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Toys for Bob

Who would have thought that a skating game would produce one of the most popular series of all time?

Not me.

Back when the first Tony Hawk came out, I never thought once about trying it out. A couple of skater kids I used to hang out with were obsessed with it, but then again, they filmed themselves doing stupid things (much like Jackass would in a few years) and sat around laughing about them, so they weren’t the perfect people to get opinions on stuff. Unless it’s how to properly fall or set a bone.

Still, I tried it, and was hooked from the beginning. The game is such a perfect blend of everything good about games. Skaters loved it for all of their real-life heroes that were included, video gamers loved it for the challenges and fun levels. Everyone was happy, and though every year brought out a new game that was only marginally improved, people bought it just to find some new tracks to do their tricks.

And then came the Wii.

The Pitch

This ain’t the Tony Hawk you know and love. Activision has decided to go for a spin-off instead of having the latest Hawk hit Wii, which was probably not a bad idea since they wanted to see what they could do with the Wii controls. The Downhill Jam is just that- everything here is on a downhill course. It leads to a much different style of gameplay than usual. No longer can you go back and try to redo a trick that you’ve started, and if you pass up a letter (yes, they still have the S-K-A-T-E letters to collect) you’re shit out of luck. No more manuals or reverts (unless you use a code), you’ve got to get the tricks right the first time. It’s much more like SSX than a Tony Hawk game.

Tony Hawk is the only real person in this one, too. The rest are stereotypes, but at least they’re aware of it. You’ve got the goth, the blonde mallrat, the strong black man, the stoner. Before each level there’s a little "video interview" with these characters were they talk crap about the other skaters and shine a little more light on their lives. It’s pretty silly, and you’ll be skipping them after going through them a couple of times.

But besides that there’s no story to this one. You’re here to win.

The Play

Even Hawk vets are going to need the tutorial for this one. This game only uses the Wii remote, held sideways. You tilt it left or right to turn your skater, or to balance on a rail. The 2 button controls jumping, and while you’re in the air you can spin with the remote, and do tricks with the 1 and 2 buttons. Holding different directions on the D-pad does different flip and kick tricks, much like the other games. Holding down the A button lets you do quick turns around corners, and is pretty handy. There’s lots of other little nuances to the game (like getting a better jump by throwing the remote upwards) and once you get into it, it works great. A little too great, in fact. I tried playing one of the older games on my Cube and felt like an idiot when I was shaking the controller to make my skater get up faster. D’oh.

The game only has a few levels, but they’re split up into a bunch of sections. Some of the tracks are only one section, some a couple, some are the whole damn thing. You’ll do all sorts of races, too. There’s a standard one where you have to beat 5 other skaters down the hill, and another where you have to get as many points as possible by tricking. There’s a slalom where you have to hit gates. There’s one where you have to beat up as many pedestrians as possible, and one where you have to cause as much property damage as you can. The only problem with those two is that it’s the same thing as the slalom, because all you will be doing is trying to get the perfect line through the tracks. If you want that gold medal, at least.

This game was built for anal gamers like me, because it’s pretty hard to get gold on every track. Since you’ve only got once chance to hit thing right I was restarting every damn minute to try and get that perfect line.

So the game’s fun to play, it’s a nice new twist on an old formula, what’s not to love?

One surprising problem for the game is that it’s too damn long. I don’t know how many levels there are in here, but you will play every section of every level in all sorts of modes. It gets a little boring after a while. There’s also not as much to unlock (more on that later) and so there’s less of a reason to go through the whole thing.

Also, it just doesn’t feel like a Tony Hawk game. The levels are decent, but nothing will stick in your memory the way the older games did. There’s still that same great feeling you get where you discover a new line or a secret part of the level, but for the most part things go by too fast for you to appreciate them.

The Presentation

Thankfully the music is very good, as usual for the series. The playlists are set up according to stereotype (meaning that since I played as the metalhead, I only heard metal) but you can make your own custom soundtracks using their music. In a stupid move though you can’t preview the tracks, and since there’s never any indicator of what you’re listening to, unless you’re familiar with the music you’ll be SOL. There’s a lot of good tracks though, including White Zombie, Motorhead, Shadows Fall, and Public Enemy. (On a complete side note, does anyone find Channel Zero to be ironic now that Flavor Flav has his own reality show?)

The graphics don’t hold up as well as the music, though. As is typical with Wii games it can look downright last-gen at parts. The only places the system shows off its power is in the fact that there’s no pop-in, and that you can see for miles at parts. But otherwise it’s nothing spectacular.

The Replay

Multiplayer is here in full force, and the 4-player races are pretty damn fun. You’ve got the options of any track from the game, with any of the modes. It’s simple, and fun, but you won’t end up playing it for too long, just because there’s not that much to it.

This is also a much harder game for nongamers to get involved with, as I found out after attempting to rally people into it after a rousing game of Wii Sports. Everyone just wanted to play Bowling again.

While there’s a lot of boards, outfits and characters to unlock, it’s nothing you’ll strive towards. Gone are the fun videos from each skater, or the bail videos. It’s also not as much fun to try for a high score, since it’s not really your decision how to tackle it.

The Verdict

Worth a buy for fans of SSX. The single player game might lose your interest after a while, but the multiplayer will pick it back up. It’s no Project 8, but it’s the best Wii owners can get for now.

8.0 out of 10