Just in the nick of time, the DS gets some quality software. The PSP loomed dark on the horizon, but Nintendo countered the impending doom with their Wifi connection service, and Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land
was one of the first games to utilize the new online play. Now I’ve never been a fan of the Tony Hawk games—not that I dislike them or anything, I’m just not into skating. So I can say I came to Sk8land with an objective mind, an important thing for a review, and needless to say I was impressed. Vicarious Visions’ first Hawk DS offering has just about everything you’d want from a skateboarding game.
Now, I’ll try to get the presentation out of the way first. Let me say that these graphics aren’t going to blow your socks off like Wasteland on the bigger consoles, and if you’re expecting a visual masterpiece, prepare to be disappointed. Rather, you should take this game’s visual style at its own merits. Compared to what little I’ve seen of the franchise, Sk8land has a unique style, more akin to Jet Grind Radio than the other Tony Hawk titles. Characters all sport a cell-shaded appearance and the worlds have simplistic, colorful texturing. The whole scheme conveys fun, the kind of fun you’d have hanging out with a few wild friends. The darker, quirkier tones of the Underground offshoots are absent, in favor of a lighter mood.
Personally, I think this flavor suits the DS Hawk fine, and just because things are simpler doesn’t mean the graphics are rudimentary. Sk8land carries all of the visual customization that made the Tony Hawk series famous, and the DS’s special abilities augment this customization like never before. There are the typical assortments of outfits and licensed boards, but the touch screen allows you to create your own board art and graffiti. All this is done through a competent paint program. Spraying your logo on a wall has a sense of satisfaction, and I know a friend who created a Zelda NES spray, pixel for pixel. This individuality really comes into play when taking Sk8land out onto Wifi.
The skating environments themselves are stylized LA locations, littered with quarter-pipes, ramps and fellow skaters, eager to part with cash if you demo some sick moves. The object of the story mode is to raise enough cash to refurbish American Sk8land, a rundown skate park where Tony Hawk practiced in his early days. Hawk and a few other characters assist you by teaching you tricks and giving general advice, but it’s mostly up to you to fix up the abandoned warehouse. Your customized skater will travel across most of LA, showing off their skating abilities to prospective contributors.
The different areas have a good deal of variation, and while you’ll be performing most of the same rudimentary tricks over and over, the combo system really lets you build upon the basics and come up with your own style. The touch screen adds variety with special trick icons that appear once the score meter is high enough. A bullet-time effect is triggered by another icon, and lets you fine-tune those moves in slow-mo. Also, if you screw up a nice combo, you can make your character “freak out” by stroking the screen, and regain some of the lost points in the process.
New equipment such as ramps and half-pipes are unlocked as you go, and can be purchased at the skate shop. This lets you build up Sk8land to meet your tastes, as well as improve your skills. As with previous Tony Hawk games, the skate parks all connect to each other to form one continuous world, although some slight loading occurs between areas. Each location has a set of challenges to complete and a final goal that’s presented by a skating pro.
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