When it was released last year for the Nintendo Wii, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam was celebrated as a brand new take on the tried and true skating sim formula. While it wasn't perfect, the game did allow you to use the motion-sensing control in unique ways and offered a challenge that was completely different from what we got in Project 8 (or any of the other Tony Hawk games for that matter). Six months later Activision has decided to port Downhill Jam to the PlayStation 2, and while it doesn't offer any of the Wii remote functionality it does manage to do just about everything else.
Although it shares the name, Downhill Jam is actually quite a departure for the Tony Hawk brand. In past games you have been asked to skate around large levels hunting for the best objects to trick off of, hoping to figure out ways of linking all of your moves together for the maximum points. Those levels are often spread out and flat, giving you the opportunity to really learn the layout and become a real pro at whatever location you are stuck in.
But that's not what Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is all about. Instead of leisurely searching for things to trick off of, in this game you are constantly being pushed down a steep hill while you attempt to do tricks over jumps, grind on whatever you can and, most importantly, get to the bottom in one piece. If anything this Tony Hawk is more like Electronic Arts' popular SSX series, it's an intriguing combination of traditional Tony Hawk game play and a fast-paced racing mechanic. Unfortunately developer Toys For Bob can't quite get either of those parts right and Downhill Jam proves to be more of an interesting concept than a solid Tony Hawk game.
From the very moment you turn on Downhill Jam you'll know that this is not your traditional Tony Hawk game, the graphics are more over-the-top, there's significantly less accuracy involved with the control, and the character roster is made up of a lot of cartoon-like skateboarders. Instead of offering likenesses of your favorite skaters, Downhill Jam allows you to play as a number of new characters that all seem to be based on some sort of stereotype. You get characters like Tiffany (the blonde bimbo), Gunner (the aggressive muscleman), MacKenzie (the British punker), Skyler (the emo kid), and (Crash the daredevil). About the only "normal" character of the bunch is Tony Hawk himself, even if he looks more like an action figure than an actual person.
Once you've decided on what kind of stereotype you want to be you're whisked away to a grid that shows you all of the available events. Because every event in Downhill Jam is, well, downhill there's no room for you to explore on your own or find new objects to trick off of. Instead you have to select the level and then do exactly what it says, usually while barreling down the course at record speeds.
The good news is that every course has multiple hidden paths and plenty of rails to grind to let you pick up speed. This means that while you may miss some shortcuts the first few times through the level, the more you play the courses the better chance you'll have of actually discovering all of the secrets hidden in these locations. Unfortunately the bad news is that you'll be playing on these courses so many times that you'll start to lose interest in actually finding the shortcuts and just want the race to be over with.
In total there are about a dozen different locations in Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, including the steep hills of San Francisco, the snowy peaks of the Alps, the ancient architecture in Rome, and so on so forth. Some of the locations even have more than one course, such as Chicago which has you racing through the city and through a shopping mall. At first it may seem like there's a lot of variety in Downhill Jam, but before long you'll be asked to play the same course for the tenth, eleventh and twelfth time. It's not that any of these courses are particularly bad; they just get old after a short amount of time.
While racing other opponents is a large part of what you do in Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, it's certainly not the only thing you'll be doing. Some events will want you to perform tricks and earn a certain score before you pass over the finish line (something else SSX fans will no doubt recognize). Another popular event is the Slalom, which gives you very little time to get through the course and expects that you'll hit the various gates (floating circles) to add more time. Other events include a level that wants you to grind as long as you can, pick up as many of the coins scattered around the level as you can, and knock down as many innocent spectators as humanly possible. Some of these events are fun, but you'll find that the game tends to rely a little too heavily on the tried and true race, trick and slalom modes.
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