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Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam Review

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Developer: Vicarious Visions Publisher: Activision
Release Date: October 24, 2006 Also On: Wii

In order to capitalize on the unique control methods of Nintendo’s DS and brand new Wii, Activision switched things up a little with Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. No longer a free-roaming skateboarding game, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam focuses on the high speeds and tight turns of downhill skateboarding races. Ultimately Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is a fun video game, but it departs a little too far from the Tony Hawk style, leaving mostly just its engine and name to be recognized.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is more similar to Electronic Arts’ SSX series than the eight-game Tony Hawk franchise. You’ll bomb down hills as quickly as possible, doing tricks, grinding rails, and doing manuals to connect combos that earn you big points. Points get you boost, which allows you to skate faster. Skate the fastest, win the race–that’s all you have to do, for the most part. In all fairness, the game’s Story Mode gives you other goals, like doing a certain trick over a certain spot or getting as many points as possible before crossing the finish line. None of the goals are too difficult to beat, though I’ll mention that on the harder difficulties, Downhill Jam was quite a challenge.

There are six courses in Downhill Jam, and each one is loaded with these challenges. There are different sections in each that you’ll race through, and of course you’ll race through all of them in a much longer sprint from time to time. Six courses isn’t a lot, especially when you consider that Tony Hawk games usually have around 10 levels to skate in. Still, the game never feels too repetitive and the courses are fun to skate in.

Essentially the skateboarding mechanics that made Tony Hawk so much fun are all intact here. You can connect combos with manuals and spine transfers. The game’s high-speed action makes this a little more difficult, so Vicarious Visions implemented a timer that ticks down when you land a few tricks. Start another combo before this ticker goes away, and your previous combo will link to the new one. If you’re skilled enough, you can easily do a combo from the start to the end of a level–this will, of course, earn you insane amounts of boost and usually ensure a victory. Also, skate lines in Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam open up shortcuts, making it an even bigger incentive to play the game like a normal Tony Hawk game and still win races.

Downhill Jam has a unique style. On the DS, it keeps the American Sk8land cel-shading and improves it a little. Some of the new effects are nice, and it’s impressive that the game never slows down when you’re boosting and flying through the air at super-high speeds. The Wii version also doesn’t look bad, though it doesn’t use the new engine that looked so fantastic in Tony Hawk’s Project 8, which recently came out on the two other next-generation consoles, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Also, I can’t help but feel like Downhill Jam’s locations are completely devoid of other people–this game seems very lonely at times, as there are very few pedestrians or signs of human activity, for that matter.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is a fun game that I personally feel should have been a part of its own series. I understand that Activision kept the Tony Hawk name for its instant familiarity with casual gamers and skateboarders, but Downhill Jam is a game that’s more SSX than Tony Hawk. If Vicarious Visions chooses to make another Downhill Jam, the ingredients to a better game would be more courses, a few creation modes (like a Create-A-Skater that isn’t so restrictive), and a little more life in its environments.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 7
Final: 7.8
Written by Cliff Review Guide