Evolve or die!
Building a skating game to compete with the Tony Hawk juggernaut seems
like an insurmountable task. You'd have to think outside the box while pushing
the envelope. You'd have to re-invent the wheel. In essence, you'd have to use
all sorts of handy catch phrases, all at the same time, to topple the behemoth.
Konami sort of tried this last year with ESPN
X-Games Skateboarding, but they didn't succeed. Though they lost the ESPN
license, they didn't lose hope, leading to this year's Evolution Skateboarding.
And while they certainly try to break through the barriers, all that really
winds up broken is your PS2 controller, thanks to the crummy control and weak
Evolution Skateboarding follows the same mold as most extreme sports games. You can choose one of 8 real-world skaters or create your own and take on a number of big levels. Since Tony Hawk pretty much has the A-list skaters all wrapped up, Evolution Skateboarding features lesser known guys like Arto Saari, Chris Senn and Danny Way.
The main game mode is Arcade, which is essentially identical to every single
other skating game ever made. In this case, you have to complete goals to unlock
other levels, all the while gaining 'Skater Points' used to unlock new gear/clothing.
Unfortunately, you cannot modify any stat points beyond your initial skater
One nice bit about Arcade mode is that each of the different skaters hack
away at the levels in a different order, and some of the objectives change.
It's pretty subtle, but still takes away from the redundancy of playing the
game with multiple characters.
There are a few other modes, including a Challenge mode which makes you complete
increasingly difficult challenges for...uh...no good reason, except to frustrate
you, I think. You can take part in a Vert or Street Competition, and there's
also a VS. mode in case a friend is taking up room on the couch.
At first, the levels seem decent. They're quite big and fairly creative. One
level has you skating across the giant water structures from Metal
Gear Solid 2, while another drops you into an Old Western. You get a little
radar to help you navigate, though it's not very useful aside from locating
objects you might need to collect.
As you play through the levels, though, the truth of their weak design starts
coming out. Lines tend to flow right into one another, so you can just grind
endlessly from one edge to another. On the other hand, dead ends pop up way
too often. You'll be skating along kicking some ass and suddenly ram headfirst
into an unexpected wall. It winds up feeling much less free than, er, "other"
To spice things up, there are three 'Boss' fights in Evolution Skateboarding
- a runaway big rig, a giant spider and a German tank. Beating all three just
requires you to grind on the areas cleverly marked 'Grind' enough times. It's
a nice idea but goes pretty much nowhere.
matters worse is the awkward control. You don't cut corners very well and since
you can't tweak stats, you're stuck with whatever you started with, which means
you don't get bigger and faster and stronger as the game wears on.
Not that this would matter when you consider the control scheme, which makes
combos very difficult. Manualing requires you to keep holding Triangle. You
then have to release it while almost simultaneously pressing jump to ollie,
after which you have to press Up or Down and hold down Triangle again to go
into another manual. It's exhausting. It's nice that they keep away from those
4 billion point THPS combos, which tend to get a little out of hand,
but they sway WAY too far in the other direction by making it so unintuitive.
Adding to that is the trick control in general. Like ESPN X-Games Skateboarding,
rotation is handled in 180-degree chunks. It makes rotating easy, but landing
much harder as you can't manually tweak your position - you're either lined
up or you're not. It takes some getting used to, and once again I prefer the
freedom in the THPS games.
I also prefer the look of Tony Hawk, but not by much. Evolution
Skateboarding isn't a bad looking game at all, featuring a steady framerate
and decent textures. The skater animations are a little stiff, though the crashes
look cool. Not a bad effort, in general.
The sound, on the other hand, is a pretty bad effort. The songs
are by and large punk-pop filler, though a few kickass old Primus songs add
some variety. There's an announcer, which is odd, and he should be gagged. You
just don't need a guy screaming at you while you're skating.
The best that Evolution Skateboarding has to offer comes in the form
of the excellent replays. You can save and edit an entire run from start to
finish, adding fisheye effects or multiple angles. THPS could learn a
thing or two in this regard.
And when it comes to editing, Evolution Skateboarding is no slouch.
You can edit your own combos, literally building them from the ground up by
stringing different moves together, which are then bound to the R1 trigger.
You can also edit your decks, including the ability to slap a bunch of stickers
on the bottom.
But a game's strength is not found in its replays nor its deck editing. It's found in its gameplay, which is precisely where Evolution Skateboarding falters. Much more work needs to be put into this if Evolution is going to contend at all with the THPS games. If this is the evolution of skating, we're in trouble.