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Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam Review

Developer: Vicarious Visions Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 19, 2006 Also On: DS

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Neversoft and Activision have a soft spot for Electronic Arts and EA Big’s SSX series. Their latest skateboarding and first Nintendo Wii game, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, plays more like that downhill snowboarding title than the skateboarding franchise that propelled extreme sports into the video game industry. Though this is a tragedy in some ways, it works in others, and as a result Downhill Jam is a game that shows potential but skids to the finish line with plenty of scratches and bruises.

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In the game’s primary gameplay mode, different races and runs are selected and then performed. There are a lot of different events to choose from, including races, trick contests, and slalom runs. There are even special missions that ask you to do things like knock over a large number of pedestrians or cause a certain amount of damage to destructible objects. Fortunately, though the missions get a little repetitive and are sometimes too easy, there is an incentive for replaying difficult missions and earning higher ranks: new skateboards can be unlocked, and even new characters. Progressing through the game is simple enough; win a few events and you’ll unlock more. It’s as simple as that.

Being a Nintendo Wii game, the most important topic of discussion is control. How does Downhill Jam perform with the sideways-style Wii remote? Fair, at best. Downhill Jam isn’t the hardest game on Wii to play (see GT Pro Series, Rampage: Total Destruction for that), but it also isn’t very intuitive and takes far too many adjustments. For starters, all movement is controlled by tilting the remote left or right. This controls your turning, grind balancing, and spinning whilst airborne. This wouldn’t be a problem if it worked consistently: depending on the player’s distance to the television, control can either be too sensitive (step back!) or far too sluggish (move forward!). Tricks are pretty simple to pull off, using the 1 and 2 buttons, but the lack of manuals makes combining lines as difficult as…well, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam Wii Gameplay Video

If the wonky controls aren’t enough to turn a player away, the cast of characters and their interview-style quips at the start of each race might be. Honestly, it is difficult to think of the last time a cast was this awful! You’ve got stereotypes abound (a stupid, hulk-like Russian, a blonde bimbo, and punk British tomboy, for example) and all of the voice acting will have you jamming the Wii remote through your ears. Skip the interviews, you’ve been warned! On the plus side, Downhill Jam does feature a better Create-A-Skater than its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 brother, Tony Hawk’s Project 8, and custom skaters don’t talk, avoiding any additional eardrum-burning banter.

The level design is pretty interesting. The locations include Rio, The Mall, and Rome, and each track offers some interesting shortcuts, thrilling drops, and tight turns. They’re cut into sections to shorten race times, which is an interesting choice–rarely will the player ever go from the actual start to finish of any track. Grind lines and ramps lead to loads of tricking potential, and usually shave a few seconds off of the clock. SSX has it beat in level design, but it’s hard not to credit Neversoft for trying.

Visually, Downhill Jam looks fine on the Wii. It certainly doesn’t run poorly, though some of the textures are a little blurry, the character costumes are simple and blocky, and the bail animations are, at times, quite stiff. Still, the exciting sensation of ramping a few stories off of a broken walkway in Rio isn’t held up by a spotty frame rate, so that’s a big plus. The soundtrack is composed of 40 different tracks, and that’s pretty impressive, but not being able to sample each song before turning it on or off is quite annoying. Also, it would have been really nice if the songs continued through loading screens and carried onto other races. Being taken out of the Lupe Fiasco groove and thrown into punky Anti-Flag stuff is an aural buzz kill.

Overall, Downhill Jam is a decent Nintendo Wii title that doesn’t control poorly enough to discredit, but isn’t deep or engaging enough to praise. Tony Hawk fans will most definitely want to check out Project 8 instead. Even the Nintendo DS version of Downhill Jam is a little better, but the Wii one isn’t awful. SSX fans might want to try a rental to hold them over until EA Big’s SSX Blur makes its Wii appearance this spring.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 6.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 6.5
Final: 7
Written by Cliff Review Guide