, is an SSX Tricky remaster. The original game looks rough-as-all-hell these days, but tonally – for me at least – it hasn’t been topped. Contemporary extreme sports games tend to either try just a bit too hard, or not hard enough (we’re looking at you THPS 5). An SSX Tricky remake wouldn’t have that problem. The formula is already there, the larger-than-life characters are there, the old-school soundtrack is there – and a remake would just make it bigger, shinier, even more colourful.
In Ratchet & Clank last year we saw one of the best examples yet of how rebuilding an old game can breath life into gameplay hooks you thought you’d moved on from. It goes without saying that we need innovation in our entertainment, but sometimes nothing beats a blast from the past. It’s very unlikely to happen, but EA have my money now if the were to do the same with SSX Tricky, the greatest snowboarding game of all time. I miss turning a board that is supposed to be bound to my feet into a comical head propellor. I miss Rahzel’s booming commentary. I miss hammering split-screen for hours on end. I miss disco Eddie and his impeccable afro .