When the Wii's motion-sensing control was first introduced Nintendo made a big deal out of how it was going to make gaming easier, different and better. Apparently Nintendo had not seen SSX Blur yet, because if anything the Wii's control makes this game harder and much more difficult than it should be. While the game's structure is good and the graphics really shine, it's the control that turns what should have been a great snowboarding experience into something that is almost unplayable.
I say this with a heavy heart; you see I'm a giant SSX fan. I still consider SSX3 to be one of the greatest games of the last generation, a massive game that did a lot to raise the bar for how extreme sports games should be. I was a little disappointed with SSX On Tour, but was excited to see what Electronic Arts could do with the Wii's motion control. Little did I know that SSX Blur was going to be such a major disappointment, so bad in fact that I'm having a hard time looking at the series in quite the same way.
What has always set SSX apart from all of the other snowboarding simulators is the relative ease of the core game play. Regardless of whether you're racing, performing huge tricks or just exploring the mountain, controlling your snowboarder has always been easy and intuitive. Unfortunately this is not the case with SSX Blur. Thanks to the Wii's brand new control SSX has switched from something fun to something extremely frustrating. Not only does the new control scheme not add anything to the core game play, but I would argue that it takes a lot of what made SSX so engaging away.
Those who have gone through SSX3 or On Tour will no doubt recognize many of the key components found in Blur. Like the previous versions, Blur takes place on a giant open world mountain with three massive peaks, each of these peaks offers a series of events as well as a number of tournaments. Do well in these events and you will upgrade your stats and unlock bonus material (new boards, new characters, etc.). The game is set up so that you won't be able to get gold right from the start, it's imperative that you spend the time upgrading your character's abilities (including speed, balance, tricks and so on) and then try these events again. Anybody who has played an SSX game will definitely feel right at home with this game's structure.
The events are all similar to what we've seen in other SSX games. Of the events it comes as no surprise that the most exhilarating moments in this game come when you're racing down the mountain against a half dozen other people. If you're looking for something a little slower, then perhaps you should try one of the various trick events, which require you to earn a certain amount of points before finishing (or running out of time). There's also a slalom race where you have to weave around a bunch of red and blue flags. These slalom events are the weakest part of SSX Blur, but once you get the hang of them it's not hard to bust right through them without much difficulty.
Because of Blur's often frustrating control scheme the races are definitely the easiest to get into. Outside of a few events later in the game, most races don't require you to do a lot of complex tricks in order to win. All you need to do is stay in control, find short cuts and make sure you don't get run down by the competition. Had this game's focus been more about racing than tricks I would have had a better time, but as it is there aren't enough races to keep this experience fun. My biggest complaint is that when you play the speed races you can almost see why the other games were so enjoyable, but the races are over too soon and it's back to the grind of attempting tricks and dealing with the halfpipe.
The reason this game is so disappointing can be placed entirely on the Wii's controls. The motion-sensing remote control does not make SSX easier or more fun, instead it turns it into a frustrating experience that is more complex and mind-numbingly aggravating. Instead of using the D-pad and shoulder buttons to perform tricks (like it has been on every other console), Blur requires you to move your wrist left and right to spin and up and down to flip around. This set up isn't all bad; there are times when it almost feels natural to do this. The problem is that it's not always responsive, so there are tricks that you should be performing but you aren't because the control didn't register your motion.
Another problem is that all movement of your snowboarder is done using the nunchuck control. This means that when you want to turn left you have to twist your wrist to the left and when you want to turn right you have to twist your wrist left. On paper this sounds like a good idea, but it won't take long before you realize that this is not only difficult to get the movement right but also a little painful. Perhaps there are people out there that are more flexible than I am, but when it came right down to it constantly twisting my wrist around hurt my arm and made it difficult to have a good time with the game.
The good news is that you can change the control scheme so that you use the analog stick to control your character and not the actual nunchuck. There's no question that this style of game play works better, but it's still not perfect. Even when you use the analog stick to control your snowboarder you will still need to use the nunchuck movement when you are getting ready to perform a jump or a trick. The moment you hold the A button down (which is used to get into the jump position) you will no longer be able to control your character with the analog stick, instead you will go back to twisting your wrist to direct your character. Since you don't have to do this as often it ends up being less painful, but you will need to be holding your nunchuck straight up in order to not veer off into a direction you don't want to go. This meant that I needed to change the way I held the controls, something that took a little while to get used to. Regardless of how you end up holding the control or setting up the movements, this nunchuck problem is hardly the worst part of SSX Blur.
Without a doubt the most broken element of SSX Blur has to be the ubertricks, which are used to rack up huge points when your power meter is maxed out and you are getting massive air. In past games the ubertricks were not only fun to watch but also fairly easy to pull off, which meant that getting huge scores was a simple proposition. Those days are long gone, because doing an ubertrick in SSX Blur is akin to solving the Middle East crisis - next to impossible. Once you've maxed out your character's "groove" meter you will get a little picture on the bottom of your screen that you are supposed to draw, but most of them are far too complex and seem to require some sort of skill I don't possess.
Not all of the pictures are hard to draw, but even the ones the easiest ubertricks are entirely too difficult to pull off when you need them. For example, one of the ubertricks is a "Z" shape, which looks like it should be easy to draw. Yet it took me about three dozen tries before I was able to get it to work. And that's the easiest picture out of the bunch. This whole process would be made easier if there was some sort of on-screen display to show you how you were doing, but instead you just draw the lines hoping that it works out for the best. To make this even more frustrating you never know how big you have to draw the picture, or where you need to draw it or even how fast you need to do it. It's all a mystery … a mystery so annoying and frustrating that I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the gamers who play this game never actually attempt these difficult stunts.
Perhaps the developers realized how difficult these ubertricks were, because there's a slightly helpful guide in the options that allows you to keep practicing these motions until you get them right. While this is more helpful than not having any guide at all, it still doesn't change the fact that these motions are almost impossible to pull off when you actually need to do them.
Once you've experienced all of the frustration associated with the ubertricks system you'll find that the rest of the game is a little more manageable. On one hand it's hard to be down on this game because it gets nearly every aspect of the franchise right; from the great graphics, memorable character designs, extras to earn, and cool over-the-top action. But none of that matters when it's difficult to control the game. If you stick with SSX Blur long enough you will no doubt find that you get more used to its inconsistent controls and technical imperfections. The more I came back to it the better I became, but I never felt like it was worth the trouble when there are so many other versions of this series that don't have these problems (including some you can play on the Wii with the regular GameCube control).
True to the spirit of the SSX franchise, Blur looks and sounds incredible. All three of the peaks have a different tone to them, and there's plenty of detail to admire when you're speeding down the slopes. The characters are also good looking, even if they have this somewhat strange animated look to them. There are a few technical hiccups when it comes to the game's presentation (frame rate problems, a few minor glitches, etc.), but for the most part this game is on par with the graphics found in all of the other SSX titles.
Along with the strong graphics you will find that the mountain is fun to explore and worth your trouble to check out every nook and cranny. There are a lot of secret items scattered around the three peaks, as well as a few bonus events and plenty of extra content to earn. If you can get over the control issues you will find that this game offers a lot to do, which would have made this game a fantastic value.
But regardless of how good everything else was, I couldn't shake the feeling that this game was just broken. I would get so angry with the experience that I would have to turn it off and walk away, only to wonder if I was being too hard on the game. Later I would go back and try it again only to have exactly the same reaction, which says to me that either I'm just not getting it or there's something in this version that makes me not want to have fun with it. I love the other games, so I can only guess that it must be that I just don't feel that the controls add anything to the game (if anything, they take too much away from the core experience). I really want to love SSX Blur, but there's a part of me that just can't get past the difficult ubertricks and inaccurate control scheme. That's not to say that these issues can't be worked out in some sort of sequel, but in its current state SSX Blur is one frustrating experience.