Wii owners are no strangers to wildly varying reviews. This happens on other platforms as well, but it seems that with the Wii, many outlets are left either loving or hating a game. SSX Blur may be the worst case yet. One review tells you that the controls are spot on, while another tells you they are absolute garbage. What’s going on here exactly? I believe that some reviewers are acting very stubborn when it comes to Wii titles. With the Wii’s unique control scheme, you have to take your time and learn the nuances of each game. Some are as straight forward as possible (Wii Sports); others require a lot more practice (Red Steel). It doesn’t seem like these reviewers are taking the time to learn these new controller setups. It’s almost as if they try a game for about an hour, and if it doesn’t click, they bash it. While about half are getting frustrated, the other half are finding SSX Blur deeply rewarding. I have a feeling that all the reviewers would find SSX Blur rewarding if they only calmed themselves down, and took the time to learn something new. They could absolutely hate the graphics, gameplay, and everything else in the game…I am only talking from a control aspect. I think my experience with Blur today shows how patience can really open up a game to you.
With scores ranging from low 50s to high 80s, I was pretty interested in finding out what was going on. I have been an SSX fan for a few years now, ever since it started on the PS2. I kind of fell out of the series once On Tour came out, but Blur looked to offer a lot more new ideas that made it worth checking out. A design facelift, a revisit to old tracks, and an entirely new control scheme warranted a purchase in my book. As I was driving home from the mall, I was mulling over what my experience would be with Blur. Did the reviewers that panned the game take enough time to learn it? Perhaps the reviewers that praised were just following the Wii hype train. This had been my thought process for the entire week.
The purpose of this impressions article is to discuss the control setup in the game. I had a good two and a half hours of playtime, but I didn’t do much of anything besides learning how to use the Wiimote and Nunchuck. SSX Blur offers a tutorial mode that shows you just how the game is played. They teach you everything from basic moves like steering, up to advanced situations like Ubertricks. If you plan on purchasing this game, you absolutely have to run through the training mode. It would be silly to hop right into the game, seeing that there is so much more to learn here. Completing the training mode will give you a much greater understanding of what’s going on, and will definitely enrich your experience.
Starting off with the basics, you learn how to shred down a hill. The analog stick allows you to move your character left and right, but only slightly. It’s really more of a weight shift than it is a full turning method. To really cut into the mountain, you have to tilt the Nunchuck left or right. This causes sharp turns depending on how far you go with your tilt. The first portion of the tutorial asks you to hit 6 markers on the mountain. All you have to do is steer through them as a counter keeps track of how many you touched. My first run down the mountain, I managed to hit one marker. The second run I didn’t hit a single one. The third I managed to grab one once again. Where steering your character was extremely straight-forward in previous SSX titles, Blur changes things up a lot. As I restarted the tutorial over and over, I slowly began to understand the controls. I knew what the tilting and analog stick did; it was just a matter of tuning myself into them. There was one run down the mountain where I managed to grab three markers…and that’s when it clicked. All of a sudden, the perfect combination of tilting and analog stick control popped up in my head. I started my next run and nailed all six markers no problem. The steering controls aren’t cumbersome, they are extremely intuitive. You really do have to relearn the basics with Blur. I can’t remember the last time I played a game where the most rudimentary moves were so deep. I really believe that a lot of reviewers were turned off right from the beginning, and never took the proper time in the training mode to figure things out. If they didn’t get this stuff under their belt, they most likely threw the controller against a wall when it came to Ubertricks.
After learning basic movement, the tutorial goes into teaching you tricks and jumps. These moves were a non-issue. You flick the Nunchuck up to do a jump; it doesn’t get much simpler than that. For tricks, you flick the Wiimote up, down, or side to side. A combination of these will rotate your character into different move sets. Landing these tricks isn’t a problem anymore, thanks to the inclusion of a “trick end” button. While flipping and spinning through the air, you can hit the A or B buttons to end a trick. This will put your character right-side up so that he/she can land a move. There’s nothing worse than pulling in a huge combo of tricks, only to see the points fade away because you didn’t land correctly. Blur helps you get your character back on their feet before they even hit the ground. There is still a bit of strategy in this. It’s up to you to decide when to hit the button to land properly. I often found myself trying to squeeze in one last rotation before I hit the land button, which would lead to me crashing. I’m just too damn greedy!
Things were moving along nicely, no issues whatsoever. I learned a few more moves through the tutorial, and then the Ubertricks section came up. This was the part I was really looking forward to. The topic of much heated discussion in all of the SSX Blur reviews. The game explains that your Groove Meter must be a certain level to do Ubertricks. For the purposes of the tutorial, your meter would always be high enough for an Ubertrick. Basically all you have to do is hit a jump with enough speed, get enough air, and than you can perform an Ubertrick. A little sign pops up on the bottom of the screen showing you an example of an Ubertrick. The sign shows you how you need to move the Wiimote (sometimes Wiimote and Nunchuck) in the air to complete an Ubertrick. They range from a simple loop, to a Z figure, to a double loop. There are many more Ubertricks than this, but this is what you have to work with in the tutorial. You must hold down the A button at the start of an Ubertrick, and release at the end. It looked simple enough to me. I hit forward on the analog stick and started to speed towards my first ramp. I hit it perfectly and launched into the air. The little Ubertrick symbol popped up, asking me to do the simple loop. I held A, drew the loop in the air, and let go. Absolutely nothing happened other than me landing on my face. No big deal I thought. I got back up and tried again on the next jump, and the next, and the next. Run after run, the only move I could pull off was a face plant. I couldn’t get these damn tricks to happen no matter what. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I paused the game after a good 15 minutes to see if I could read up more on Ubertricks. I found a practice section that let you learn how to draw Ubertrick figures. I hopped in and started practicing.
I drew the loop on the practice screen, and nailed it. I ran through it about twenty more times, and had no problems at all. I moved onto the Z figure. After a few screw-ups, I learned the correct way to draw the Z. I did the Z figure a number of times, and then moved onto the double loop. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but I can’t think of a better name to call it. It has you starting one loop, drawing downwards into another loop, and then coming back out of it. I actually found this Ubertrick easier to do than the Z figure. Okay, now I was set; ready to take on the mountain once again. I was raring to go, feeling much more assured through my practice. The rider started down the hill, I made top speed for the first jump. I launched high into the air, and the double loop Ubertrick popped up. I held A, went through the motions, and let go…into a face plant. There are roughly three good jumps on the test run, and I would screw all of them up. Over and over, the same thing kept happening. For the life of me I could not complete one Ubertrick. How was this possible, what was I doing wrong? The practice session showed me that I was drawing the figures properly, so where was I screwing up? I kid you not; this went on for about a half hour. To total things up, this would put me at 45 minutes of nothing but screw-ups. This is it, this is the point where I had my eyes opened up to the viewpoint of the negative reviewer.
Be it through the training mode, or the actual gameplay modes, this is what those reviewers were experiencing. They hit a snag in the Ubertricks section. Yes, it’s possible that they never got a proper handle on steering in the first place, and that could throw them off track for the entire game. I don’t think that was the case though. I believe they were met with the Ubertrick tutorial, or a portion of the game where you have to Ubertrick to gain enough points to succeed. It makes perfect sense as to why they found the controls to be broken. If you can’t control the game, then you can’t play it. If you can’t play it, then how in the hell can you give it a good score? This was the turning point that reviewers hit. It may have come easier to some, but there’s no doubt in my mind that everyone faces some bit of a hurdle here. I wasn’t about to give up, I was going to learn how to Ubertrick no matter what. I didn’t care how long it took me to figure out what I was doing wrong; I was going to come out successful. I was not going to be the jaded reviewer; I was going to play the game how it was meant to be played. I wiped the sweat from my brow, buckled down, and went at it again.
From mountain to practice menu, from practice menu to mountain. I kept going in and out of both trying to see where my issue was. I tweaked anything that came to mind; I tried everything I possibly could to help myself. Nothing was working; I couldn’t pull off a single Ubertrick. I put down the controller and picked up my laptop. I went to several messageboards looking for Ubertrick threads (happy to see that I wasn’t the only one with issues!). I downloaded previous Blur videos that showed people playing the game so I could study the hand movements. I read what others had to say about their Ubertrick experiences, and suggestions for how to accomplish them. After spending some time hunting down all this info, I went back into the game for another shot. Time was running out, my afternoon/evening off from the site was drawing to an end. I had about 20 minutes left to get these tricks to work. I wanted to succeed, I didn’t want to come back later in the morning to pick up at this roadblock. Time to take everything I read/watched and put it to good use.
I went into the practice mode again, and continued to draw the figures. I could do that no problem, so I took that off my list of possible issues. I was picturing myself drawing these during gameplay. I had to keep focused while in the air, instead of rushing through the motions to pull off the trick in time. I needed to make sure I got enough speed for big air as well. I wanted optimal time to pull off an Ubertrick. I started down the hill again, and failed once more. I failed on the second jump as well. All I had left was the third jump. Time to switch things on the fly. Instead of trying to make everything fit while in the air, I was going to take my time with the move. I launched into the air, and made a big sweeping circle for my Ubertrick. Not the small, short motions I did in practice which registered correctly. I wanted to make sure I was completing the full figure in the air. I held A, drew a big loop, and let go. The game slowed down, a sparkling loop popped up on screen, and I started the Ubertrick. I had finally done it! I screamed at the top of my lungs (waking Mom Brain up), I had finally pulled off the trick. I landed it with a face plant, but that didn’t matter. After over an hour of trying, I finally pulled off the move. Now the only thing I had to do was figure out how to make that happen over and over again.
I am sure there are those of you who are having trouble with Ubertricks, or are holding back on a purchase of the game due to controls. I am going to give you my step-by-step directions on how to do an Ubertrick. First thing’s first, make sure you have enough speed going into the jump. Also make sure to line your jump up properly with a ramp. Once you are in line with a jump, hold down the A button. This will make your player crouch, and semi-lock them into line with the ramp. As soon as you hit the top of the ramp let go of A for a little kick to your jump. Now, wait until the Ubertrick sign pops up on the bottom of the screen. This should happen almost the instant your board leaves the ramp. If you are just learning the Ubertricks now, IGNORE what the sign tells you. If it wants you to do a double loop or Z figure, ignore it. All you want to focus on is doing a simple loop. This is the easiest Ubertrick there is, making it the perfect one to practice on. Once you learn the loop, you can move onto the harder figures. Okay, so you have let go of A, you are flying through the air, and the Ubertrick sign pops up. Hold down the A button, and do a nice big gesture with the Wiimote. As soon as you are done, let go of the A button. While making a big gesture with the Wiimote seems like it would take too much time, it actually doesn’t. You can finish a big loop in about two tenths of a second. This is more than enough time to complete a few revolutions and stick your landing. Once you let go of the A button, let the trick play out for a bit, then hit A or B again to land it. If you have done the Ubertrick correctly, time will slow down a bit, and you will see a sparkling loop in the air. You will always have visual confirmation of an Ubertrick, and it will appear as a sparkling version of whatever trick you did. Keep practicing the simple loop until you have it down to a science. Once you have 100% accuracy with that, move onto the other moves. That’s exactly how I did things, and it works perfectly. I moved from the loop into the Z figure, and can pull it off without a hitch. The same goes for the double loop. I even left the training to go to the half pipe to practice there. I could do all three moves from the training, as well as the heart shape Ubertrick we have seen in trailers. That is a Wiimote/Nunchuck move (requires you to move both through the air). When I pulled off that Ubertrick in my first try, I knew I had things right.
Is there a steep learning curve in Blur? Without a doubt there is. Is it a rewarding experience, and worth your time? More so than any other game that I’ve played. Some games on the Wii make gaming extremely simple. You want to swing a bat, you swing the Wiimote. You want to fish; you use the Wiimote as a fishing pole. Than there are other games that utilize the Wiimote/Nunchuck in different ways that completely change games we have played before. First person shooters become much more tactile, and require a lot more attention and focus. If you stick with it, you can become much more accurate than you ever were with a traditional controller. SSX Blur really does something new with the series. Yes you are snowboarding down a mountain just as all the others, but the new control experiences make this feel like an entirely new game. Once you learn basic snowboarding…and I mean really learn it, you won’t want to go back to a traditional controller. Simple analog stick movement won’t match the intensity and depth of the analog stick/Nunchuck controls. You really get the feel and sensation of controlling your character. Ubertricking is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in a game, as well as on the Wii. It was a tough go from the start, but I stuck with it. I wanted to break through that wall that some reviewers hit. I would not let this game best me; I was going to get it to do what I wanted. The developers made the controls like this for a reason, and I was going to experience it. Now that I finally know how to Ubertrick without a problem, it feels amazing. Pulling off these moves looks fantastic, opens up the gameplay to you, and gives you a humongous sense of accomplishment. The Ubertrick controls DO work, the snowboarding controls DO work…they have to be learned. When you do get them (and trust me, you will), you will find yourself having an amazing experience. Hell, all I did was play through the tutorial and half pipe modes, and I was addicted. There’s a whole game waiting to be played!
I am not saying that all games are made better by the Wii. What I am saying is that SSX Blur is one of them. Don’t give up on SSX Blur. Don’t let the learning curve turn you off. Don’t let the game beat you, as some reviewers did. If you do learn how to ride and trick, but still hate the game, then so be it. You may not enjoy these types of games, and that is fine. My issue is that all the negative reviews mainly fault the control setup as the unsolvable problem. If these reviewers actually learned how to use the control setup, and saw that it works WITH you instead of against, they would most likely have given a different score. Should there be such a steep learning curve to basic controls? That is to be debated by all of us. Should we always expect to pick up a game and have controls mastered within ten minutes? That’s a condition that we have learned through gaming from the days of the NES up until now. The Wii is different, and brings different experiences and challenges with it. Whether we are ready to embrace new ideas remains to be seen. It feels comfortable to slip back into pressing button combinations to get a character to do what we want. It feels like this because we have been doing it for so long. If you open your mind and hands to the new ideas of the Wii, you may find yourself coming out with a much deeper experience. Every single game on the Wii isn’t going to have controls that work, and traditional controllers may handle some things better. Let’s hope for our sake that more games take the route of SSX Blur. They help us to learn new ideas, get us to practice them, and show us that in the end they are more rewarding than anything a traditional controller can offer. ___________________
Well I did it again, another extra long day. It was just really important to me to write up that article after seeing all the confusion between reviews. I’m by no means an expert on anything related to games, but I felt I had something to say when it came to Blur. At the very least, I hope I helped some of you guys learn how to Ubertrick better if you were having issues. It’s definitely time for me to head to bed now. I’ll catch you guys in a few hours with more updates. Have a great Thursday morning everyone!