The last time I mentioned a "Christmas" title, Gungrave was brought up, which I admit was an extensive reach disguised as an excuse to talk about a series I always wanted to play. This time, we're focusing on a game that could be tied to the holidays as it's impossible to discuss winter without snowboarding. SSX was EA's "extreme version" of snowboarding, dating back to the original as a launch title for the PlayStation 2 in 2000. A few months later in 2001, SSX Tricky was released as a sequel to SSX although I have my reasons why it's more of an updated re-release than a true sequel. Two years later, SSX 3 would release on all major consoles, taking the series to a different level.
To explain why I consider SSX 3 one of my favorite games of all time, I'd have to go back to my mindset as a 10-year-old kid. The EA Sports BIG brand was a monumental era for Electronic Arts. It gave casual sports fans a way to enjoy sports games without thinking about realism. If I mentioned that Behold The Kickmen was a game created by someone who doesn't know Soccer, then the EA BIG games were created with the idea of only knowing sports on a basic level. Ironically, these would prove to be some of the best games in EA's catalog, with games like NBA Street Vol 2 and Def Jam Vendetta releasing earlier in 2003. Even outside of the BIG brand, Need For Speed Underground was released mere weeks after SSX 3. It would be a dominant year for EA to say the least.
Each of the games I mentioned holds a place near and dear to me in my heart, but SSX 3 was different. In SSX Tricky, everything was a selection. Choose your boarder, choose your game mode, choose your track, earn medals in tournaments to unlock more stages and boarders, rinse and repeat. Tricky had an unlockable course called Untracked. This course was different from any other in Tricky as the spontaneous glitz and glamour were replaced with a mountain pass covered with untouched snow as vast as the player can see. Combined with the most mellow heroic music I've heard in the series and it was a course where the player was allowed to express themselves.
This concept of traversing fresh and natural snow-capped mountains was further explored in SSX 3 as the entire game took place on a giant mountain. The mountain was split into three peaks, with Peak 1 being the base of the mountain and Peak 3 being the summit. EA didn't stop there as they turned the mountain into as close to an "open world game" as possible. Before the days of Steep, Shaun White Snowboarding, and other titles including indie darling Shredders, SSX 3 was one of the first snowboarding games to have seamless gameplay.
Upon selecting a character, the player is dropped off near the lodging area which is where players will spend their hard-earned money on stats, uber tricks, and gear. One of the major draws was that character choices served as an extension of the player. In SSX Tricky, Mac for example was the trick expert while Elise was all about speed. Since everyone's stats begin at the same level, you can choose your favorite character and build them how you want them to be. If you're consistent with events, you can even max out all of your stats in one sitting. The range of clothing you can have your character wear was also vast, from unique clothing to generic accessories available across the cast.
Each character has just as much personality as they did in SSX Tricky, although, unlike their larger-than-life counterparts, they are more down-to-earth and competitive by nature. If Psymon, Tricky's freak of nature, is mellowed out in this game to be more believable as a human, then it shows how serious SSX 3 was made to be. Just when you think the game was bound by realism, you're pulling off flips and spins and kickflips and moves that are inhumanely possible. SSX 3 felt like a pendulum swinging back and forth between the fantasy fest that was Tricky and this new organic style they were going for.
From the lodge, you can choose your first events; A race event and a trick event. While racing events are self-explanatory going from Point A to Point B, trick events are split into two categories. Big Air events rely on a gimmick that gives the player an opportunity to score the most points. It may be a single large ramp, a half pipe, or a multi-layered half pipe. The second trick event is Slopestyle, which is more akin to Tricky's trick events. There are points and multipliers scattered across an obstacle course of rails, ramps, and objects for big point opportunities.
After each event, the player can decide where to go next, and depending on how close of the vicinity the next event is, there are little to no loading times. At best, your character is seen taking a gondola to the next event. If it's to the top of a peak, they're seen by helicopter. Each character has their own idle animations as well, adding to their personalities. After completing all events of a specific type, the Peak Boss appears to challenge the rider to the backcountry. Clearing all races enables a boss race while all trick events are a challenge to have the most points by the end of the run.
Defeating the Peak Boss in either a race or a trick challenge will unlock the second peak, which the process repeats up until the third and final peak. After all peak bosses are defeated, a final "Ruler Of The Mountain"-style event takes place in which the player goes through all three peaks starting from the summit of Peak 3. It's at the endgame where the beauty of SSX 3 shows itself.
You can venture from the top of the mountain all the way to the base in one sitting with no loading screens and no gimmicks. This predated games like Tony Hawk's American Wasteland by several years, boasting all of Los Angeles being playable without any loading screens. SSX 3 did it first, and it was this formula that would prove consistent with future snowboarding titles.
What tied it all together was a radio DJ who had the personality to match the riders, even providing lore on the latest rivalries and your progress. DJ Atomika was the first in-game radio personality used in an EA title, meant to emulate the riders listening to an ongoing broadcast in between songs. While not exactly on the same level as DJ Professor K, the DJ Atomika character proved to be popular among SSX fans. So much so, that he would return in SSX Blur, SSX 2012, and Burnout Paradise. His appearance in Paradise replaced the DJ Stryker character in Burnout 3 Takedown, who often gets the misconception of being the same person.
Even the official artwork was in a league of its own, drawn by comic artist Adam Warren. Before the success of his Empowered series, he was known for his distinct manga-style artwork, which can be seen from the Featured Image alone. Warren's artwork remains one of the coolest things about SSX 3, providing insight into how the SSX riders enjoy themselves when not on the slopes. As you can see, they are all partygoers when not pushing each other to the edge of a snowy ridge. Each rider also has a biography that provides bonus lore, detailing how each rider connects to others.
I haven't even begun to talk about the music. Every song from the SSX 3 soundtrack is engraved in my brain, from the Black Eyed Peas, Thrice, Dan the Automator, and so much more. What I didn't realize was that certain tracks play during races, which are the more energetic tunes. Other tracks play during trick events which are more groovy and hip-hop based, allowing the player to focus on high scores. As much as I can say about this game, it's not perfect by any means. Several fan favorites do not make a return in SSX 3, including Eddie, Marisol, Brodie, and several others. While they exist in the game as unlockable skins, they do not have any voices tied to them sadly.
The control scheme also requires a bit of time to get used to as the riders feel a bit heavier to gravity this time around. There are some game-breaking glitches including warp abuse, but that has been with the series since the beginning in SSX. Still, take any speedrun of SSX 3 and marvel at how easy it is to rip the game apart from its seams. This also opens up the game's replay value as the main mode is the core mode for SSX 3. Every character's campaign is the same and all of the main characters are unlocked from the start.
Would I recommend playing this game as we approach 2023? Absolutely yes. With the game being available on Xbox as it's backward compatible with Xbox One and Xbox Series X, it's possible for an entirely new generation to try out one of EA Games' best games when the company was at its summit (no pun intended). If there was a starting point to begin one's SSX journey, SSX 3 is the perfect beginning.