Date: December 6, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams
Once again Tony Hawk graces every console imaginable, although the Wii game is unlike any other. Take one part Pro Skater and one part SSX, and we have Downhill Jam.
When it comes to games based around extreme sports, no one has paved the way like Tony Hawk. Originally released on the Playstation 1, Pro Skater immediately grabbed the attention of many players, including myself. I’ve since been very addicted to the series, which may be odd since I have never owned an actual skateboard. Regardless, the game combined a great trick system with unique levels and many secrets. That’s what made it great. Last month we were welcomed to the eighth installment of the series, which we reviewed here.
Project 8 and Downhill Jam have absolutely nothing in common. Unless you count the fact that they both star Tony Hawk and were released in the same month. This is the first Tony Hawk game to sway away from the gameplay we’ve all come to enjoy, but that’s thanks to the fact that the Wii has a unique control system. Take one part Pro Skater and one part SSX and we have Downhill Jam. This game is packed with the usual slew of tricks, but also fast paced racing. Paired together, it’s quite enjoyable.
I’ll admit it, I am not a huge fan of the Wii’s controller, so when I first learned of Downhill Jam I was completely skeptical. Not entirely because of the control though. Here Activision is taking one of my favorite game series of all time, and going in a completely different direction. Were they right to do so?
The premise of the game is rather simple. You begin out on top of a massive hill and skate down. Not surprisingly, the first one over the finish line wins. That’s not to say it will be a simple journey though. Each track offers a unique set of challenges, and it’s not until you play the same route a few times over before you will gain a Gold medal. There are eight locales in the game including Rio, Chicago, San Francisco and Alps. Each race you play through may take a different portion and base it there. Some of the races include the entire level, and it will take between 3 and 4 minutes to make it to the bottom, usually.
Your competitors are not going to go easy on you, so you have to use your smarts to beat them. Learning the shortcuts help, but where they don’t, you can knock them down and gain a little advantage. If you are close enough to anyone you can simply hit the 2 button and knock them silly. This is not only fun, but can be crucial to getting you the win.
The game offers additional modes to just racing though. Slalom is a race type that tests your precision… greatly. Throughout these levels there are a slew of blue checkpoints you must hit in order to gain precious time. If you miss most of them, you will be unable to finish the level thanks to a lack of time. Collecting them all will give you a huge bonus at the end which will assure you a Gold medal. I had a lot of fun with this mode, but some of the levels and checkpoints were frustrating later on.
Given that this is a Tony Hawk game, having a trick based race only makes complete sense. Each one of these levels will offer checkpoints throughout that will completely slow the motion down, offering a better opportunity for huge combos. This proved to be the most enjoyable race type for me personally. It’s a blast busting down a hill doing insane combos along the way, that’s all I can say.
Finally, there are special races which will vary depending on the race. One special type will force you to be a complete jackass… knock down as many people as you can before the race end. Grinding is another one of the special races, and is straight forward. Grind as much as you can before you hit the finish.
As a whole, the game is linear with no real sidequests. There are not really that many additions in terms of collectibles, although you do unlock new skateboards, outfits and galleries as you progress. As seems to be the norm with the majority of Wii launch titles, there simply isn’t a huge amount of depth here. The regular Tony Hawk series is the opposite. Project 8 for example has many collectibles to gather and secrets to find. There just isn’t much of this in Downhill Jam.
The only controller needed for the game is the remote; The Nunchuck is not used at all. To control the character you hold the remote like an NES controller, and turn by tilting it like a steering wheel. Although is seems ridiculous to stick to this method instead of a normal method of control, it works quite well and proves to be more natural. That said though, the control is not as tight as I’d like… I rarely felt that I had complete control over the player. More like… 95% control.
Graphics wise, the game does nothing to impress and are equivalent to what we would see on the Gamecube. Low-res textures are abundant and results in a rather dull looking world. Backgrounds in games generally are difficult to get “right”… even sky for that matter. But this game has such “fake” looking backgrounds, that it’s hard to ignore. The cutscenes are laughable also, in two ways. Some of the character quotes are humorous, but at the same time you have to laugh at the poor quality.
Although I was skeptical, I had a good deal of fun with the game. While it’s no Pro Skater, it was a refreshing version that proved to be a good sidedish alongside the main course of Project 8. Although the control wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t completely bad either. There were only a couple times that I messed up during a race due to controls, and while it was a downer, it didn’t happen that often.
There are an ample amount of levels available, in addition to the race modes. Even after completing the game with one character, there is a fair amount of replayability.
I do wish the trick system was more in-depth, however. It’s very basic, and there’s no real reason to learn how to perform a certain one. Just randomly tap buttons while in the air and you will bust off a huge combo. Sadly, there is no manual mode in the game. That would have added a lot to the trick system because there are many opportunities where manual is possible to pull off with ease.
The trick system is another area where I found a problem with the controls as well. Once I learned how to do simple tricks, such as flips, the controller would not -always- react to what I’m doing. To flip, you just tilt the remote forward and push the 2 button. Simple enough, but sometimes I had to repeat this 3 or 4 times before the character would actually perform it.
More depth would have been quite welcome. After beating the game, there is little reason to go back through unless you find yourself addicted. There are virtually no collectibles to find… you simply unlock some as you progress through with different skaters. There are a slew of videos to unlock, but most are the ingame videos you will see before each race. Boring after you’ve seen them once.
Tony Hawk games have always been known for their killer soundtrack and this one is no different. You will find a full roundup of genres, but mostly punk. The Bouncing Souls, Left Alone, Anti-Flag and Motorhead can be found here, among 30+ others. It’s a good mix and should keep things interesting as you skate through the game.
The sound production value is not that high either. The sound effects are decent, and the characters are fun to listen to. As you race down a hill and get close to an opponent, they will holler at you. Your board rolling along pavement and kick flipping off a stop sign… it’s on par with the other games in the series.
Overall, this doesn’t feel like a “next-gen” game, even graphics aside. It’s presentation feels like a game that was originally developed for the Nintendo DS, then ported to the Wii. Despite that fact, it was still a fun game. If you enjoy SSX and Tony Hawk, then you will enjoy this game. If you are not a fan of either, you will probably want to stay away. I am awarding Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam a 74%.
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