EA Sports? Arcade? Fun!? Vol.1

It’s funny thinking about it. If you just go back a couple of generations, EA were on fire releasing some genuine gems. For me the real highlight that has stuck with me to this is day is EA Sports BIG, EA’s OTT arcade inspired stable of sports games that the company decided not to replicate in subsequent generations – aside from the odd ‘Freestyle’ game. Maybe they were not quite as popular as I originally thought, so I’m going to take a look at most of the games in a few of these features. Let’s kick it off with some racers, next time I’ll look at some ball games…

Shox (PlayStation 2)

What better place to start than with a soft spot of mine – Rallying! Rally games were going through a renaissance at the time with so many being released, so you needed to stand out a little with juggernauts like WRC & CMR on the scene. SHOX manages to do that in several ways really, first & foremost going down an arcade rallycross style route instead of trying to go up against the sim racers. This allowed the game to be a little more bombastic and chuck in some interesting ideas to help it stand out. Once you hit the track you will certainly appreciate the crisp visuals and great car models, all delivered with a buttery 60 fps, but it’s what happens during the race which brings the fun.

The game gets its name from the Shox zones, each stage has 3 in total, and passing through each of these with a gold rating not only showers you in stars, but unleashes the Shoxwave (You also unlock night versions of tracks & cars with 3 golds at the stage end). The shoxwave is literally that, a wave you ride between zones for BIG cash bonuses – try to keep it live as long as possible. Money earned from this you use to build your garage, either gamble one on one and beat the car to win, or just buy it outright with the cash. There’s plenty of recognisable cars to get, from Mini Coopers to Subaru Impreza’s, so you’ll be busy enough collecting those as time flies by. The icing on the cake would be a decent 4 player split-screen mode. Shox is certainly worth a look for rally fans & arcade racers at the £5 price seen on Ebay, if you don’t have a PS2 handy the game emulates on the PC using the disk pretty well.

Freekstyle (PlayStation 2/GameCube)

Ditching the rally cars, Freekstyle goes down the motocross route instead whilst taking the OTT aspect of the BIG games up a notch. The tracks are pretty well detailed with several shortcuts to favour the bold, and plenty of ramps & jumps to give you an opportunity to showcase some tricks. The tricks are a key aspect of this game as they add to your boost and build-up the freakout meter, the freakout is a signature move that gives a boost upon landing that you can also top-up with track points similar to how boost works on Burnout for example. Like a fighting game, you’ll want to keep track of the trick combo list as combining different, or a few of the same trick, will net you big point bonuses with named combos.

Some of the riders can have their own moves to combo, and the rider variety is another highlight of the game. Freekstyle has a pretty charismatic roster of racers, each one can be upgraded with new bikes to boost stats and costumes to change their look. All this is done through the championship mode as you complete the stages and unlock more racers and goodies, some of the stages will even change up the racing to an enclosed stage specifically for point building. There’s a lot of this to get through, though the heat based system on its track races can get annoying, so it’s one that could take a while to unlock everything on offer. The game can be had for around £8-£15 on either the GC or PS2 and emulates well for either, if you have the disk handy but the console is still boxed up, there’s also a GBA version to try that I played years back but don’t really have any fond memories of…

SSX Tricky (PlayStation 2/GameCube/Xbox)

Following on from the PS2 launch title SSX, Tricky took that foundation and expanded upon it to form the template that would become later EA Big games like Freekstyle etc. A roster of charismatic characters, that can also have rivals within the same races for added spice, race on downhill stages sporting OTT design to enhance the tricks side of snowboarding. As with those that followed, tricks can net you boost to use the race and there are also trick combo’s to get an even bigger points reward – be sure to check the combo list in the menu.

Whilst it is undoubtedly an arcade racer on snowboards, there’s still something to be said for finding the right line on a stage. You can just fall down the mountain using the boost to keep up with the pack, or you can use the boost sparingly and find the right line on the way down for a smooth journey. It’s probably this that made the game as popular as it was, maybe also the licensed soundtrack, as it allowed for almost anyone to find enjoyment in the game. That popularity also helps when looking to pick the game up these days, with plenty listed online at prices ranging from £5 to £15 on any platform (GameCube version seems a bit tougher to find) – There’s also a GBA version that I haven’t tried. Emulation was a bit spotty as the characters would disappear which made for tough stages with an invisible racer, but the game still plays really well on the actual hardware (how I ended up replaying) so it wasn’t a big deal and could probably be tweaked anyway.

SledStorm (PlayStation 2)

The last to look at will also be the one least talked about here. Sledstorm follows a similar template to the others in how the game is structured, but it lacks the charisma, pizazz, and feels a tad toned down compared to the other sports racers. Sleds are the order of the day here, but the cumbersome nature of them are not an issue given the arcade leanings. You can actually control the sled in mid-air to line up your landing to the angle of the ground and maintain speed after a jump, again tricks equal boost as with the others, so you can have some fun once you get into the groove of things.

That groove is tough to get in to though, likely due to the track design that’s never really clicked with me. It’s not bad really, just feels mundane as the shortcuts, jumps etc seem a little hit & miss leaving you with little confidence when tackling them. It’s not a bad game by any means, worth a rainy afternoon at least, but there’s better ones to collect on this page for the same price or less – Sledstorm is usually around £5-£10. The game does emulate pretty well though if you have a CD-Rom drive handy.

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Geoffrey Wright

Rocking the world of gaming since the Atari 2600, has now settled down to bask in the warmth of moe. Moe is life for a moe connoisseur.

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