Growing up in a very bougie town in Southern California, every February my school would have a week-long break that everybody called “Ski Week,” when families would drive out to the nearest ski resort to enjoy the snow. Chilly days were spent snowboarding down as many runs as I could get in before the week ended and we all had to return to school. While I haven’t been snowboarding in years, I still shred down snowy slopes at least once a week thanks to SSX 3 — which 20 years later, remains the best snowboarding game ever made.
While 2001’s SSX Tricky often stands out due to its arcade-like setup of courses that rewarded players for getting the highest trick score possible or the fastest time, SSX 3 wanted to go bigger and better in more ways than one. Namely, SSX 3 brought the snowboarding series open-world for the first time.
Rather than a collection of courses to pick from, SSX 3 is set in a single resort, with a handful of major peaks and runs down the entire mountain. The player can freely ride from the highest peak to the bottom however they choose, or they can pull off to enter a race or trick competition at points dotted along the landscape.
This made SSX 3 a game that truly evoked the feeling of spending a day at a ski resort. Take your time roaming the mountain's less-traveled runs as you listen to the stellar soundtrack until you feel the itch to bust out some trick combos or race an opponent at whatever event you happen upon as you make your way down the mountain.
Where SSX Tricky was always about getting a higher score or going faster, SSX 3 offers players a chance to take everything at their own pace. But that doesn’t mean SSX 3 is any less enjoyable when the player does engage in races or freestyle events.
The same arcade feeling of pulling off a progressively ridiculous number of flips on big jumps is better than ever, and the mountain still contains a variety of courses (although not as wild as some of Tricky’s). Races become more exciting than in Tricky thanks to how SSX 3 utilizes the entire map to create longer and longer races, such as Race - Peak 3 which covers the entire length of the mountain and takes over 15 minutes to complete.
SSX 3 wasn’t the last snowboarding game ever made, but the genre might as well have ended right after. The handful of titles that came after, including 2016’s Steep, just can’t live up to the high bar set by SSX 3.
Not even the SSX games that followed 3 could recapture its greatness. The last SSX game was released in 2012, and the franchise has remained dormant ever since. This seems like a missed opportunity considering how, two decades later, SSX 3 shows few signs of its age beyond the PS2 graphics. It feels as good as it did on release in 2003.
The gaming industry has, of late, been obsessed with reviving old genres and franchises, be it in the form of remakes or retro-inspired titles. All I ask is that someone takes up the torch from SSX 3 and gives me a new snowboarding game to play — although I can wait patiently as I haven’t grown tired of SSX 3’s mountain quite yet.