If the gaming industry just gives me one last remaster before their remastering machines run idle, please let it be SSX Tricky. From today’s perspective, where many major publishers still rely on realistic styling and serious appearances, it is probably not as easy to advocate SSX Tricky as it is for a series like Tony Hawk’s. Both may have killer soundtracks and are certainly popular sports games for gamers of my generation, but SSX Tricky could never act as a vehicle for its sport or the sporting personalities behind it. It basically lacks the real marketing and real story that plays such a big part in FIFA, F1 and the other sports games with annual releases and big licensing deals.
His ultra-arcade style, completely unrelated to how real snowboard events actually work (I don’t know, but I doubt his ice tunnels and sky-high rails are a thing), proved to be his big selling point. Everything about SSX Tricky is loud and disobedient, but unlike Jet Set Radio it’s still packaged as a sporting competition, just one where knocking opponents off the track is openly encouraged and rewarded.
I’ve played few games in my life with the kind of obsession I’ve had with SSX Tricky. I wanted to perfect every course and unlock every outfit for every character, and I think I did that because SSX Tricky is the kind of game where you feel cool in different ways that are all equally important. There’s the low skill cap – you feel cool with very little, and you can invest in your skills and get really good at the game, a feeling I didn’t really get to experience in other sports games until then. Landing a cool trick in SSX Tricky is easy, partly because of the good controls, but also because even the simplest trick looks cool. Your character and the announcer react, the score, no matter what it is, looks nice and big, and then of course it says “Tricky!” celebrating your successful landing. It’s even better if you get plenty of airtime that the game sets up with huge unmissable ramps at least once on each track. For a moment you hear nothing but the howling of the wind and it’s just you and the sky.
There’s always something to do with throwing yourself from a great height in video games, but it’s even better if you can use it to perform a ridiculous trick like the propeller, where riders have their boards spin like propellers in front of their faces, or the LaLaLa Lock Step, where riders spin their board clockwise and spin themselves counterclockwise. These tricks are obviously too wild to be real, but I feel like they were designed in such a way that you still feel like they could be real. Originating in athletic feats or dance moves, they look so snazzy that I still enjoy many of them for animation, even if the rest of the game has sadly not aged as gracefully.
SSX Tricky understood something about characters that licensed games can take for granted – sports games are often more fun when you can enjoy them as someone you like. In FIFA, you play as your favorite team, and seeing Tony Hawk’s digital alter ego in Tony Hawk 1+2 was a moment of glory, both for those of us who grew up with the real-life skater and those for whom he just was a digital avatar. But the snowboarding scene and Tricky as an arcade game, as mentioned, didn’t have such recognizable faces, so it just sort of made its own image.
The characters of SSX Tricky are not just avatars with a very strong sense of fashion; They have backstories, friendships, rivalries, and favorite movies. I will say that some of the character designs come a little close to caricature – as nice as it is to have a Latino character in Venezuela’s Marisol Diez Delgado, she is portrayed as “a blend of innocence and raw sexuality, someone who… it can”. She doesn’t keep her temper under control and likes to party all night.” Typical Latina stereotype. Likewise, African American Seeiah Owens is “a self-sufficient sistah” who’s into R&B and Spike Lee movies. Back in the early 2000s it was just nice to see that characters like this existed, today I would speak to their designers. As executive producer Steve Rechtchaffner put it at the time: “Subtlety probably wasn’t a good thing with characters.”
Even these characters, stereotypical as they may be, are brought to life by their voice actors. SSX Tricky, a snowboarding game, was voiced by a group of people who could take on a Pixar movie cast from the early 2000s. Ok, maybe Dreamworks, but you get the gist. The game has a great DVD Extras section, generally a nice idea for collecting bonus material where each voice actor is introduced and they dutifully say PR snippets like “I didn’t know video games could look like this” and “Yeah, I play it a lot,” while looking like a person with a camera had ambushed them with a foot out the door at 5 a.m. Celebrities like Macy Gray, Oliver Platt, and David Arquette, and the legend, EA’s then-senior marketing manager Nick Malapariman, were suddenly voicing video game characters (or, in Malapariman’s case, giving his best impression of a Chelsea fan in the stands). in reality they just scream a few barks at full volume, I was so intrigued by what they were selling that I became a huge fan of game voice acting then and there – and still am to this day.
As the name suggests, SSX is Tricky SSX, a snowboard racing game with more tricks because its makers realized that the trick part is the most interesting for the people. Maybe that’s not so much the case with other sports, although I’d love for someone to try a Captain Tsubasa-style trick-shot soccer game again. But it seemed clear that SSX Tricky’s big selling point was exactly what it said on the box, so I still don’t see the appeal of taking the series back to something relatively boring with back-to-back installments. It feels like EA went back to something that was easier to explain and market to a large group of people, which ironically nobody wanted.
SSX Tricky was the product of a lot of great artists coming together, people who knew their subject matter really well, be it acting, animation or music produced by Mixmaster Mike from The Beastie Boys. It’s a wealth of talent that we almost take for granted in the gaming industry today, given its size and monetary value, and SSX Tricky, to me, is an example of how all of those resources could be put to good use.
Maybe instead of a 2000s-style remake of a game we should have a new SSX Tricky – made by a diverse group of people with the resources EA now has could be a great reminder of the spirit of the original game and EA Sports BIG, the label that wanted to offer such a different experience. At a time when EA isn’t known for being particularly adventurous, it would be great to see something wild.