Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Tony Hawk's for Wii is the tenth Wii game I own, the first significantly-less-than-retail-price game I've picked up for the system, and the first second hand game, too. I lowballed a bid on it on eBay, expectedly lost, and then unexpectedly received a Second Chance offer. $AUS40 shipped, a bit over a week later, another week of it sitting on my "to be tried out" pile, and here we are. Well, here I am. You probably got bored halfway through the second sentence and went to get a beer.

This definitely isn't like the rest of the games in the Tony Hawk's franchise. Imagine some of the trappings of Tony Hawk games tied to SSX, the snowboarding franchise, and you'll be on the right track. You can play Tony (or one of a number of other generic fictional characters with varying personalities and performance statistics.. another idea taken from SSX) and run through a number of different events set in various areas to build up points (to increase your skater's rating and unlock more difficult and varied events and locations), and to unlock different boards, skating videos, etc.

The game itself uses just the Wiimote on its side - you hold it like a classic NES controller, but tilt it left or right to steer your skater, use the 2 button to crouch and ollie, the 1 button for tricks (or the d-pad) and use the d-pad to attack pedestrians or other skaters. All the events are fairly short, only a few minutes from go to woe, but I don't really see this as a disadvantage at least in the short to medium term, as the stages are quite intricate and repeated plays will allow you to find shortcuts, score increasing opportunties and just improve your times.

Surely you're not sick of Tony Hawk games yet?

The event types are such things as straightforward races, smash as many pedestrians as you can, pass through as many slalom gates as you can and tricking to get as high a score as possible. Each ranking has a number of these different events in the various areas (you start with three areas unlocked - Hong Kong, Scotland and San Francisco, and unlock Maccu Picchu once you achieve "Rookie" level). You can grind rails, do wall rides, ollie-based flip and grab tricks, a lot of the things you could do in the previous games, but they're far more streamlined/simplified - essentially mashing 1 and 2 or 2 and the d-pad while making sure you're steering in the right direction still will serve you pretty well. Perhaps you'll do even better if you actually try and do it sensibly, but I was having fun for an hour just screwing with it. Doing enough tricks builds up a boost meter (hmm, yet another SSX idea), which you can waggle the remote to use. You also need to waggle quickly to recover from crashes, by the way.

The controls are quite decent, I must say - when you start a new game, you go through a multichapter tutorial that teaches you each of the basics - steering, ollies, tricks and grinding - and once I'd completed these, I was good to go. I found in some races I'd get caught on corners near tunnels or buildings, but I never felt that was bad design - just bad aim, I should've been steering good ol' Tony properly. One potentially annoying thing - before each event, Tony or one of the other characters will be asked a question or give a short speech. A few of them are faintly amusing, but most will have you jabbing the - button to skip them.. hell, I'm sure they're fairly finite, although I didn't notice them repeat through an hour's play.

The graphics and sound are great, with a pseudo-cartoony look for Tony et al rather than an attempt at realism. It doesn't look HD-fantastique like you'd expect of the PS3, but I thought it looked just fine, and cranked along at decent speed too. The soundtrack is typically varied as we've come to expect from Tony Hawk games.. from Iron Maiden to the Bucketheads. Hell, there's even a Maiden music video on there.

I can't really comment on the multiplayer yet, but it supports splitscreen and allows you to try variants on the events in the single player, as well as something called "Steal the Head" - i'll let the jokes write themselves.

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam has a nice beat, and you can dance to it.

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