PS2 Review: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Players: 1 - 2
Developer: SuperVillain Studios
We here at CB Games are usually pretty rough when it comes to reviews; we know you work hard for your money (or in the case of younglings, you beg hard for your parent’s money) so it’s imperative that you know what’s worth your (or your parent’s) cash and what’s not. But if you haven’t managed to play this game for the Nintendo Wii, then don’t. Now I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is actually not a bad port for the PlayStation 2. There's the semi-simple controls, the extra content the game comes packed with and the multiplayer split-screen modes to add some girth to the replay values. This game is definitely nothing overtly creative, but it does manage to get the job done.
Two different Tony Hawk games were released last year, it was Downhill Jam and Tony Hawk’s Project 8 for the Xbox 360 and PS3. But sadly, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam for the Wii was treated like the red-headed step-child; the slow kid in the back of the class; the fat uncle that people invite to family gatherings just because he’s family and certainly not because of his stomach-churning body odor.
Surprisingly, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, which was released to some unflattering reviews, has been slightly redeemed for the PS2 thanks to some refined features and extra content. The game has no main plot or storyline. Although there is a really weird subtext – which is told through either funny or annoying pre-race interviews – involving one character’s father. He apparently left his son – who is aptly named Crash, because he crashes a lot – to become a super-hidden character in a video game. It is, to put it plainly, stupid. But it is funny nonetheless.
But before going any further, I have to mention that this review was a completely different beast when I first started writing it; there were negative comments lined up one after another. But then I kept on playing the game and kept on playing the game, and realized that Downhill Jam's racing was actually pretty fun and very intense. I found myself enjoying the experience as a gamer, rather than playing the game as a reviewer. Now there’s one golden rule to reviewing: If the game is replayable and fun, despite being bad, you can’t give it a bad score. And in this case, even though there were times when the character would get jammed in between a split, or would turn around while trying to go up a ramp at full speed, or would fly off a rail and magically spin in the air and head back the other way, the game was still an enjoyable laugh-riot.
And much like previous games in the Tony Hawk series, the controls are rather straightforward, consisting of grinding, grabbing the board in mid-air or kicking the competition when they get too close...well, you couldn’t always beat up the competition, but you get my drift. The whole point of this game, though, is to challenge gamers with various objectives while skating downhill. In the single-player portion of the game, players will pick or create a character (male or female) and proceed to unlock new tasks, characters, bonus videos and race tracks by completing any of the tasks in a tier. Conveniently enough this game is very long, and that’s mostly due to all the different objectives that must be completed in each tier. Some of these objectives range from performing tricks to reach a specific high-score, beating on as many pedestrians as possible, or racing slalom against the clock I could also go on all day about the small details of playing this character, racing on such-and-such track and unlocking this-or-that item, but instead I’ll keep it short and say that there’s a lot to unlock and tons of replay with the way the single-player game is setup.
As for the actual downhill racing...the game is fast, it’s fun, it’s goofy and most importantly, it’s entertaining. Pulling off tricks is extremely easy and there's a general arcade feel to the racing. There's no simulation skating here folks. The tracks are also setup to embrace the game's arcade feel with constant grinding and continuous opportunities for pulling off tricks. It's overly easy to come in the top 3 of any event, but that's not to say that some stages pose worthy challenges...if not sometimes teeth-grinding frustration. Yet once you hit that downhill starting-line ramp, it's all about maintaining speed and trying to win. In a way, it's how arcade racing games should be.
When it comes to the multiplayer modes there’s a good variety, but it’s only one-on-one battles between two players, a down-grade from the four-player mayhem on the Wii. So the fun – while exuberantly present – isn’t quite as long lasting as it could have been if, say, there was a four-player mode or at least the option to play online. Nevertheless, everything that can be unlocked in the single-player portion of the game carries over to the two-player portion of the game. This includes characters, racing environments and additional modes of play. The only thing that can’t be used in a two player game is a created character. Yep, that’s right....after spending time learning to master their skills you can’t compete against another player with your custom character. Is that bogus or what?
Moving on...graphically you won’t see anything in Downhill Jam that will ‘wow’ you, but the graphics are good enough. The stages have unique designs, and look half-way decent. One thing caught my attention though, the latter part of Rio de Janeiro track is a lot like Kibogaoka Hill from Jet Set Radio Future...Hmmm, it just makes you wonder. Anyway, the whole beach effect they were going for in Rome looked more cheap than it did breathtaking; Chicago's mall segments were actually good looking; and Macchu Picchu and the Swiss Alps were fantasy snowboard looking tracks that were obviously added for the sake of lengthening the game's fun factors. As for the characters...they’re designed well and look especially nice in the interview sequences, but the PS2 has had better looking character models during in-game play. And I never thought I would say this, but the create-a-character feature seems to only let you make cool looking people, even though they have some freakish items. But moreover, the overall visual tone of the game is acceptable for the content it portrays. It’s an E-rated game and will probably [visually] appeal to a younger audience, anyway.
The sound in the game is a mixed bag for the auricular palate, but if you’re not into the monster-voice rock anthems or hip-hop street-punk tunes, there’s a playlist option to pick and choose what songs that play during the game. It’s about as good as it can get given the hardware’s inability to house custom soundtracks, but if it’s really that important then you should just save up and buy a PS3. As for the in-game sound effects, they are the standard fare that resonant according to the environment. There’s also some friendly taunting from the other competitors mixed in with the common dings, plings, bings and boing sounds that come with pulling off tricks or achieving certain combos.
Overall, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam for the PS2 isn’t a great game. However the simple one-on-one two-player modes, extended single-player objectives, custom character features, unlockable content and fast downhill racing round this game out with an acceptable enough appeal. If you’re looking for a simple, fun, weekend romp through a Chicago mall or the streets of San Francisco, without being ticketed and hauled off to jail, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam wouldn’t make for a bad rental at all.
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