Franchise Festival #79: SSX

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be uncovering the nooks and crannies of SSX. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.

Primary sources, especially interviews with the developers and contemporary reviews, will be cited below. I referred to the following secondary sources for an overview:


Electronic Arts (EA) was known throughout the 1990s for its blockbuster line of sports properties. The studio had struck gold with Earl Weaver’s Baseball in 1987 and used a football-oriented follow-up, John Madden’s Football (1992), as a springboard for a new division dedicated to pumping out annual updates. With this bold if idiosyncratic business decision, video game juggernaut EA Sports was born. EA’s aggressive publication strategy and high level of overall software quality would make it the most profitable video game studio for the years 1992 to 1997, according to a contemporary assessment by Next Generation magazine.

A rising star was simultaneously making waves within the company during this era as he applied his characteristic brand of exuberance to EA’s expanding software library. Steven Rechtschaffner, a freestyle skier who had competed with the US Freestyle Ski Team for four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s before popularizing his own form of snowboard competition called boardercross, joined EA in 1994 following stints at Swatch Watch and a television production studio called Propaganda Film. Rechtschaffner would leverage his professional background in branding and involvement with a string of successful EA Sports titles in the late 1990s to spearhead the creation of a new extreme sports label called EA Sports BIG at the start of the new millennium.


SSX (2000)

EA Canada’s first project in the EA Sports BIG line, inspired by Rechtschaffner’s own professional background, was an arcade take on boardercross called SSX; the acronym stood for Snowboard Supercross. Racdym’s Snowboard Kids (1997/1998) and Nintendo EAD’s 1080 Snowboarding (1998) had confirmed that there was a public appetite for snowboarding games during the preceding console generation, so EA Canada first directed its efforts towards SEGA’s 128-bit Dreamcast platform. EA ended its relationship with SEGA during this period, however, owing to a variety of questionable technical and licensing decisions made in the development of the Dreamcast; development on SSX then shifted to Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 2 console.

Grinding was very popular at the turn of the century. Source: MobyGames

Though the PlayStation 2 had been available in Japan since the preceding March, it debuted in North America on October 26, 2000. SSX was released in North America on October 30 as a launch title for the platform. It would remain exclusive to the PlayStation 2, offering a thrilling extreme sports experience which played up the impressive technical advances of Sony’s newest piece of hardware.

Players choose between four initials characters – Mac, Moby, Elise, or Kaori – with different strength and weaknesses as they compete against one another across eight courses. Four additional characters – Jurgen, JP, Zoe, and Hiro – are unlocked as the player completes tournaments of increasing difficulty. All characters are voiced in a cartoonish manner.

Take that, Chad! Source: MobyGames

Courses, comprised of fictional landscapes representing a variety of regions, can be challenged either as races or as competitions to amass the most points by carrying out flamboyant tricks. These tricks feature a combination of legitimate boardercross techniques and fanciful displays with no basis in physical reality. As with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (1999), initiating tricks often requires picking up momentum and hurling the player’s avatar off of ramps before inputting a rapid series of button inputs. Raised rails are likewise available to grind on for a speed boost.

SSX was an instant critical and commercial hit, placing EA Sports at the vanguard of a new wave of extreme sports releases. Its fortuitous publication alongside the most successful platform of the sixth home console generation likely played a role in its overnight popularity. Exclusivity wouldn’t last long, however, as EA sought to double down on its newest intellectual property with a quasi-sequel produced for all sixth generation devices.


SSX Tricky (2001)

The second entry in the SSX franchise is effectively an expanded version of its direct predecessor with a name pulled from Run DMC’s “Tricky,” a song heavily emphasized by promotional materials and the game’s soundtrack. Its primary selling point was its cross-platform release, bringing the zany boardercross action of SSX to Xbox and Gamecube owners a month after its November 2001 PlayStation 2 release. While all versions were popular, resolving performance hitches present in the original game and adding new content, contemporary reviews cited the Gamecube version as comparatively unpolished.

SSX Tricky retains much of what made its predecessor work, but gussies it up with a more colorful presentation. Source: MobyGames

Six of SSX‘s characters return and its courses, newly remixed, are augmented by two new stages. Voice acting is even more prominent than in SSX and features the involvement of celebrities like Macy Gray and Oliver Platt. As in the preceding game, winning races or racking up points in ‘showoff’ trick battles during World Circuit tournaments unlocks additional characters. Courses can additionally be practiced on their own or tackled with friends through splitscreen multiplayer in one-off freeride or single event modes.

SSX‘s adrenaline gauge, which granted speed boosts as tricks were performed, returns alongside two new systems. The first is the Uber move, a particularly challenging trick in which the player character takes both feet off of their board in mid-air; completing six of these in one race gives the player character the ability to infinitely boost for the duration of the course. The second new system is a rivalry mechanic in which characters who are repeatedly run into by the player character during a race will behave more aggressively towards them in subsequent tournament races.

SSX Tricky on Game Boy Advance did not review as well as its console cousin, but it was an impressive conversion nonetheless. Source: MobyGames

A Game Boy Advance port of SSX Tricky was produced by Visual Advance for publisher EA in 2002, though it was not as popular as the home console edition. It retains all stages from EA Sports’ original but scales them down from their fantastical presentation to more closely resemble real-world snowboard courses. Impressively, the use of 2D sprites for characters allows stages to feature fully 3D textured polygons in spite of the Game Boy Advance’s limited technical specs.


SSX 3 (2003)

EA Canada’s last SSX title developed under the guidance of Executive Producer Steven Rechtschaffner would also be its most noteworthy departure so far from the series’ foundations. Rather than featuring outlandish tracks drawn from regions around the world, SSX 3 focuses on a single fictional mountain location with multiple courses of varying complexity. In a rather exceptionally uncommon design decision for a sports title, the third SSX game features an open-world in which the player character can move seamlessly from one course or event to the next within each of its three peaks. This novel approach to level design was influenced by Battlefield 1942 (2002) and NBA Street Vol. 2 (2003).

World Circuit has been eliminated in favor of a new method of progression, as stages are no longer all accessible from the game’s outset. Players must instead complete peak goals within each of the game’s three peaks to unlock the next one. Peak goals include winning standard races and trick competitions – now called freestyle – as well as accumulating money and acquiring snowflakes scattered around the mountain. Money is earned by performing tricks and succeeding at big challenges, isolated brief events which require the player to complete a specific objective (e.g. performing one trick a certain number of times on a course, shattering four panes of glass above a half-pipe, etc.). Once the player has completed enough peak goals, they can access the next peak and a bevy of new courses within that hub area.

Though the vast majority of the game is set on snowy courses, the mountain’s base includes an urban environment. Source: MobyGames

Though the first two SSX games share an engine and overall visual style, the series’ third entry has undergone a significant revision. EA Canada’s art team obsessively engineered the physics engine to feature 30 different types of snow; SSX Tricky had included five snow consistencies by contrast. A massive expansion in draw distance was likewise required to create the impression of a seamless world and was accomplished through the use of environments comprised of Bezier surfaces, the result of a then-new highly efficient 3D rendering technique.

In a major advancement on its predecessors, and indeed on other platforms’ versions of the same game, the PlayStation 2 version of SSX 3 included online multiplayer through the use of the PlayStation 2’s Network Adapter. Players could compete against friends remotely for the first time in the series’ history. This functionality was short-lived, however, as EA shut down the game’s servers three years after its release.

The N-Gage version, titled SSX: Out of Bounds like its Symbian and Gizmondo counterparts, is pretty rough. Source: MobyGames

SSX 3 was greeted with widespread critical and commercial acclaim upon its publication on PlayStation 2, Gamecube, and Xbox platforms in 2003. Players who wanted to know more about how the series’ newest hit had been made could even access extensive behind-the-scenes content available as bonus features on its disc. Portable adaptations produced for the Game Boy Advance, Nokia N-Gage, Symbian, and Gizmondo platforms between 2004 and 2008, unsurprisingly, were less successful. Unlike its predecessors, which remain locked to their original hardware, the Xbox version of SSX 3 was revived in 2018 through the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility program and made accessible to young players who had missed its original release; improvements to the game’s performance and already-excellent visual design make this the best way to play the game at the time of writing in December 2019.


SSX On Tour (2005)

In the mid-2000s, Steven Rechtschaffner used the cache he’d built up churning out consistently well-reviewed SSX games to attempt two new franchises under the EA Sports BIG label: arcade mountain bike simulator Cranked and a soccer/football-based riff on NBA Street called FIFA Street. The former was canceled following a shaky development process while the latter was handed off to another internal division at EA Canada due to licensing issues surrounding the FIFA property. Rechtschaffner moved up the corporate ladder following SSX 3, refocusing his efforts on EA’s global strategy, before departing the company in October 2006.

The SSX franchise would soldier on without its founder, as Steven Barcia moved into the role of Executive Producer for its fourth entry. This transition was representative of changes in EA Canada’s development team more generally; few of the creative leads who had worked on SSX 3 would continue their work in its sequel, SSX On Tour. Two key exceptions are SSX On Tour producer Steve Anthony, who had been a member of SSX 3‘s production team, and art director Geoff Coates.

Why would you choose one board when you can have two? Source: MobyGames

Given Coates’ presence, SSX On Tour‘s heavily revised aesthetic is more than a little surprising. Menus are given a sketchbook appearance and predefined character models are eschewed in favor of a character creator. Seven characters drawn from previous games and three new roster additions are present as competitors and playable avatars in practice or multiplayer modes, but the goal of the standard single-player Tour campaign is to raise a player-created character from novice to expert status by accumulating ‘hype.’

SSX On Tour retains its predecessor’s single mountain hub location, though exploration elements are replaced by a map that allows quick navigation between courses. Acquiring collectibles and performing basic tricks are still important aspects of Tour mode, as they unlock new events and grant the player character access to Monster tricks; these are more or less identical to earlier titles’ Uber moves but are easier to perform. In an amusingly antagonistic update that one contemporary reviewer likened to fellow EA franchise Burnout, knocking over non-racer NPCs who just happen to be snowboarding nearby grants the player character a speed boost.

That’s one loud menu screen. Source: MobyGames

SSX On Tour‘s most noteworthy change to the franchise, aside from its cosmetic alteration and emphasis on character creation, is the addition of skiing. SSX had partially been created to promote Steven Rechtschaffner’s boardercross event, and no change could better illustrate Rechtschaffner’s departure than a reorientation of the series away from that point of origin. Skiing is mechanically similar to snowboarding, though it is slightly more challenging to control and features unique trick animations.

Luigi: cool at last? The crossover was the result of a mid-2000s licensing deal to place Nintendo characters in EA sports titles. See also – NBA Street Vol. 3. Source: Games Asylum

The PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game are largely identical, while the Gamecube version makes up for less consistent technical performance with the inclusion of three playable Nintendo characters: Mario, Luigi, and Peach. A PlayStation Portable adaptation serves as a serviceable adaptation of its home console cousins. The omission of the online multiplayer from all versions following its inclusion in SSX 3‘s PlayStation 2 release did little to dampen enthusiasm, as it was otherwise a tightened-up sequel that successfully refined much of what had popularized its predecessors.


SSX Blur (2007)

The Wii’s SSX Blur is the first core series entry exclusive to a single platform since the PlayStation 2’s SSX seven years earlier, and the first produced by EA Montreal rather than the Vancouver-based EA Canada. There is little to no crossover between the development teams of preceding games and that of the franchise’s fifth release. It is strange, given the discontinuity between SSX On Tour and SSX Blur‘s staff as well as the Wii’s distinctive motion-based Wiimote input mechanism, that SSX Blur is among the series’ most traditional sequels.

Characters are less silly than they had been in the past, but courses are as whimsical as ever. Source: MobyGames

The character creator has been abandoned in favor of twelve playable avatars; four are available at the start and all others are unlocked as the player progresses through a single-player career mode. Most characters, as well as all stages, are drawn from earlier titles. The career mode’s progression system, in which the player character initially only has access to courses on a single mountain peak and unlocks new peaks and events as they complete challenges and acquire collectibles, echoes SSX 3. SSX On Tour‘s Monster tricks have likewise been replaced with SSX 3‘s Uber moves.

SSX Blur‘s most significant addition to the franchise is its integration of motion controls. Rather than respectively navigating and performing tricks using a joystick and shoulder buttons, the player now primarily moves their avatar by tilting the Wiimote and initiates tricks by flicking it in one of several directions. The Wiimote’s nunchuk peripheral is used to accelerate or decelerate while Uber tricks are activated by drawing shapes mid-jump once the character’s groove meter has been filled.

Uber tricks in mid-air can only be performed by twirling the Wiimote. Source: MobyGames

SSX Blur performed reasonably well but critical reception was divisive for the first time in the series’ history. Some contemporary reviews highlighted inconsistent controls while others suggested that the Wii’s tactile approach to gameplay was the perfect fit for SSX. A combination of increasingly conservative design decisions at EA and intense cutbacks due to a worldwide economic recession would shutter the EA Sport BIG label shortly after SSX Blur‘s release, making SSX Blur the last series entry produced during the 2000s and indeed the last one associated with EA’s turn-of-the-century push into the world of extreme sports.


SSX (2012)

Responsibilities for SSX were handed back to EA Canada following SSX Blur, though few veterans of the series’ prior entries were still involved in its development. SSX underwent a name simplification, following its 2010 announcement as SSX Deadly Descents, and was promoted as a series reboot during its last two years in development. The resulting game was released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2012 as the first high-definition entry in EA’s classic boardercross franchise.

Though the gameplay fundamentals remain steady – players choose a character and race or perform tricks in snowboarding or skiing competitions – many revisions have been made to the presentation and progression mechanics. With regard to the former, the game features more detailed characters and environments than any earlier series entry. Still, in spite of a darker look suggested by its 2010 trailer, the final product’s overall aesthetic is highly stylized.

Wingsuits are very cool. Source: MobyGames

All nine of the game’s courses are pulled from real-world locations for the first time rather than being entirely fictional. These include slopes in Africa, Antarctica, South America, and Asia mapped using satellite imagery. Of course, navigation depends on the manipulation of rails, pipes, and other environmental features which have no analog in reality. The player character must make use of gear, including a wingsuit, to access hard-to-reach shortcuts. The hub mountains of SSX 3, SSX On Tour, and SSX Blur are abandoned in favor of a more traditional course-select menu.

Overall progression in SSX‘s single-player World Tour mode is tied to competition in three event types set across all nine stages. These include Race It, Trick It, and Survive It. The first two of these are traditional challenges in which the player is respectively tasked with winning a race or accumulating the most trick points after setting out from one of multiple possible drop locations throughout a stage. The third mode, unique to this game, sees the player character attempting to make it from the highest point on a stage to the lowest point without sustaining more than a specified amount of harm from environmental features; this mode can only be tackled once all other challenges for the course have been completed. The game’s plot is framed as an effort by a group of SSX team members, led by longtime series character Zoe Payne, to beat the haughty Griff Simmons in a conquest of the world’s most dangerous mountains.

Careening to a lonesome death at the foot of an icy crevasse is a real tonal shift for SSX. Source: Captain Canuck

For the first time in an SSX release, traditional splitscreen multiplayer is entirely absent. No direct online multiplayer was present at the time of release, either, leaving players to participate in leaderboards and asynchronous attempts to beat one another’s scores if they cared to engage with the game’s online community. A patch later introduced live multiplayer for up to five competitors. Downloadable content (DLC) was also offered in the form of additional characters, including real-world snowboarder Travis Rice.

Critical reception for the game was again generally positive, though some outlets lamented the absence of multiplayer at release. A 2013 mobile port exclusive to Xperia Z1, Xperia Z Ultra, and LG G Flex Android devices reviewed well but is not available on modern platforms; emulation is the only way to access the game at the time of writing in 2019. Strong sales for SSX seem not to have been enough to keep the rebooted franchise alive, as no subsequent sequel has been produced.



There were no traditional spinoffs during SSX‘s twelve year run, though a peculiar  software/hardware hybrid developed by Radica Games and SSD Co. was published by EA in 2004. SSX Snowboarder is a standalone device, shaped like a snowboard, which can be plugged into a player’s television. The player can then tackle four tracks within four game modes as characters from SSX Tricky controlled using the device itself. Though it approximates the series’ 2001 home console franchise entry, its graphics are a stripped-back combination of 2D sprites and polygonal 3D environments.


SSX was consistently popular, critically and commercially, since its 2000 debut. The franchise had avoided the fate of so many other pieces of planned Dreamcast software by being delayed and moved over to Sony’s cutting-edge PlayStation 2 hardware, where it spent the next half-decade. Support for other platforms, though, ensured that virtually all owners of a sixth or seventh generation home console were able to enjoy Steven Rechtschaffner’s arcade boardercross series. For reasons that remain opaque, the franchise has been missing in action since 2012. One hopes that we’ve not seen the last of the world’s trickiest extreme sports game.

What do you think of SSX? Which is your favorite entry? How about your favorite course? Do you prefer making your own character, playing one of the semi-blank slate characters of the later entries, or the celebrity-voiced avatars of the series’ second title? What’s trickier: snowboarding or rocking a rhyme?

Be sure to join us next week for the last Franchise Festival of 2019: Dark Souls. The article will also feature an interview with podcasting luminaries Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross of, a network which includes Watch Out for Fireballs! and Bonfireside Chat. The article goes live at 9:00 AM EST on December 20, 2019.