It has been a while since the first Tony Hawk’s game was released, seven years in fact, and since then he has appeared on almost every console. It was inevitable then that the Wii would sooner or later see an appearance from everyone’s favourite skater. But what wasn’t as expected was the complete change in gameplay, and style of game. for Downhill Jam the new developers, Toys for Bob, have taken away the standard Tony Hawk’s formula of going around levels completing goals by doing various things on your skateboard, as well as off it in more recent installments, and replaced it with a game that is far closer in style to SSX than any other skating game around.
The concept is simple you have to race down a hill, on a skateboard obviously, trying to find the fastest route to the bottom. For the slower racers you can just try and physically beat your opponents to slow them down, or else do big tricks to get a boost. The 8 playable characters all have different stats so there will be at least one racer that will suit your gameplay style, whether you like fighting, speed or tricks. You can perform the usual variety of tricks, including flips, grabs, manuals, grinds etc and doing so will build up your boost meter, which then can be activated by a simple shake of the WiiMote. If this is done at the right time and used effectively it cam make a huge difference to the outcome in the race, so use your boosts wisely. The concept may sound very lacking in depth, and to be honest it is, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great deal of fun even if within a couple of months you’ll have either traded it in or rarely play it. You aren’t always just speeding down a hill as fast as possible, some of the time you need to complete certain goals, like going through a slalom or trying to hit as many pedestrians as possible, but even though this does provide some variation the game is still lacking in this department.
The controls are something completely new, and it is a risk that has paid off well for Toys for Bob. There is very little to complain about when it comes to the control system, except that it may take you some time to get used to the new way of doing things. For example, while at first you’ll often need to fight off the urge to do spins in the air with the d-pad instead of by turning the WiiMote round, once your used to it you’ll realise that is it a far more fun method than pushing a small stick to spin. The tricks themselves are simple enough to perform, all that is required is a push of a button, but other than that most of the controls are done via motion sensitivity, for steering you just tilt the WiiMote left or right and tilting backwards or forwards allows you to crouch and gain speed. It is an excellent control scheme that is simple to use and intuitive, even if some say it is a bit gimmicky.
No online play is available for Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, so don’t expect to playing gamers from across the world. And while this would have been an excellent addition to the game, instead what you do get is a great fun multiplayer mode. This game really succeeds when you’ve got three other friends over and you’re all playing together racing down a hill trying to beat everyone else. In fact the multiplayer mode wouldn’t have been enhanced much by the inclusion of online play.
The graphics are what you’d expect from any Wii game, in between the previous generation and the current/next generation. So think of an excellent looking PS2 game or a not so great Xbox 360 game. Although this may not sound good from what is supposed to be a next generation game, and in comparison to Project 8 it isn’t really, the Wii was never about the graphics and Nintendo have been very outspoken in this regard. But even at high speeds the graphics maintain the high quality that there is in the rest of the game, even if the character models aren’t all that great and the textures lack any real detail. The sound is also average, its nothing special but like the visuals it does the job well. There is a decent selection of music, with 40 tracks in the game to be listened to, with groups like Public Enemy and Anti-Flag appearing. It would have been better if, like Excite Truck, you could select your own music from an SD card to play in the game. One feature about the sound that makes in very interesting is the fact that it utilises the WiiMote’s internal speaker, which plays many of the sound effects from the game, like grinding or landing a trick. This makes the game feel more inclusive, but doesn’t really enhance the game a great deal.
Even if the game is lacking in variation when it comes to gameplay, this luckily isn’t the same for the the courses in the game, with eight different race tracks to mess about with ranging from the streets of San Francisco, which is a really obvious choice, to Machu Pichu, an Incan ruin on a mountain peak in Southern America, which may be recognised by some gamers as one of the backgrounds in Tekken 2. With about 100 races to complete at least you won’t get bored with the levels as quickly as you’ll get bored of the gameplay. There are also twelve different characters to play with each with different statistics for speed, balance, combat, turning and jump. You are able to build these stats up by completing levels and goals, but instead you can buy different skateboards that will alter these stats. As with all Tony Hawk’s games there is a Create-A-Skater option so if you want you can make someone in your own image, but it isn’t as versatile as it should be.
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