If a few months ago you told me that my favorite version of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground was going to be the one released on the Nintendo DS, I would have thought you were going insane. With all of the new additions made to the next-generation consoles, it seemed unbelievable that most entertaining version would come out on an underpowered portable that can barely push Nintendo 64-era polygons. Boy was I wrong. While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Tony Hawk's newest game strive to introduce new features and top last year's impressive entry, this Nintendo DS port goes back to the basics to offer a compelling skateboarding game that reminds me of why I fell in love with the series to begin with.
Proving Ground on the Nintendo DS is a traditional 3D Tony Hawk game, not some sort of weird Tony Hawk-meets-SSX variation we got last year in Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. That said, Proving Ground feels exactly like all classic games in the series, you use the face buttons to link moves together and trick off of anything and everything in order to get a high score. All of the classic Tony Hawk moves are here, including the spine transfer, manuals, focus and so on. While this version does not have some of the newest moves that have been incorporated into the series (such as the "Nail a Trick" mode), I personally feel that this is a benefit as the recent console games are relying on this new move a bit too much for my taste.
Unlike the console versions of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, this Nintendo DS game is not one large open world that you can explore at your convenience. Instead the game is split up into a number of smaller areas, each taking place in one of the East Coast-based cities that was found in the larger console game. The three cities in question are Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, each of which has their own unique look and feel. Oddly enough when done on the Nintendo DS these three cities don't seem nearly as dark and grimy as they did on the console. On the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 I felt depressed skating through these crime-ridden urban locales, but this Nintendo DS version feels lighter and more upbeat. Perhaps the Nintendo DS doesn't have the color pallet to recreate the dreary landscapes found in the console games (not that I'm complaining).
In each level you will run into a half dozen or so different people who will tell you a short story and give you a mission to complete. Like its console counterpart, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground DS features three difficulty levels for each task, so if you're just starting out you can feel that sense of accomplishment right from the very start. But don't fool yourself, some of the missions can be extremely challenging, even if you're going through and only beating the tasks on AM (amateur) mode. As you start to feel more confident in your abilities you can go back and try those missions over again in hopes of completing the PRO or SICK versions. Put all this together and you have a lot of gameplay, so expect to put a good amount of time into this game if you plan on beating it at 100%.
As you go through the challenges impressing the various skaters you eventually meet up with one of the pro skaters, who will teach you a new trick and give you a new challenge. Most of the challenges are nothing more than regular missions that are slightly more challenging, but it's fun to play these tasks because you know that when you beat them you'll be swept away to a brand new location (full of new missions and pro skaters). It's also fun to learn what the new moves are, especially since they can help you gain more points when completing future missions. Unfortunately not all of the new moves are as useful as others. For example, one of the biggest additions is the Gesture Trick, which is a mode that is completely touch-based. Here's how it works, when you are making a large jump you have to push the button in the middle of the lower screen. Once you've done that the game will slow down and you will be given a few specific tricks that you need to pull off, which are shown to you in the form of arrows. It's your job to draw those arrows on the screen to perform the trick, and then (hopefully) land your trick to gain the points. On paper this sounds like a lot of fun, but in practice it just feels unnecessary. The good news is that you won't have to do this very often, so you can pretty much ignore it for most of the game.
If you've played the console version of Proving Ground then the levels should look awfully familiar. As you progress through the game you will end up traveling to a lot of the places found in the console game, including downtown Philly, the harbor, a museum, the skate park, FDR and some of the famous Washington monuments. While the look and style of these levels are reminiscent of the PS3 and Xbox 360 game, the levels are just different enough to keep them interesting.
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