Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Vicarious Visions did an admirable job with this one, but we kinda miss the old 'Hawk...
Rice-A-Roni is quite simply the San Francisco treat...unless you have a girlfriend who lives out there. Easily in second place is the glory of watching a skateboarder trying to show off on a downhill run and landing face first on the sidewalk, losing a layer of skin and their gathered integrity in the process. Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam isn't quite graphical enough in detail to show the shredding of skin, but it gets this idea down pat, where skateboarders race against each other for first place glory while avoiding the eventual crashes that would guarantee a horrible hospital bill and an even more horrible sponge bath by the Big Bertha nurse. (She still haunts me to this very day.)
In the game, players create their ideal skateboarder and then proceed to take part in a series of races to prove their skateboarding mentality. This includes Tony Hawk as well as a number of other characters, none of which have been seen before in a Tony Hawk game. But don't sweat it, because they all race about the same. The downhill racing rhythm runs along the same lines as EA's SSX games, where tricks can earn you boost and momentum is the name of the game. During each race, shortcuts can be found, along with icons and helpful boosts to push you that much closer to the finish line.
Vicarious Visions had a big task ahead of them- how to take the existing Tony Hawk style of games and put them into a full-blown racing effort without looking like something along the lines of failed skateboarding games such as Grind Session and Street Sk8er. Fortunately, they get most of the job done, as the game moves fast and allows quick tricks to be pulled off in order to achieve glory. The trick list, however, is a bit shortened in the conversion to racing, which may leave those looking to prolong their trick cycles into the billion-point zone in the dust. It still fits the game, however.
The visuals and sound are surprisingly sharp- when they're working. Downhill Jam does run afoul of trouble with polish in the game, most notably in some bugs and one little glitch that ended up freezing the game in its entirety. It doesn't happen that often, though, so don't be too discouraged. The music, while running in a repetitive loop, is still moderately enjoyable, and the voice samples are worth a listen, as brief as they are.
Where the game really earns its keep is in multiplayer. Numerous players can jump into a race via local Wi-Fi hook-up, or they can also take part in Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection and take on the world. Setting up a four player race will take some time, however, so keep a copy of War and Peace handy...or maybe a Playboy. War and Peace doesn't have any interesting pictures to look at. Once a race is set, it's all worthwhile, as there's chaos while players go through a series of downhill tracks and events.
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam isn't quite a classic, due to its simplistic nature and its slightly buggy interface. But for those who don't feel like getting into the Wii market or have zero luck getting one for Chrstmas (watch, your Aunt Edna will give you another fruitcake), this is a moderate alternative that you won't mind going downhill for. Just mind the speed bumps- last thing you want to do is land on your head and THEN get smacked by a cable car. Then your face looks like Rice-A-Roni. Ouch.
What's Hot: Fun, fast racing action; online racing is enjoyable; decent presentation.
What's Not: Slight glitches and lock-ups; trick-based gameplay has been marginalized.