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X GAMES: 

Where X-treme sports and the Xbox meetvideogames

Where there are X-treme sports enthusiasts, Xboxes and Playstations are bound to follow. You won't see PS2 sponsoring the PGA anytime soon, but videogames and X-treme sporting events are always closely linked. One thing's for sure: X-treme sports games are meant to be multi-player and must have some sweet moves, because up to 20 kids will be playing at a party while downing energy drinks and blasting the soundtrack.

Pump up for winter with SSX On Tour, which has you shredding through all sorts of powder as you grab a snowboard and take to some serious slopes. Playing out tricks while 40 feet in the air is something I love to do and wouldn't be able to without the assistance of a game system. Sure, I've tried my hand at snowboarding... and biffed it 50 times, while sliding down the bunny slope. With SSX, I get to stay on my feet and punch out other boarders without a bungle.

This is essentially a traditional format where you compete in events, unlocking more as you go along, and win all sorts of medals, prestige and money while doing it. The money is good for unlocking certain tricks and abilities, which expands what you can do while gaming. Beyond that, you mostly can just buy pretty things for your character to wear.

Speaking of character customization, there are a lot of great options in this game. My character had the blue hair I've never managed to achieve for myself (damn the effects of peroxide and neon dye on dark brown hair!) and a slick rock-star bob.

Aside from the characters, the game has some fine graphics. The courses are beautiful and you can even see realistic-looking snowflakes flit by as you cut into the banks. EA Games definitely used some rendering to get this game as crisp and clear as it is.

The menu is the weak link. Sure, the abominable snowmen and unicorns playing guitars are fun at first, but with the menu's long and frequent load times, everything there gets a bit boring. I tended to steer clear of the menus and re-run the courses instead, because they loaded faster with a restart than by returning to home base.

Finally, the soundtrack on this deal is pretty killer. If you're a boarder, you'll be happy with the song selection. You get punk-rock vets Pennywise, Queens of the Stone Age, political rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy, 80s metal bands Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and the electronics whiz kids of the Herbalizer. EA also sheds the spotlight on newer bands, like Sweatshop Union and Vatican DC. While I like the music, eventually I turned off the sound and turned up my CD player. For hours of play, I just don't think 41 songs cut it.

SSX On Tour is a great way to kick off the winter season, and a good early start to boarding festivities.

When it comes to skateboarding games, Tony Hawk is the name. One of the best skaters of all time, the man's cornered the market for years. This is number seven in his bad-ass series. While American Wasteland fails to capture some of the more loved aspects of the previous games -- and there are definitely some bugs here -- it at least has a good plot.

Yeah, you read it right -- this is a skater game with a plot. Our main character, a nameless skater from the Midwest, moves to LA in an attempt to skate where the Z-Boys once ruled. He gets jumped, a gal takes pity on him, and he ends up thrashing through LA, doing everything pop culture would have you believe skaters do.

While sticker-slapping and tagging is all good fun, there's no real complexity of action, no wiggle room to fudge past the requirements with something more creative. It's no Grand Theft Auto, and after a while the goals feel a bit repetitive.

There is the nice addition of a BMX course. You can grab a BMX, ride it around and master a whole new set of tricks. Sometimes, I had to pull myself from the bike to get back into the story of the game.

A big leap made in American Wasteland was the attempt at connecting this game with all the LA courses of previous Hawk games into a giant, no-load course. But though it's pushed as being no-load, it definitely doesn't deliver: There are pauses, kinks and not-so pretty moments.

Generally, Wasteland plays comparably to other Hawk games. Plus, there's a great soundtrack with more than 60 songs by acts ranging from punk vets Black Flag and Dead Kennedys through Dropkick Murphys and on up to My Chemical Romance. Oh yeah, you also get Motley Crue, dude.

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