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Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land Review

Developer: Vicarious Visions Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 15, 2005 Also On: None

When Activision released Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 on the Game Boy Advance, I reeled in disgust at how there weren’t any real upgrades to the isometric viewpoint or the erratic control scheme or the aged visuals. I was even more disgusted that they spent so much more time not only revamping the console version for the PlayStation Portable version, but also adding additional stuff to the game. While the PSP version was indeed a fantastic game, I wondered when a Nintendo handheld would receive a fair version of the console skateboarding franchise. With Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land for the Nintendo DS, of course.

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Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land takes some of the best elements of the console edition (American Wasteland) and transforms them into an optimized DS experience. Almost all of the console levels return to the DS game, though they have been slightly altered to accommodate the limited buttons of the DS. Rather than cram several moves into the DS’s six buttons, Vicarious Visions took the series back to its roots and removed the ability to jump off of the board and walk around. They kept some of the other features, like flatland tricks and Focus Mode. They even kept graffiti in the game, though it’s only used a few times during the Story mode. While it’s not perfect and there are indeed some flaws, Tony Hawk fans that own a DS now have something to call their own and be proud of.

Speaking of the Story mode, once again it’s the bane of Tony Hawk’s existence. American Wasteland held gamers’ hands and took them through a big, long training mode. American Sk8land isn’t very different. Near the end of the game, some of the goals are still asking for easy combos, low point totals and easy gaps. What happened to the challenge? I know that it’s possible for an experienced player to score millions of points, I’m not too shabby at this game myself, but seriously, why should I even care if the goals are asking me to score 50,000 points in two minutes? I can do it with my eyes closed. I wouldn’t be so hard on the game if it didn’t teach me how to manual or grind every level; with all of that training, shouldn’t I easily be able to score more than 50,000 points in two minutes? C’mon guys, give us a challenge. The Story mode isn’t the only one available. Classic Mode returns as well, but even it’s too easy. The two-minute runs are almost too much time to collect SKATE letters that are usually nearby each other and COMBO letters that practically take your skater in a straight, easy line.

Though I’m not impressed by the actual game modes, the gameplay is as good as ever. Despite the small size of the DS’s buttons (which was a problem for my larger-sized fingers), it’s still pretty easy to bust out combos. I noticed a little lag time in-between my manual commands and the skater on-screen actually performing the trick, but other than that, there isn’t really a problem. Vicarious Visions slightly changed the rate at which your skater spins, so aligning yourself before landing a trick is a little harder than before, but these small changes don’t cause much of a problem when they’re implemented into the normal feeling of the game.

What is really nice about Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land is what you can see just from looking at screenshots or online videos the graphics. The graphic style is that of a cartoon or a comic book. It’s cel-shaded, colorful stuff that takes advantage of the DS’s capabilities. The animation is spot-on although most of the moves have been re-used from the earlier PSX/N64 games. Really, it’s impressive that Vicarious Visions managed to make this game look so great in motion. The soundtrack won’t get a single praise from me–it’s easily the worst in the entire series, but it is impressive that they crammed a few songs onto the DS cart. Similarly, there is a lot of spoken dialogue, but most of it (especially Mindy’s voice) tore my ears out and spat on them. All I can say is that if a voice actor as bad as Mindy’s is ever put into a videogame, I’ll never buy or play a game from that developer again. It’s unfair that my ear drums should have to bleed like that.

So it has good controls, it’s got pretty graphics and it’s got great old-school gameplay that any Tony Hawk fan should be able to enjoy. The only thing that makes Sk8land a slight disappointment is its gameplay modes. They’re too easy, too generic and too boring. Vicarious Visions (and in the console version’s case, Neversoft) should really go back to the drawing board and make this skateboarding game worth my time for the next version. I’m getting pretty tired of being asked to collect someone’s lost shoes. I want fun, I want innovation, and for the love of God I don’t ever want Mindy again. For those of you who want a good Tony Hawk handheld game, check this out. I mean, it is at least a dozen times better than the isometric GBA games. Otherwise, it might be wise to wait for another Hawk game to skate around.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 6.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 6.5
Final: 7.4
Written by Cliff Review Guide