Take the characters of SSX, give them a sled, and here comes Sled Storm.
If you have played the first Sled Storm for Playstation, chances are you'll be disappointed by this EA Big "sequel". There is really nothing here of the game concept behind the original Sled Storm. The Playstation game was a simulation of an extreme sport that wanted to recreate the feel of racing on snow, also offering one of the best four-players gaming experiences on Playstation. EA Big took a whole different path here; they developed an arcade racer that plays and looks much like a SSX on sleds, but with less importance given to tricks and some serious problem in the gameplay.
Sled Storm offers all the classic modes you can find in an arcade racer: quick race, time trial, practice mode and a no-frills Championship mode. You choose a character, a sled (at first only one is available) and you start playing. In Championship mode you have to come at least 3rd in order to proceed to the next level, but if you win the race you can also obtain a new sled. Scoring high points performing a huge amount of tricks will unlock new characters. And here comes the first issue I've found playing Sled Storm.
SSX and its sequel offered an equilibrated arcade experience where performing tricks and winning a race were the same thing. The tricks were a substantial part of the game, so unlocking new characters scoring high points was natural for a skilled player. On the contrary, Sled Storm puts more emphasis on racing; tricks are a sort of surplus. Performing more tricks you can fill your "Storm" meter, which can let you use a sort of turbo booster. Unfortunately, because of the faulty A.I. procedures, the Storm indicator becomes a really secondary element of the game. In fact, the game features a rubber band A.I. system, which basically causes your opponents to race accordingly to your performance. Are you racing wonderfully at 170Mph? Well, they are always behind you. Are you continuously running into any object in the track? Don't worry; your opponents are always there, a few meters in front of you. This becomes frustrating when you start using extremely dangerous shortcuts, which in more advanced levels will make you sweat if you want to avoid a crash. So, you've jumped from an iceberg to another, skidding on the surface of a gigantic ship, jumping down from a uphill high more than forty feet and incredibly, your "friends" are still right behind you.
In the same way, the use of the Storm Meter, filled performing dozens of tricks, usually doesn't affect the final result of a race. Besides, tricks will often cause you to crash, because the game physics of Sled Storm are less forgiving than those of SSX: Tricky. For this reason, if you want to unlock new characters, you'll probably finish in the last position at the end of the race, even if you have performed a thousand of amazing tricks throughout the level. It's frustrating and pointless in an arcade game. In Sled Storm the outcome of a race is always decided in the very final part of the last lap. That's not good, and in my opinion means only one thing: bad game design.
Anyhow, this game is still surprisingly amusing to play. First of all, that's because of the excellent level design. The levels are similar, in their structure and conception, to those of SSX. They are enormous, imaginative, crazy and senseless, worth of a fantasy game. In Sled Storm you can follow the main path during a race, but at any moment you can start exploring the vast levels in any direction, searching for shortcuts, alternative routes, destroying many of the objects in the environments, jumping down from terrific uphill. You can spend literally hours trying to find all of the shortcuts and the secondary paths, which become increasingly more dangerous and well-designed proceeding in the championship. Besides, Sled Storm is an incredibly fast game, and it conveys a sense of speed that will make all the fan of extreme sports joyful.
Sled Storm features a great amount of extras to unlock, including about 40 sleds and 5 characters. All sleds and characters have their unique abilities and behave in a different way on the tracks. Controls are intuitive and well balanced, and if you have played SSX, you don't even need to take a look at the manual. The left analog stick moves the sled, while the X button is used to accelerate and the Circle button is used to brake. The shoulder buttons and the triangle button are used to perform the basic tricks, and there are a lot of combos that you have to figure out by yourself.
Overall, Sled Storm's game system is cursed by bad A.I. and game physics, but characterized by great levels design and very intuitive controls.