A strange mix of EA Sports Big SSX series and long forgotten ESPN Extreme Games on the PS1, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is a complete departure for Activision's franchise. This new spin on the game is a fantastic run that feels fresh, unique and different enough to make it a worthy addition to Tony Hawks's paycheck. Activision has crafted a winner.
Instead of a focus on absurd goals and tricks, Downhill Jam is a racing title. The superb sense of speed across a rapidly changing level design is the addictive hook that keeps you playing. The basic trick system is in place, and occasionally crucial depending on the style of the race.
The single player game is about advancing through different tiers of challenges, earning new boards to increase stats and gaining new medals to level up. Challenges vary from races, to destructive runs, to knocking over as many pedestrians as possible. Each proves different enough to make them feel separate even when barreling down a familiar track.
Controls are tailor made for the Wii. The remote is held sideways, and turning it logically turns your skater. Tricks are performed with the 1 and 2 buttons, while a special trick can be activated with the A button when a meter has been filled. There is also a boost available that fills as you trick. Shaking the remote activates it, though it has a tough time registering and it's difficult to turn and tip at the same time.
Downhill Jam is geared for a younger audience. It's nearly impossible to wipe out when landing. Randomly pressing buttons can get you through the early races as long as you pay attention to the turns. Damage is dealt by other riders who can knock you over or by hitting stationary objects that are unbreakable. Getting reset requires a rapid shaking of the controller.
Levels are crammed with shortcuts, and in later runs, you'll need to know the position of each to make it through. Exploration is a heavy risk however. Going even slightly off course can result in race altering disorientation, and it's far too difficult to recover after hitting a wall. You're better off wiping out since resetting on the track requires a press of the – button which is deep on the remote and hard to hit without losing precious seconds.
With a wicked sense of humor that makes pre-race interviews worth watching, Downhill Jam is rarely off. The stylized character design properly sets the tone, while the real life skate videos that occasionally play don't seem to mesh well. It's still inviting as the outrageous and colorful levels keep you playing to try and find any missed areas that could lead to more shortcuts (and higher medals).
Multi-player is split screen only unfortunately, as it's set up perfectly for some Wi-Fi action. Four players can play in any of the single player race modes along with two additional choices. On bases the winner on how long they were in first place, and the other knocks out racers at certain points if they're in last. There's nothing radical or innovative, though the game's simplistic combat engine can lead to fun times in tight contests.
If you're expecting to show off your skills in Tony Hawk's standard style, you're going to be disappointed. Downhill Jam puts everyone on equal footing, ignoring the countless and arguably convoluted changes the core Tony Hawk games have endured over the years. It's a nicely designed and welcome departure, at least until it's milked in what will undoubtedly years of sequels.
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Language. This game can also be found on: DS.Powered by Sidelines