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Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Score: 77%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing/ Sports (Extreme)

Graphics & Sound:
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam was a departure for the series. Ignoring the Wii-specific control system, the game dumped the open-world play of past games in favor of a SSX-styled, trick-oriented racing game. The PS2 iteration of Downhill Jam is the same game as the Wii version, only without the motion-control, though in its place are a few new multiplayer races and three new characters.

Graphically, the PS2 version of Downhill Jam is a few notches below the Wii version. Everything from the Wii version makes the conversion, though several areas look blurry and flat. Downhill Jam goes for a more over-the-top look than other pro-skater games. The garish art style fits the game's character really well and the characters are likeable, if a bit stereotypical. The characters really come to life during their introductory videos. These offer insight into the character's background. Most are funny, though some are funny in a stupid way. Animations are smooth and the transition between tricks lacks that robotic, jarring feel. Levels have just as much personality as the skaters, both of which contribute to a fun atmosphere.

The soundtrack is full of variety and includes everything from White Zombie to Public Enemy. You may not like every song, but unless you're a die-hard Clay Aiken fan, it shouldn't be hard to find something you like.

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam gives you a set of skaters who, along with Tony Hawk, compete in downhill trick and racing competitions. Each skater, whose personalities range from a stoner to a rich socialite, has five stats that give each their own unique handling. One may be faster, though another is better at tricks. The system is basic, though anything more would just make things complicated for the sake of being complicated.

Racing is a major element in Downhill Jam, though you will also compete in a variety of other events as you progress through the game. Score events require that you meet a certain score before the end of the race and Slalom plays like a checkpoint race. Split-screen multiplayer is also around and includes all of the single-player event types and a new one that has skaters battling over who has a head. Whoever holds the head the longest before the end of the race is declared the winner.

Every track in the game is primarily a downhill race to the finish, though there are several ways to reach the bottom. Rather than taking a sharp turn, you may instead decide to ride a rail, giving you a little added boost. You can also cut through sections of the track and unlock new shortcuts. The downside to all the different paths is that some tracks can get confusing. It is not uncommon to completely lose your bearings and end up skating in the wrong direction or taking another shortcut that ends up putting you behind the pack. There are indicators that attempt to keep you on track, though they take a couple of seconds to kick in. Tracks are especially hard to navigate when playing split-screen.

The new events involve collecting money or airtime as well as doing as much damage to the tracks (and opponents) as possible. Except for the few split-screen difficulties, multiplayer is fun. The lack of online multiplayer is disappointing, especially since Downhill Jam is perfect for multiplayer games.

Without the motion-based controls, a big part of the learning curve has been removed. The PS2 setup is easy to pick up and shouldn't throw anyone for a loop - especially when compared to the system used in other Tony Hawk games.

Instead, most of the challenge comes from learning the best way to tackle each track. This doesn't come easily at first, though after a few laps on a particular track, you should get the hang of things, though you will still get turned around every once in a while.

Your skater's growth and progression also ties into learning curve. The better your skater's stats, the easier it is to pull off more complicated moves or get the jump on other skaters in races.

Game Mechanics:
The trick system is simplified so tricks are much easier to pull off. Like other Tony Hawk games, the object is to string tricks together to earn points. The more tricks you pull off in sequence, the higher your multiplier. Pulling off trick sequences is only half the challenge; you also need to land your tricks or risk losing your spot in the race. Blown wrecks and crashes are not as devastating as they could be. The system is pretty forgiving and it does not take much to get back in a race if you fall behind. Ultimately, your goal is to fill a turbo meter that will let you pull off a quick boost while racing. You can hold multiple charges, adding some strategy to racing.

As you win races, you unlock new boards. Like characters, boards have their own set of stats. These are rated on a 10 point scale and help to enhance your character's stats, in turn improving your course times and point totals.

Taken as its own title, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is an okay game. It contains everything from the Wii version and even adds a few new things. At the same time, the Wii's motion-based controls were a big reason Downhill Jam was fun in the first place, so the PS2 version lacks that little bit of charm. Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is okay for anyone looking for a simple, SSX-styled game. Otherwise, skip it or, if you can, check out the Wii version.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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